In Part 1, I gave you some tips for what information you should look for at an inspection of your customer’s loss. This post contains some other important tips for scene inspections, including scene etiquete and how to document everything you’re learning from the inspection.
Don’t spoliate evidence. Yes, I’ve spelled that right—it’s spoliate, not spoil. “Spoliation of evidence” is a legal concept that prohibits the alteration or destruction of relevant evidence. Spoliating evidence is not looked upon favorably by the courts. It can result in criminal charges and negatively—sometimes disastrously—affect your defense in a civil case. Therefore, you should notify and give the opportunity to participate in any inspection any potentially interested party. And you should not do anything destructive to any evidence until you do so.
As in my example above, if you suspect the fire started in the furnace, don’t start taking it apart to try to identify the problem—unless the furnace manufacturer and servicer have representatives there and everyone agrees to do so. For alarm equipment that allegedly malfunctioned that also means you should not disassemble or make any changes to it, including disconnecting any wiring or electrical service to it, until the products’ manufacturers have been notified of the loss and have an opportunity to participate.
Don’t make new friends. No matter how friendly that attorney or claims adjuster for the allegedly aggrieved party may seem to you, he or she is not your friend. Do not share any information with anyone who is not there on your behalf. And be careful of who may be listening in on your conversations. Scene inspections often feel like a collaborative effort—as a pack of people move from room to room together looking at the same things. In the end, however, it is every man/woman/company for themselves. This is not the time to explain to anyone how the alarm system works, what information you see as relevant at the inspection, or your theories of what could have gone wrong. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open.
Don’t let anyone rush you. As I mentioned above, scene inspections typically involve a group of people moving together to look at the same things. If everyone else is finished with their review and waiting for you, the pressure may be on to hurry. Do not rush. Take your time and satisfy yourself that you have all the information you need.
Document, document, document. You should not rely on your memory alone as to what you have learned and observed at the inspection. It may be years before a claim turns into a lawsuit, or at best months until what you have learned at an inspection will be used in an ongoing lawsuit. You must take a lot of photographs, of everything, and from every angle. Also, you should take notes and make them detailed enough so that you can understand them later. Be aware, however, that your notes (and photographs) will likely have to produced to the opposing party in a lawsuit. So be factual in your notes, but do not include any statements or opinions that could be damaging to your defense. For example, if your inspection makes you conclude that it is possible your new installer may have flubbed this one up, please share this information with your insurer and your attorney, but do not put that in your notes. That is not a fact you are likely to forget, and you could be wrong—giving your lawyer the formidable task of explaining away your notes in the lawsuit.
Next read Investigating a customer’s loss (Part 3), to learn about other sources of information in your investigation, including using experts.