Can’t Find Your Client? A Witness? or the Defect?? 5 Proactive Steps to Avoid These Problems

lost and found

Every attorney has his/her own intake survey (generally varying by incident type) and method of working a case.  Below are several situations that our investigators have experienced in the field, and recommendations based on these incidents.  We hope these observations serve a proactive purpose in case management as it applies to clients, witnesses and evidence.

1. Your client’s emergency contacts.

Situation: On numerous occasions we’ve had to locate a client who has moved without notifying his/her attorney.

Recommendation:  Obtain the complete contact information of at least 2 relatives and 2 friends NOT living with the client.  (Drilling deeper,  obtain the DOBs of the emergency contacts.  This may appear to be a rather aggressive suggestion but,  at least 2 of these 4 contacts should be 25 – 59 years old.  Generally, adults within this age range are employed and therefore, more easily trackable than those younger or retired.  Obtain an email address as these are often traceable. )

 

2.  The witnesses.

Situation: I’m sure you’ve all seen a PAR (Police Accident Report) w/a witness listed as “Johnny, 917-555-1234”. (or same, similarly incomplete police report).   No address, no surname and a cell phone that may or may not be active in 2 weeks, let alone 2 years.

Recommendation(s):  1. Call “Johnny” immediately.  Obviously,  the first objective is to determine his knowledge of events regarding your client’s matter.  2. Obtain his contact information and an identifier.  (Again we suggest DOB.  Many people are reluctant to release their SSN.)  3. Obtain an emergency contact for him.   4.  Check the contact info every 6  months until the case achieves resolution.

 

3. Professional photographs of the accident scene, especially if citing defect or disrepair. 

Situation:   Several years ago, we had an exterior premises  trip and fall situation wherein we were called to investigate the scene approximately 4 months post-incident.  The injured person made several natural and unintentional mistakes: 1. Not realizing the extent of his injuries, he did not call 911.  There were no on-site witnesses and no responder witnesses, and  2. When he returned a week or so later, after receiving medical attention, he’d taken photos of the accident scene but the shots contained shadows running across the defect rendering it difficult to determine the exact nature and severity of the  defect.   He was to go back and re-shoot the scene but did not.  4 months later, no defect, no repair record.  The building owner, of course <eye roll>, knew nothing.  Good luck with an area canvass among usually non-cooperative neighbors.

Recommendation: Send out a professional to photograph the accident scene ASAP.  Don’t expect the client to return and accurately record the scene.  Bear in mind, however, that the defect may have permanently “disappeared” and there may not always be a repair record.

From our good friend, http://www.stus.com:

 car accident

4.  If it seems weird; it probably is.  Check all possible contributory factors.

Situation:  Claimant fell UP the stairs.  She wasn’t carrying bags, wore flat shoes; no drugs or alcohol were involved.  No defects, liquids or debris on the ground.

Recommendation: Measure everything.  After taking detailed step and rail measurements, we realized that a) the steps were unequally sized – from the height between them to the protruding lip of each step (which was excessive at the point where she was caused to trip) and b) the rail would have been out of reach from her position regardless, with no secondary wall rail in place.   Rarely do people slip, trip or fall for no reason (unless there is an underlying medical condition).

 

5. Always check to see if drugs and alcohol were involved. (Defense)

Situation:  Building maintenance crew member claims to have fallen off of a defective ladder.  The ACR showed extremely high bp readings; 3 taken at 15 minute intervals by responding EMS – well above the readings that would be expected even in a  such a stressful situation.

Recommendation: Check the medical history.  The individual was on Lipitor and had not taken his medication as prescribed for several days preceding his fall.  (He’d also commented to several co-workers earlier on the day of incident that he was feeling “dizzy”.)  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the ladder, the area surrounding it, nor was he working at a height requiring specialized safety equipment.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Locating People Who’ve Gone Off The Grid.

disappearing

Investigators are often asked to conduct subject locates. The usual paper trail: telephone records, address histories, voter registrations, professional licenses, civil and criminal court filings, Department of Motor Vehicle records, credit reporting agency records, Social Security data, etc., will, in a majority of cases, return with the subject’s current and valid contact information. But what do you do if the subject is simply not in the mainstream – for whatever reason: joblessness, homelessness or “on the run”? What then?

The success of a subject locate depends on several factors including the information provided to the investigator and the investigator’s own skills and tenacity.

We’ve put together a checklist for locating transient witnesses that has generally returned successful locates:

1. Check the name and SSN versus death records. (Don’t assume the subject is alive but definitely rule out that he isn’t.)

2. Scour social media for leads.  (We all know the drill at this point: Facebook, Instagram, etc.)

3. Interview family and friends. (Remember to request the date of  last known contact.)

4 . Upon developing a location start off point, check with local and adjoining police departments.  Electronically, check VineLink.com. (In their own words: VINELink is the online version of VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday), the National Victim Notification Network. This service allows crime victims to obtain timely and reliable information about criminal cases and the custody status of offenders 24 hours a day.)

5. Check with area hospitals and morgues.

6. Contact the local Salvation Army center and other charity organizations in the area.

7. If you are aware of the subject’s hobbies, (e.g., wine-tasting), scour the social groups, such as Meet-Up, for meeting events.  (We’ve backed up into subjects by identifying a particular interest and then contacting group members.)

8. Identify and canvass, if applicable,  local day worker locations and restaurant, bars and clubs – especially seasonal venues.

9. Recon area bus and train stations.

and finally, go the digital milkbox route:

10. Post a YouTube video, or Instagram picture of the subject, if family and or friends can provide reasonable current photos of the subject.  Add as many tags as you can to increase the chances of good hits.

Most importantly, though, when a case first enters a law firm, as much personal information , i.e., contact and emergency contact info should be obtained as possible. Our experience bears out that in the vast majority of situations,  someone “disappearing into thin air” is just a myth.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, be safe.

Subject Locates: Successful Searches v. Expensive Failures

One of the most common assignments we receive is for a subject locate.  Usually generated from attorneys, insurance companies, financial institutions (as, as you know, we do not work for individuals), we are often asked to locate:

– Adverse Witnesses

– Cooperative Witnesses

– Debtors

– Clients

– Heirs

– Etc.

The difference between a successful locate and an expensive failure is how much attention and care is given to a case.  Obvious, right?  But it has to be the right attention, which is a tight focus, and the proper care; to detail.

The starting point in a successful locate is to gather as much information from the originating requestor as possible:

Name: AKAs, Extensions (Jr., III, MD, Esq…), Maiden form, prior marriage form

Address: Last known contact date at this address, form of contact, (e.g. mail, phone… ), contact outcome, ( i.e. returned mail, no response, etc.).

Phone Number:  Last known phone number, cell, landline, Skype, other  VOIP (internet phone).

Personal identifiers: DOB, SSN, TIN, DL#, Medicare/caid recipient? School i.d.?

Contacts: Family, friends, employers, coworkers

Prior lawsuits: If known.  To include class of involvement (e.g., plaintiff, defendant, petitioner…)

Civil records: Is/was the subject married, divorced? Has s/he declared bankruptcy or have judgments, liens… against him/her?

Criminal records:  Almost every state now allows for an inmate lookup.  (If a person is missing for a considerable period of time, there are only so many scenarios, short of a bizarre abduction, to account for this disappearance: a move, death or incarceration.)

A good investigator will then form a profile of the missing subject and conduct an address history search which will generally yield a pattern.  (We’ll get to that in the next para.)  The address history may not contain the subject’s current address. (All databases, from DMVs to privately held, fee-based information companies operate within the limitations of data input regularity.  The subject may not release his/her most current address to an agency.  P.O. box registration is no assurance of a current address either.  If it is a planned moved, one simply has to apply and receive the P.O. box prior to moving and generate forwarding from the old address.)

Having created the profile, the investigator now looks for the pattern.  Is the subject constantly relocating?  Staying within a certain geographical area?  Is s/he beholden to a mortgage?   Has s/he foreclosed?  An address history search will also almost always reveal family member information.

Once the profile and pattern have been formed and detected, the investigator must decide on a course of action. The approach will determine if the locate will be successful.   Each investigator has his/her own technique but there is a different methodology applied between “friendly” locates and those involving people who’ve intentionally chosen to stay or go off the grid.   A sharp investigator will know how to entice a friendly subject and not tip off an adverse one.   That knowledge comes with experience and skill and a great deal of curiosity.

As a final step, an investigator may have to physically check an address to verify the subject’s address.  By arriving to this point, all other methods of locating have been exhausted but valuable knowledge on the  subject gained. (The location should be thoroughly researched before heading out to the field.  Showing up on a private road on 2 acres of land in the middle of nowhere is usually not going to result in a productive session.  Suggestion: Google Earth.  There should also be an established strategy to observe the location, discreetly,  within a restricted time span of when the subject’s presence is most anticipated.  If covert observation is not possible, the game plan must be thought out prior to, and include at least Plans A, B and C. )   Below; lack of a plan:

Finally, if your investigator returns with an address, ask that it be “verified”.  If there is  no confirmation that the subject is at the reported location, and the requestor is not made aware of the nonverification, a costly situation for the requestor may result, financially and with regard to negotiation stance.   If  the locate results are not verifiable, (and that occurs, although that number should be in the single digits, percentage-wise, in a competent investigator’s record), the requester will at least have that knowledge with which to make decisions.

Our operatives: A step ahead.

As always, stay safe.