What a Private Investigator Can Expect When Going to Court for a Workers Compensation Case #114


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 to 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.  Wondering if the other lawyer is going to try and trick you while you are on the stand testifying or drill you with questions that you can’t answer or don’t know the answer to.

As I sit here and write this I don’t know that I can remember the first time I went to court for a surveillance I worked but I went to court quite a bit early  in my career when I was working in California.   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 and the video would typically contradict the individuals injury claims and they would settle or change their mind and not require me to testify.

On workers compensation claims 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.  They are 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.  Everything is done ethically so there is no question 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, and generally it was for video that I obtained that completely contradicted the individual’s injury claims.

So if the client of your surveillance inveistgation 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 to have for yourself and to have for the attorney when you go to court.  They should have everything but it’s good to have copies in case something happens to the attorney’s copies.

As the court date gets closer you need to review the video and reports.  Specifically you need to insure that all the video is on the disk you are bringing to court and that all your report entries match up with your video.  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

Court attire
Keep the sleeves down

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.

DON’T STINK

Soap

No foul odors please.  Make sure you shower, brush our teeth and don’t wear perfume or cologne that is over powering.  No one wants to be stuck in a small court room 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 to 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

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This process can vary in how things are done.  There have been times where I have not entered the court room until asked to testify. Sometimes I have arrived to testify and then I was told I was not needed.

There have been times were I testified and then afterwards we watched every bit of footage I took (well over an hour at times).

There have been times were 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 store.  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.

 

2 comments

  1. I assume that you initially provide the client with a edited Client Copy version of the surveillance video after editing out shaky footage, sound (if necessary), and the parts where you concealed the camera under your cap but forgot to turn it off. (Hey, it happens!)

    Please do correct me if I am incorrect about that.

    So in court, as entered into evidence, were you viewing the original uncut video file, or the client copy of the file?

    Yes, this is actually a “Best Evidence” question. What is your experience?

    • I keep everything for the record. I keep the original video without the timestamp. I keep the video with the time stamps burnt into the video. And I keep the video that has been put together with hourly time shots and video of my person.

      The client gets all the video combined together for each day worked (so they are not individual video files). We do not edit out shaky video or video of me forgetting to turn off my camera and videotaping the inside of my vehicle. You get what you get.

      Now they can submit whatever they want as evidence (the client/Attorney). You have to remember that we don’t videotape on tape anymore and everything is digital. So the “original file” would be the untouched, non timestamp video footage which is unacceptable in court as it does not show a date or time for the activity shown.

      So as soon as you burn a time stamp I don’t know that it is technically considered an original file.

      Courts accept the way the video is processed across the country. It is common practice.

      As long as you aren’t altering the documentation or omitting video (not showing someone in pain but showing when they are doing something they shouldn’t be) then you are fine.

      Though the client might not want all the raw video I recommend every company hold on to the original files in case it is ever questions. I think most companies hold on to stuff for 3 to 5 years (don’t quote me on that). I know some investigators/companies that hold onto it forever.

      Andrew

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