I received a message from someone asking if it was necessary that he go to court for a Workers Compensation surveillance that he worked on for a couple of hours. He stated he was only filling in for someone briefly and didn’t see any activity when he was working the surveillance. He wanted to know if that was normal or necessary that he be there because he only worked it for a short period of time. This would be the first time he would be required to go to court for a surveillance that he worked.
I could sense in his messages that he had some anxiety about going to court for the first time and this is understandable. Going to court for anything can feel a bit overwhelming especially when you don’t know what to expect or what questions are going to be asked of you.
As I sit here and write this I don’t know that I can remember the first time I went to court. I do remember going to court many times early in my career. Many of the court appearances I was required to make never went passed me waiting in the main room with the person I had conducted surveillance on (awkward). Many times the lawyers and judge would review the video without me in the room. The attorney would then tell me that my testimony was not needed as the claimant had decided to settle.
On workers compensation court cases that did require me to testify, the experience was a bit different every time.
Let me give you an idea of what usually takes place when you have to testify to your surveillance investigation.
First, let me say that the surveillance you conducted for the insurance company might have been in anticipation of the insurance company knowing that the insurance claim was not going to settle. And the insurance company might be looking for any evidence to contradict the claimant’s (the person you are conducting surveillance on) claim. You then go to your surveillance and conduct surveillance investigation in a non-bias manner. You do everything legally and to the best of your ability. You document what you got on video and what you observed without capturing it on video in your report. Everything is done ethically so there is no question about to the legitimacy of your efforts.
The client (typically the insurance company or third party administrator) receives your report and video detailing what happened during the surveillance.
You will find that 99 percent of your surveillance investigations will not require you to go to court. In my experience, I have found that when I am required to go to court it is for surveillance efforts I that happened 2 or 3 years prior to my request to go to court and testify. Generally, times I have been asked to testify in court were the times that I obtained video that completely contradicted the individual’s injury claims.
If the client of your surveillance investigation requires that you be present to testify, an attorney working on behalf of your client will contact you or the company you work for. The client will inform you that you need to be available on a specific date and you will make yourself available.
You will then need copies of your report and video documentation to refresh your memory as to what took place during your surveillance efforts. You should bring those copies to court just in case for some reason they are needed in court.
As the court date gets closer you should again review the video and report entries. Make sure all the video documentation matches the report entries. You might even want contact the attorney’s office to make sure that nothing has changed and the date, time and location are still the same.
DAY OF COURT
ATTIRE FOR COURT
On the day of court make sure you dress appropriately. There will be no jeans, t-shirts and tennis shoes. Men should wear no less than a nice polo with slacks or khakis and dress shoes. Men should be groomed appropriately. Women have more fashion sense than men or than me for that matter so I am sure women will be fine when I say dress appropriately.
No foul odors, please. Make sure you shower, brush our teeth and don’t wear perfume or cologne that is overpowering. No one wants to be stuck in a small courtroom with you wearing some overpowering fragrance.
GET THERE EARLY
Don’t take the chance of being late to court. I would recommend trying to get to court at least 1 hour prior to the time you have been asked to arrive. You have to take into consideration traffic and finding parking once you arrive at the court location.
MEET AHEAD OF TIME
If possible I would recommend meeting with the client’s attorney ahead of time to answer any questions the attorney may have or have them answer questions you may have. They might even want to review the video with you. If it is your first time being asked to testify in court then let them know. Ask them for any advice they may have. It’s not a big deal if this is your first court appearance. I know investigators have been in the industry for 20 years that have never had to testify.
TESTIFYING IN COURT
This process can vary in how things are done. There have been times where I have not entered the courtroom until asked to testify. Sometimes I have arrived to testify and then I was told I was not needed.
There have been times where I testified and then afterward we watched every bit of footage I took (well over an hour at times).
There have been times where I just testified to the video I obtained and was asked questions as the video played.
If you don’t know something that is asked of you then just say you don’t know. If you don’t remember then say you don’t remember. Don’t speculate or guess your answers. Just be honest and truthful and your experience will be a breeze.
When I am testifying I have my report in front of me to reference which helps me to remember what took place on that specific day of surveillance.
You will find that the opposing lawyer will attempt to attack the integrity of your surveillance and investigation. They will want to know the evidence process on how you prepare your reports and what happens with the video after you secure it. They might ask about the chain of custody of your documentation and where it is stored. This is stuff you need to know. If you work for a big company and have never seen what happens to your reports or video after you submit your work then you need to ask someone who knows.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON TESTIFYING FOR THE FIRST TIME
Testifying on behalf of your work product may cause a bit of anxiety and that is natural. Doing anything for the first time can feel that way. Just understand that going to court to represent your investigation and work product is part of the deal as a private investigator.
You have nothing to worry about if you did everything legally and ethically. I hope this answers some questions for you.
If you have any other questions on this be sure to comment below. If you have any additional things for someone to anticipate please share your thoughts.