This is a guest blog, provided by Royce Ray. Royce is the Director, Subrogation Recovery Unit, with The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. He is a Certified Subrogation Recovery Professional (CSRP), with over 20 years experience in the area of personal injury law. He is an expert.
In my August 2010 article
, I emphasized the importance of an early investigation to successful subrogation. One element of such an investigation should be photographs (and plenty of them!). Indeed, photographs can add significant value to a third party claim and consequently, make a subrogation claim more valuable, which will save you money on your comp insurance.
When I think about the critical parts of a good investigation, the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” immediately comes to mind. Few things are more persuasive to a jury in an injury case than graphic depictions of what happened. It is one thing for a jury to hear a witness’ description of a scene or event. It is entirely different for a jury to see a picture. Which one do you think would be more persuasive, vivid color photographs or witness testimony?
The time to take plenty of photos is during the initial subrogation investigation. The incident scene will rapidly change as time passes. Consequently, the quicker that you can document with photographs the better.
You should take many pictures, even of items that you think are not important. Often things that appear unimportant during the initial incident investigation will be important later. Once that happens, if you do not have a photo of the item in controversy it is too late and you will be at a disadvantage. The best way to prevent that is to get photos showing lots of different perspectives, distances, heights, views, angles, close-ups, surfaces, and conditions. A yard stick, tape measure or other object can help demonstrate distances and relative sizes. If possible, you should get pictures of the employee’s injuries. If a product liability claim is possible, detailed pictures of the product and all of its components (including all labels) should be taken as well.
Video footage of the area being investigated must be strongly considered as video can be even more powerful at conveying information than pictures. Sometimes you will face circumstances where you need to take photographs or video but do not have time to retrieve a quality camera. Many cell phones and blackberries have decent cameras or video recorders. These applications will suffice in an emergency.
An important word of caution before taking videos, especially before using any device with audio recording capability: you should thoroughly familiarize yourself with any applicable Federal and state criminal laws that govern electronic eavesdropping (preferably you should consult with an attorney).
Be sure to create a log that details who took the photos, the date, time, and place that they were taken, a description of what each photo shows and why they were taken. This information will come in handy months or years later because as time passes you can demonstrate the intent of the photo without having to rely on memory. And, generally testimony from the person who took the photos is needed to lay the proper foundation for getting the photographs admitted into evidence for consideration by a jury.
It is a mistake to assume that taking a few pictures here and there is adequate. You can never have enough photographs. In the computer age, there is no reason not to have lots of good photographs, for taking, storing and organizing large numbers of quality digital photographs is inexpensive and easy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Royce Ray joined The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. in 2007 and serves as Director of Special Investigations/Subrogation Unit. Royce’s area of focus is subrogation investigation, management, and recovery. Prior to joining AEU, Royce practiced law in Mobile, Alabama for 17 years, handling litigation with an emphasis on plaintiff personal injury cases. He received his bachelor’s degree from Rice University, magna cum laude, and his law degree from the University of Alabama. Royce was admitted to the Alabama State Bar in 1990 and is a member of the Mobile Bar Association. Royce holds the Certified Subrogation Recovery Professional (CSRP) designation conferred by the National Association of Subrogation Professionals.