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During the past year, as questions about investigations have been submitted to me for this column, several questions seem to be asked repeatedly. This month’s column will answer those often-asked questions.
Q. I am currently working on a case that has several named defendants. Recently, I received a telephone call from an investigator who had been retained to conduct surveillance for another of the named defendants. The investigator had over two hours of film of the plaintiff engaging in activities he reported he could no longer perform as a result of his injuries. The client he had worked for had settled the case, and the investigator wanted to know if I was interested in buying the film. Have you ever heard of this, and is it ethical?
A. In the past I have split the cost of doing surveillance between named defendants; however, it has been my client who has requested the fee split. If the other defendants had settled their portions of the case, I would still want to ask if they had any objections to my using the film. It is possible that part of the settlement included an order not to release any information from the case.
If all parties agree the film can be used by other defendants, it is then up to you to negotiate how much money, if any, you are willing to pay for the film.
Q. Recently an investigator we hired had to testify in court with respect to his investigation. In his testimony it was learned that he was not a licensed investigator, but his employer was. The investigator worked under the employer’s license. Is this appropriate?
A. There are states in which Private Investigators do not need to be licensed. In these states, all an individual has to do to work as a PI is … to work as a PI.
In those states that do require a license, it is appropriate for employees to work under the employer’s investigator’s license. There are instances, however, when insurance companies or their representatives responsible for hiring a PI, need to pay attention to such work arrangements. Some licensed investigators have Errors and Omissions insurance coverage for themselves, but not for unlicensed employees working under their (the employer’s) license. If this is the case, eventual liability would ultimately rest with the hiring company. What I am trying to point out here, is that insurance companies have many things to consider besides cost per-hour when they hire an outside investigator.
Q. We hired an investigator to do a background investigation on a plaintiff. The case settled, so we called the investigator and told him to cease all efforts. When I received the report a week later, it included information obtained after I had advised him to stop. Why would this happen?
A. Most likely the investigator had contacted people about the plaintiff’s background, prior to your closing the file. It is possible these people got back to the investigator after you had closed the file. Most likely the investigator included the information as a courtesy to you.
Q. Why are some companies named after individuals while other companies have generic names? Is there a reason for this?
A. It’s a matter of choice. In California, names must be approved by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Collections and Investigative Services. A company may not use a name that implies it is a governmental agency. For example, a company could not call itself F.B.I. Investigations. If the owners name is in the title of the company, (eg. John Doe Investigations), a fictitious business name statement need not be filed. Additionally, if the company is a corporation, a fictitious business name statement is not necessary.
Sherry Howard is the President of Exclusive Investigations, Inc., a Santa Ana, California, investigation firm.
© 1995 John Cooke Fraud Report