If you’re considering hiring a private investigator, whether you’re a consumer, a law firm, or an attorney, there’s a cautionary tale you need to hear. This story serves as a stark reminder that engaging with a private investigator without due diligence can lead to significant liabilities and even criminal trouble. In this blog post, we’ll delve into a specific case and explore the potential pitfalls associated with hiring a private investigator.
The Case of Unintended Trespass
The scenario unfolds in the context of a personal injury lawsuit. A party involved in the lawsuit, either the plaintiff or the defendant, hired a private investigator to conduct surveillance on the injured party. The aim was to verify the extent of the injuries claimed in the lawsuit. However, the investigation took a wrong turn when the private investigator unknowingly trespassed on the property of the injured person.
The investigator set up surveillance near the injured person’s residence, assuming the property boundaries were as they appeared on the surface. Unfortunately, they failed to conduct a proper title search or survey, leading to a critical mistake. The dirt road they thought was outside the property turned out to be an easement, and the investigator was parked on the injured person’s land. This breach of privacy resulted in a lawsuit against not just the investigator but also the insurance company, defense lawyers, and the private investigative firm.
The High Stakes of Improper Investigations
The lawsuit demanded a staggering 13 billion dollars in damages for trespass and invasion of privacy. While the outcome remains uncertain, the case highlights the potential repercussions of improper investigative practices. Even if a case is won, the financial cost of defending against such claims can be exorbitant.
Lessons Learned: Legal and Ethical Considerations
The key takeaway from this case is the importance of ensuring that any private investigator you hire operates within the bounds of the law. This applies not only to surveillance but also to other investigative activities, such as obtaining records. For instance, federal laws like the Graham Leach Bliley Act regulate the methods by which information can be obtained legally.
The Ripple Effect: Liability Beyond the Investigator
Crucially, the liability extends beyond the investigator alone. In the discussed case, the lawsuit targeted not just the investigator but also the insurance company, defense lawyers, and the private investigative firm. Clients must be aware that they could be held responsible for the actions of the investigators they hire.
Vetting Your Private Investigator
Before engaging a private investigator, conduct thorough vetting to ensure they possess the necessary knowledge and experience in the relevant area. Understand the laws governing investigative practices, whether it’s surveillance, record retrieval, or other research methods. A reputable investigative firm should specialize in specific areas, avoiding practices outside their expertise.
Real-Life Examples of Investigative Missteps
Two additional cases serve as cautionary tales. In one instance, a private investigator engaged in illegal pretexting to obtain a client’s bank information. In another case, a tech company’s executive hired an investigator to obtain cell phone records illegally, leading to severe legal consequences for the company and its executives.
Proceed with Caution
The stories shared here underscore the critical importance of due diligence when hiring a private investigator. Clients must be proactive in ensuring that investigative activities adhere to legal and ethical standards. In a world where information is power, obtaining it unlawfully can lead to unintended and costly consequences. As a client, it’s crucial to recognize that ignorance of the law is not an excuse, and vetting your investigative partners is a responsibility that cannot be overlooked.