By David Lackman, For The Litigator October, 1997
Finding an Investigator Online
It is not uncommon, of course, to see investigation firms or in-house investigators actively assisting insurers and their counsel to defending injury or disability claims. As plaintiffs counsel we are all to familiar with one of the primary roles of investigation in these cases - that of conducting surreptitious surveillance of activities of our clients. What may be less familiar or understood is that investigation firms also provide valuable litigation support services to counsel acting for injured claimants. As trail approaches, if not already done, consideration should be given to locating the appropriate investigator to secure the kinds of information and evidence you may require in further developing your theory of liability, or for purposes of cross-examination. Examples of such information and evidence would include records of a police investigation, photographic or videotaped images of the injury scene or instrumentally for demonstrative use at trail, searches for witnesses having potentially useful knowledge relating to important disputed issues, background inquiries with respect to the opposite parties, their witnesses or their experts, inquiries into regulatory breaches such as liquor licensing violations in the context of dramshop liability claims and asset searches and the unearthing of suspected fraudulent conveyances in circumstances where judgement debtor concerns exist.
Although there are many different ways of going about the task online, finding a qualified investigator might begin with a visit to the Private Investigation Home Page, www.pihome.com a sight which has pulled together links listed by geographic region Country, State, Province, to a wide range of investigation firms and services, most offering e-mail access for inquiries.
The Ontario link transports the reader to about a dozen investigation firms located throughout the Province. One of them by way of illustration, is Corpa Investigations www.corpa.com, a Mississauga firm which has established what is clearly one of the most elaborate and informative sights in this category on the World Wide Web. Visitors are greeted with a main menu of topics such as: "Services", "About Corpa", "Investigate before You Invest", and "FAQ's About Hiring PIs". For lawyers looking for litigation support services, a detailed list of areas of litigation support is provided. The sight also offers "Investigative Links" to a wide array of potentially useful sights under headings such as: "Law Resources", "Police Resources" and "Insurance Resources".
While cynics would suggest that locating the appropriate investigation firm is a quick and easy walk through the Yellow Pages or call to a colleague, they have perhaps not spent much if any time examining the investigation-related resources available online, or required investigative services outside of Ontario.
Before hiring investigators to undertake a search for a evasive witness or entity, consider Canada 411 www.canada411.sympatico.ca, a Canada-wide web-based directory of individuals and businesses which boasts over 10 million listings. If your needs take you south of the border, The Switchboard Internet Directory www.switchboard.com may well be your first and last stop. That site claims a database of 106 million residential and 11 million business listings. A test search under my own name yielded five listings, with complete addresses and telephone numbers, in three U.S. states. This type of search could dramatically narrow the field in which your locating efforts, or those of your investigator, can be focussed.
There are several other "person locator" sites on the World Wide Web that might also be of interest, easily accessed through the main search engines.
Networking within the Profession
Some of the best evidence supporting liability in your client's claim - particularly in the product liability area - may already exist in a colleague's closed file. The likelihood of your knowing this, however, is remote unless, with the help of some do-it-yourself investigating you make known your interest in seeking out information concerning the subject of your claim, be it a product, the conduct of a manufacturer or entity in a chain of distribution, or even an insurer (e.g. in a bad faith setting). Your interest might alternatively involve information about your own or an opposing party's expert, in terms of the testimony given by, or obtain through cross-examination of that individual in pervious hearings. In this latter regard, in addition to the means of networking described below, lawyers might consider online organizations such as the Nation Expert Transcript Service www.net.scripts.com. This U.S. firm offers transcripts of expert witness testimony, obtainable for a fee through its online catalogue, by e-mail, fax or mail. The catalogue is also available through WESTLAW, West Publishing's computer-assisted legal research service.
While networking has long been a feature, if not founding principle, of lawyer membership organizations, the growing opportunities for networking are in large measure related to the modern desk-top ease of access to other lawyers and to professional bulletin boards.