Episode 12: How To Investigate A Personal Injury Case
In this latest episode of The Effective Lawyer, the Zinda Law Group team is discussing how to investigate a personal injury case, or really any complicated liability case for either your clients or for your practice. As in all cases, it’s extremely important to get your investigation underway quickly and get to work on it immediately. Sharing their thoughts and experience with Jack is his law partner, Joe Caputo, and one of the top trial lawyers in the firm, Neil Solomon.
Discussed in this episode:
- The importance of immediate investigation
- How to document talking to a witness
- To use an investigator or not?
- The dangers of social media
- Top tips for new personal injury lawyers
The importance of immediate investigation
While it’s vital in all cases to get to work immediately, it’s even more time critical when investigating a personal injury case.
“Witnesses' memories fade. Extremely fast. Make sure you're getting to them and getting the statements as soon as you get the names of any witnesses. Track them down and try to pin down alternate contacts and everything else, because people will disappear.”
“Reach out to witnesses and get a recorded statement wherever you can, too,” says Neil. “An investigation is not just getting a crash report, or getting a copy of the 911 call tapes or dashcam video and looking at it later,” adds Joe. “It’s getting to the issues early, getting boots on the ground.”
“It's those small things in that initial investigation that you need to follow up on that can really help your client.”
Never take the crash report edits word for factually what happened. “If you don’t peel the onion,” says Jack, “you’re never going to uncover all the evidence.”
How to document talking to a witness
There’s lots of different ways to go about capturing a witness statement. “If you can,” says Neil, “record them while you’re speaking to them during your initial investigation. Getting a video statement is best. Even if you simply whip out your iPhone and say, ‘Hey, can I take a quick statement from you?’”
“Hopefully by recording it now and then providing it later, they don't have to be brought in and have their deposition taken. Or something that would involve more time or more stress for the person.”
Using an investigator
When should you use an investigator and when should you go out and collect the information yourself? Joe says:
“My answer is it depends. What you don't want to do is create conflict for yourself that would make you a witness in the case and prevent you and your firm from representing the client.”
“If it’s an important witness, don’t be afraid to approach them directly,” he advises. “You don’t want to risk the investigator striking out or not being successful, particularly if you know you won’t get a second shot at the witness statement.”
The dangers of social media
“While social media can be a treasure trove of information to find evidence for your cases, you have to make it clear to your clients not to post on social media about the case or about their injuries,” warns Neil, “unless they want the jury or the defendant to see it.”
“The last thing you want is [them to be] posting on social media all of the marathons they have been running. Meanwhile, we have a life care planner saying they need lifelong care, and it'll be the nursing home in six months.”
Top tips for new personal injury lawyers
- Don't take liability for granted on the investigation side
- Don’t just rely on the crash report
- Get physical evidence
- Do not accept conceded liability, because they won't concede it at trial
- Get out of your office, get out and go do the investigation work
“You'd rather put in the time now than get through depositions, get through mediation, and then all of a sudden, realize you had a terrible case, and you put in hundreds of hours of free work.”
ABOUT THE EFFECTIVE LAWYER
The Effective Lawyer teaches ambitious trial lawyers how to grow their skills and create a prosperous law firm. Using lessons learned by accomplished attorneys from around the country, we discuss lessons learned through their trials and tribulations. Our discussions cover a vast range of topics sought out by attorneys looking for advice, from depositions to how to market your law firm. In each show we cover a new topic that an ambitious attorney would want to better understand, while providing practical skills to improve their legal practice.
The show is hosted by Jack Zinda, Founder and Senior Trial Lawyer at Zinda Law Group. In less than 15 years, Jack and his team have grown Zinda Law Group from 3 attorneys to over 30, spanning several states and handling a variety of personal injury cases from gas explosions to truck accidents.