Civil suits are always a possibility for private investigators. To protect yourself against civil action claims, your investigative reports require careful review, and editing. This will protect you, and your private investigative firm. If you haven't been the target of a civil suit, chances are you will some day.
Consider that your investigative report is your best insurance against such cases when properly written. Your report must be factual, accurately track any evidence collected, and accurately reflect any information gleamed from your interviews.
Reporting only the facts you have found during your investigation is the first step in everything that you write. Each, and every sentence should be backed up by evidence, information from an interview, or from your direct observations. Use footnotes to point to information collected that supports your facts. Footnotes can point to appendices such as; surveillance logs/notes; interviews conducted; or evidence collected. If you can't find information to support what is stated in your sentence then you should delete it. Other key points:
Tracking evidence is another area that requires careful, methodical, and detailed description. Whether a civil case or a criminal case, document all evidence, completing chain-of-custody reports that contain all of the information needed to accurately identify the evidence, where it was, how it was packaged, and secured. Demonstrate how the information was handled such as; "Documents were secured in company evidence locker in a sealed envelope." Remember, that one of the first approaches for an attorney will be to discredit any evidence collected, whether they believe it to be false, or mishandled. Improperly handled evidence may not fully discredit an investigation but it can be a reputation killer. Imagine being on the witness stand, "So Investigator [insert your name], you didn't feel the documents were important enough to be handled with standard chain-of-custody procedures?"
Accurately identifying information obtained from interviews of witnesses, suspects, or others is also critical. You can expect that people will change their statements. To protect yourself against, "I didn't say that", review your notes with the person being interviewed. When possible, have them write a statement that you can refer too in your report using footnotes. Best practice is to have the person handwrite their statement, but if typing it out and signing is the preferred method, then have their signature witnessed by someone. You can use a statement form that includes a statement that the individual is affirming the information to be true and accurate to the best of their knowledge. Or, you can have them add the same statement to their handwritten or typed statement. This great protection if their story changes, or they can not be found later.
Writing your reports to include only facts, accurately tracking the chain-of-custody of evidence, and ensuring accuracy of interviews will help to protect you if your investigation is ever questioned.
Pro PI staff
Experienced professionals and trainers.