Keep the PI in the loop.

Surveillance is a key aspect of private investigation work.

Clients may request surveillance when they know their target subject will be difficult to capture through traditional methods of service of process alone. Or they may want to gain more insight on an individual or a location. At the end of the day, the client wants to build a case, so private investigators step in to help make this happen.

Here, you can learn more about the different instances that sometimes require private investigation. Surveillance can be used in all types of cases and usually requires extensive work by the private investigator, meaning hours of observation. However, the investigator can only work with what the client provides. This means the client must allot a certain number of hours to get the job done and must give as detailed of a description as possible of the subject, for instance, so the investigator knows what, or who, to look for. Other details include the model and make of the subject’s vehicle(s) and daily routines.

This page gives a nice and brief overview of how a PI moves. A reasonable number of hours are needed as surveillance requires the investigator to sit for hours on end and do nothing but watch for activity, which, sometimes, doesn’t even happen.

The client pays for the type of surveillance that will get done. In other words, you get what you pay for. If the client only chooses to pay for an hour of surveillance, chances are, he or she won’t reap much. But if at least four or five hours are on the table, for instance, the probability of obtaining something valuable would be much higher.

Just as with service of process, the client must put himself or herself in the private investigator’s shoes. The client should ask him- or herself questions such as:

  • What time of day should this be done?
  • What does John Doe’s typical schedule look like?
  • What does John Doe look like?
  • What are we trying to prove?

Most importantly, it should be remembered that the PI and the client are working together as a team. That’s what matters and is what helps to make the job successful. ♦

Service in a Courtroom


Service in a courtroom is usually only condoned in certain circumstances, and, of course, the rules of service of process vary by state.

In this opinion piece shared by Mark Shapiro, we see that service while court is in session is frowned upon. And this is understandable for common sense reasons, such as disruption. However, Mark also mentions that people can usually be served as they are walking in and out of court.

At Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., we have had to serve individuals at the courthouse a number of times because this was one of the only, if not the only, ways service would have been successful. If someone is in deep water and knows documents are going to be on the way at some point, he or she may try and avoid service, although, all this does is prolong the overall process; it doesn’t grant the person immunity from facing consequences just because service was not completed.

However, if an attorney knows the defendant is going to be at a specific courthouse at a specific time, he or she may request that we send out a process server to catch the person entering or leaving the courtroom. A description is ideally provided so the server knows who to look for. This approach serves as a surefire way to obtain service because when someone has a court date, that person will usually show up to avoid future consequences. Therefore, although Bob tells us service in a courtroom is not allowed, in some instances, as process servers, we are able to bend the rules.

Personal injury claims: Do the wrongful prevail?

by: Johnelle Rodriguez

People fake injuries all the time. And they get paid for it.

Wrongful claims are common, and because of them, private investigators are usually needed to really dig into the situation to help the parties involved reach a decision as to whether the claimant is being truthful.

“The video doesn’t lie,” Bob Fischer, president of Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., says in regard to the surveillance that takes place in these cases.

And he’s right. What evidence would be more effective than actual footage of the claimant? Video, for the most part, is totally objective and can show whether a person is faking his or her injury.

“We don’t have to do anything to enhance or embellish it,” Bob says. “We just film it, and it speaks for itself.”

The most popular type of fraud we see take place at Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc. is workers’ compensation fraud. Right after that are slip and fall cases. There are also medical malpractice suits, staged car accident injuries, and people claiming injuries that are difficult to detect, such as soft tissue injuries.

But we have to keep in mind that not everyone is trying to be devious. People actually do get hurt and deserve some sort of compensation for it. However, we have to keep our eyes open for those who try to beat the system.

So, where do private investigators fit into the picture?

Surveillance is usually done on all cases as part of the case work-up, and most of it is done on slip and fall and traffic accidents, where the person is claiming an injury or is claiming he or she is unable to do certain things or lost quality of life. With medical malpractice, the subject is claiming the doctor performed a wrong procedure, resulting in a loss of quality of life.

“They can’t bowl anymore. They can’t golf anymore. They can’t walk for miles like they used to or bicycle ride,” Bob explains.

Surveillance operators usually go out and surveil the individuals for two or three days, and after that, they’re able to determine whether the person is telling the truth. These services are usually ordered by the insurance adjuster or the attorney, based on the claim and/or statements made by the claimant.

Sometimes, the attorney will simply have a gut feeling that someone is lying. It can be something the person said or the types of bills being turned in for medical procedures that will raise red flags. Just as the adjusters deal with these types of cases all the time, so do attorneys. So, they know what to look for and what’s common or uncommon. This when investigators are brought into the picture and it is decided the case is going to be fought not settled.

To prevent bias, private investigators may avoid asking the client, whether it’s an attorney or an adjuster, what the case is about. Knowing what the claimed injury is could naturally cause investigators to look for certain cues, even if this is not done intentionally. If they have to testify in court, their behinds will be covered if they are oblivious to the injury.

If the P.I. has to get on the stand and is asked, “Did you know beforehand that this individual had a back problem?,” the response would be, “No, we did not.”

It may be asked again, “Oh, you didn’t?”

And the P.I. will respond, “No, we did not.”

Investigators regularly have to appear in court and authenticate their work on these cases. They authenticate the surveillance tapes, verifying they’re the ones who performed the work, what they saw, they did not alter the tapes, this is what they do for a living, and that they are licensed. Dozens of questions are asked while they’re on the stand. And although these investigators and their work are legitimate, others will try to disqualify them based upon their histories or their licensing. However, the attorneys hiring these investigators will usually have counter questions to emphasize and bring to light their credibility.

So, any possibility of being biased toward the claimant can automatically and truthfully be denied if the P.I. is never made aware of the injury when introduced to the case. If the video footage clearly shows the person is lying and does not have a back problem, for instance, the investigator does not want to be accused of pinpointing that portion of the surveillance or setting it up in any way.

Sometimes, surveillance isn’t done at all because what the person is claiming is obvious.

But sometimes, attorneys are so over-zealous to get something on the plaintiff that they’ll ask the investigators, “Well, you know, they’re claiming a back injury. Can you set something up where they pick something up?” This used to happen more often in the past but is not so frequent anymore because there are laws against this type of behavior. It’s ironic: Attorneys are all about getting to the truth of the matter, but this type of request definitely goes against that ideal.

Say the subject is a male, and an attractive girl is strategically placed at the back of the guy’s business. She has a heavy box that she needs help picking up and put into her car or something along those lines. She will wait for the guy to come out and will then flirt with him and ask him for assistance.

“Of course, injured or not injured, guys will do anything to make it with a woman,” Bob says. The guy will go over and pick up the box, and then we see it’s clear there is no obvious injury present.

“To me,” Bob says, “that’s entrapment.” He believes this is how the court has ruled on these types of situations.

There have been times where we’ve done surveillance on people claiming one thing, but the video will show something different. For instance, there was a woman who used to do daily bike rides and claimed she was no longer able to ride her bicycle. She said she couldn’t play with her grandchildren and the like. Surveillance was done, and she was videoed doing a 10-mile bike ride without stopping. Footage was taken from a high vantage point in her backyard, and she was seen diving into the swimming pool. Her family came over, and she was throwing the grandchildren up in the air and catching them.

Once again, the video doesn’t lie.

Aside from surveillance, it’s examined whether the individual is being litigious. Maybe this person has sued in the past for the same kinds of things, possibly in other states where he or she has previously lived. Some people do this professionally. And if this is common behavior for the individual, it will show in the background checks. If what the person is doing borders on criminal behavior, he or she can be arrested and charged with perjury.

Most of the time, when information is presented to the attorney as to what’s going to be presented in court, the attorney will advise the person to drop the case. I’ll give an example of what would be considered criminal. The subject of this story planned a whole scheme and was eventually charged with fraud against the court. Bob believes he did some time for it.

This guy, we’ll call him Sam, was at a bar sitting next to someone, talking about his plot. However, we were unable to record this conversation because taping someone’s conversation intended to be private is against the law. But we were able to testify in court. We were able to get the name of the person Sam was talking to and subpoenaed him as a witness. Then, what the investigator overheard was confirmed.

“So, it’s not always surveillance that gets them,” Bob explains.

Some insurance adjusters will not opt for surveillance because of money. They’ll only have a policy limit of $300,000, for example, while the person is claiming $1,000,000. So, they don’t want to spend the money because they know somewhere along the line, they’ll probably settle for $400,000 or $500,000 in this case. From the adjuster’s standpoint, they only want to spend the money when they feel it’s necessary. If they’ve already decided after reading the case file that they are going to settle, they aren’t going to hire an investigator, and they’re not going to do any work on it.

Not every adjuster wants to roll the dice unless something comes up in discovery, in the medical records, or in background checks, which are always researched, that points them in the direction that this person may have had a claim once before for the same kind of injury. With some adjusters, they will work every case the exact same way. They will spend the same amount of money on every case they do. They will do the surveillance. They will do the background checks. They will do everything necessary to disprove the person’s claim so they can get a defense verdict and not have to pay the limits on the policy.

The sad truth is, if the claimant is lying, he or she will probably get away with it. It’s just the way the legal system works, especially when people are worried about money. So, to be completely broad, the options for someone faking injuries are:

  • The person is fined.
  • The person is imprisoned.
  • The person gets away with it.

Sometimes, a settlement is offered in the beginning, but the defendant’s side may not want to accept and goes for being awarded the large amount of money. However, if they lose the case, they are responsible for all court costs. If they win the case but are awarded less than originally intended, they are responsible for paying those costs as well.

So, as we see here, the role of the P.I. is crucial. And something as simple as surveillance can either make or break the claimant’s assertion. But, there are loopholes in the system, such as the claimant providing medical records and evidence for injuries that are hard to disprove. At the end of the day, whether the deceitful will prevail is all a test of fate and rhetoric. ♦

Service on Military Bases

As we shared in a previous post, service of process cannot take place on federal property.

Service on military bases can be tricky. Individuals cannot be served straightforwardly on military bases. Unless service is authorized, there is no guarantee it will be successful. However, sometimes, members of the military must be served, just as anyone else.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations for the Army (32 C.F.R. § 516.10):

“DA officials will not prevent or evade the service of process in legal actions brought against the United States or against themselves in their official capacities. If acceptance of service of process would interfere with the performance of military duties, Army officials may designate a representative to accept service. DA personnel sued in their individual capacity should seek legal counsel concerning voluntary acceptance of process.”

As Bob mentions in this video, the provost on the base is usually the point of contact and determines whether service will be authorized.

For more information regarding service of process on military bases, visit How to Serve Legal Documents to Members of the U.S. Military. ♦

 

Social media evidence is actually a thing.

by: Johnelle Rodriguez

If you’ve ever been called for jury duty, you know the process of selecting jury members is lengthy.

First, you report to the general area with the members of the large jury pool. Then, you wait.

And wait.

After what feels like forever, you listen for the names that are called, in hopes that you don’t hear yours. At least, that’s the typical person’s wish. When I served on my first jury a couple years ago, I had a gut feeling I was going to be selected, even if it wasn’t for the finalized jury. And I was. I was chosen for the initial group that was introduced to the trial, and I was also chosen for the final jury. I didn’t mind, though, because I actually was interested in the experience and wanted to see what it was like. However, the entire trial lasted a week, and it seemed as though it was dragging.

After the first set of people are selected to hear what the trial is about and be interviewed by both the plaintiff and the defendant attorneys, six to twelve jurors are chosen along with alternates. The alternates stay throughout the duration of the trial, but they do not participate in the deliberations unless they end up actually replacing a juror.

Sometimes, background checks are performed on potential jurors in a case by the attorneys arguing the case. This is done specifically to determine whether they’ve been involved in previous lawsuits, if they have criminal backgrounds, if they hold gun permits, or if they have bad driving records, for instance.

“It helps attorneys weed out people they don’t want or to accept people they do want based upon their background,” Bob, president of Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., says.

But not only background checks are performed; social media searches are also done, and attorneys have their own reasons for wanting these.

Our company does jury selection background checks about once or twice a month, depending on how busy our clients are. The attorneys who use Bob trust that the information he obtains is accurate. Several of them have selected jurors based on social media evidence we have provided.

A number of our client law firms use us to perform checks for every trial they’re involved in. They’ll provide us a list of potential jurors, and we then execute background checks and social media searches and provide our findings to them while they’re in the jury selection process. All the jurors on the list are researched, even the backups. And these requests are time sensitive. Sometimes, Bob will even have to research these individuals from home on an overnight basis, sending this information to clients so they have it first thing in the morning.

What we do is find the person’s social media footprint and copy all their Facebook input, postings, and dialogue with Facebook friends. (Remember, this is all public record that is not covered under the Privacy Act because it is posted online.) What’s being looked for is potential abuse of information by the juror, who may be talking about or inquiring about the case or even mentioning the fact they’re involved in jury duty.

Many of us have gone on people’s Facebook pages and other social media platforms and have been able to gather information about them, even if it’s something as simple as viewing pictures of them and reading comments. Some of us have privacy settings enabled, but even then, not everything is hidden from the public. By doing something as simple as visiting someone’s social media page, we can get a brief insight on who we are looking at.

“Sometimes, in jury selection, I’ll do the background checks, and I’ll do the social media checks, and everybody is squeaky clean and it is a good jury,” Bob says. “And you gotta live with the verdict.”

As simple a procedure it may seem, to look at someone’s social media footprint and gather information, what is found can have a great impact and can sometimes be potentially very damaging for the case.

Attorneys use what is discovered based upon whether they need to challenge the verdict and based upon the juror’s use of social media about decisions or their decision-making process or evidence. Some information we have found from potential jurors has been significant in assisting several attorneys in petitioning the court to set aside a verdict based upon the behavior of the juror through social media.

Recently, a client of ours lost a case. He didn’t listen to his gut feeling. There was something inside him that led him to believe something was going on and that one or two of the jurors had done something to sway the other jurors. After doing a social media search on these individuals, we found evidence that was presented to the attorney, who was then able to have a mistrial declared. Now, they’re pending another trial.

So, this type of search can be helpful at times.

But it can be damaging as well. It depends which side you’re on and what you’re looking for in the jurors you’re selecting.

There’s even a whole industry in the legal profession where professionals are hired to select jurors, especially in high-profile cases. These professionals are looking for bias from all angles. What will be helpful all depends on which side of the case they’re on.

If someone is looking for bias against his or her client, this may show up in social media through events that jurors attend or through their comments about similar situations. If bias can be proved, if the case does not go your way, you can then go back and submit a request for retrial because of that bias. If you have the proof through social media, most judges may grant this request.

Use what you’ve got. The Internet is there for a reason. Why not take advantage? ♦