Researching Weather Conditions in Personal Injury Litigation
My book Winning Personal Injury Claims discusses personal injury litigation and the Internet. I present here, free of charge, Chapter 13 in its entirety. Feel free to email me to discuss your case: [email protected]
The Power of the Internet
The Internet has changed all of our lives. It has touched the legal profession in profound ways and revolutionized the practice of law. Lawyers and litigants must take advantage of the resources available on the Internet, or risk being left behind. There are countless uses of the Internet for litigation attorneys. Find the websites that work best for you. I hope this list of favorites helps.
Weather conditions are important in many situations. Personal injury lawyers obtain weather reports for slip-and-fall cases. Since you will have to prove that the ice your client slipped on was present long enough for the defendant to have cleared it, the weather report for the date and location of the injury is crucial. If the weather is relevant to a car crash or any other injury-producing event, you should obtain a weather report. They are available at:
There are six regional U.S. climate centers:
Check your local library for an excellent book called “The Weather Almanac.” It has climatological data for 100 cities across the United States. For links to weather services of over 60 countries, access these sites:
To obtain information on sunrise/sunset, moonrise/moonset, moon phase, moon
illumination, and eclipses in the future or past:
Maps and Satellite Imagery
Google is a great source for satellite imagery. This comes in handy in many legal cases. For example, there are times when photographs taken from the ground do not give the full flavor of an intersection. If the intersection is more than the usual four-point crossing, take a look at the aerial view. You can zoom in for a close up and print the view that best helps prove the point you need to make. Go to http://maps.google.com.
It can be very impressive to clients when, during the initial meeting, you are able to view the area of an accident on your computer. It will help the client show you exactly what happened. Nothing replaces an actual visit to the scene, but computer images are far superior to a sketch drawn on a legal pad.
When you need to find someone, try www.switchboard.com. Many lawyers use this site. It is easy to use and has many features, including reverse phone lookup. If you know the person’s name and state, you can usually find their address and phone number. Locating the defendant in your lawsuit is of prime importance, and not always easy.
In the days before the Internet, you would contact the post office, department of transportation, bureau of vital statistics, and other agencies to obtain current address information. The Internet has dramatically simplified this important task. Try Google first. If your initial search does not turn up your defendant, try variations on the name. If using Google or using other search engines still does not help, you can try the following resources, which offer basic information at minimal cost:
To find e-mail addresses (membership is $19.95):
To find a cell phone number, go to:
Sometimes it is important to quickly determine where a person lives. If you only have an area code, you can quickly find the location. For example, when a potential client calls looking for a referral to an attorney in their town, caller ID tells me the caller’s area code. I look it up so that I will know where to look for referral counsel. To search for an area code, go to www.bennetyee.org/ucsd-pages/area.html.
For free directory assistance:
Statutes of Limitations
Statutes of limitations for accident cases for all 50 states can be found at www.nolo.com. I found an error in one of Nolo’s listings, so consider double-checking this with my statute of limitations web page: https://www.legalaidman.com/images/StatuteOfLimitations.pdf
There are several reasons why you should file suit at least 60 days (and preferably more) before the running of the statute of limitations. If you wait until the last minute, you may later find that the defendant has died. When a defendant is deceased, you must sue the personal representative of the estate, not the deceased. This is potentially lethal to the claim. If a defendant has died, and no personal representative of the estate has been appointed, you may need to file papers with the court raising an estate for the deceased defendant.Death Notices Some sites for death notices include: http://legacy.com/Obituaries.asp www.obituaryregistry.com http://obits.eons.com/local/all_states http://oa.newsbank.com http://ssdi.rootsweb.com
I worked on behalf of the estate of a young man who tragically was run over by an 18-wheeler. Through the Internet, I was able to find a remarkable amount of information about the truck driver and his company. In many states, you can access driving records. I invested a few dollars on a driving record search and struck gold. I learned that in the last six years, the driver had four speeding violations and two separate careless driving violations. This did not include the accident involving my client.
Despite this disgraceful record, his employer permitted him to drive the streets with a loaded weapon. We pursued punitive damages against his employer for negligent hiring, negligent retention, and negligent entrustment of the truck. The employer’s representative informed me that they were not aware of his driving record. Federal regulations require employers to keep a copy of every driver’s driving record. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
The Internet is a powerful force in leveling the litigation playing field. A knowledgeable solo attorney or small firm lawyer can access information that was once the sole domain of large law firms and corporations.
One of the first things that you must do in any injury claim is to contact the insurance company. It is not always easy locating the number for the office handling new claims. For a list and information on all insurance carriers licensed in Pennsylvania, go to www.insurance.state.pa.us.
For corporate name searches in Pennsylvania, try www.dos.state.pa.us. Most, if not all, states have websites that provide this information. These sites are especially useful when you sue a corporation. It is essential that you name the corporation correctly in the lawsuit. For example, if you sue K Mart, you must name them as “K Mart Corporation.” If you name a party incorrectly and the statute of limitations passes, your case may be dismissed. This is another reason why waiting until the 11th hour to file a lawsuit is bad practice. Not infrequently, plaintiffs’ lawyers find they have not named a corporation correctly, even after running a corporate name search. Filing well in advance of the statute will allow you to sleep better.
Explore the website operated by the court in which your litigation is pending. The court’s website may contain essential procedural information you will need to successfully initiate a lawsuit. In Philadelphia, the court’s website can be found at http://courts.phila.gov. I use it most frequently to track the docket entries of cases I am handling. Docket entries provide essential information about cases, such as orders entered by the court, deadlines, hearing dates, rules, forms, judgments, and much more.
I recently tapped the Internet to help defeat a motion to transfer a case from Philadelphia to a rural county. The defendant claimed that trial would be improper in Philadelphia since the accident happened in a rural county. Historically, jury verdicts are much higher in urban settings, so I set about to defeat the motion to transfer.
First, I accessed the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas website. I quickly discovered that this defendant had filed 973 lawsuits in Philadelphia in the past eight years. Since it was not inconvenient for this defendant to file so many suits in Philadelphia, it certainly was not problematic to defend a lawsuit there. This helped convince the court to deny the motion to transfer. Imagine the agony of poring over thousands of files in City Hall trying to discover what my computer revealed in a matter of seconds.
Appellate Courts and Federal Court
If an appeal is filed in your case, you need to access the website for the appellate court. For links to Pennsylvania’s Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth Courts (and multiple county sites), check www.courts.state.pa.us. If you have a case in federal court, the following site will link you to any federal court in the United States: www.uscourts.gov/courtlinks
Association for Justice
Another great resource is www.pajustice.org/PA, which is maintained by the Pennsylvania Association for Justice. There is a wealth of information available, including a lot of current data on tort reform. The American Association for Justice has a similar website. It can be found at: www.justice.org/cps/rde/xchg/justice/hs.xsl/default.htm
The Consumer Product Safety Commission site includes information about
product recalls. www.cpsc.gov
Traffic Crash Report Codes
To decipher coded entries on a traffic crash report: www.actar.org/report.htm
In many accidents in which liability is disputed, the side with the most persuasive accident reconstruction expert is at a great advantage. You will find a great library of articles concerning accident reconstructions at www.tarorigin.com.
A site for Pennsylvania politics is www.politicspa.com. You can find everything from the latest political polls to a list of the best-dressed legislators.
If your litigation involves a particular property, you might want to visit http://brtweb.phila.gov/index.aspx. This website can help you determine property
ownership in Philadelphia.
Although I do not recommend referring a case this way, there are many websites that purport to help you find other lawyers. See, for example, www.attorneylocate.com and http://findlaw.com. Findlaw also has message boards where you can discuss various topics of legal interest. My website, www.LegalAidman.com, also offers this feature.
You certainly should use the Internet to research any lawyer you are considering for a referral. Look at the firm’s website, knowing that the firm is putting its best foot forward. The bar association in your area may have a website you can search for disciplinary records of any lawyer you are considering. You can also simply “Google” any such lawyer and firm, www.google.com.
My favorite search tool is www.accurint.com. Accurint calls itself the most widely accepted locate-and-research tool available to government, law enforcement, and commercial customers. Its data-linking technology returns search results in seconds. Accurint is a low-cost way of finding people, locating assets, obtaining criminal records, etc. For less than $5.00, Accurint provides an extensive list of relatives of the person you are researching. It provides partial social security numbers. You must fit into one or more of the categories of approved users to access Accurint. Accurint is the search tool used by the Internal Revenue Service when pursuing debtors.
There are other ways to find out about a defendant’s assets. To locate last known addresses, neighbors, phone numbers, and assets at $2.00 per search, try: www.merlindata.com.
Another quick and accurate site for an asset check is: www.theintelligencegroup.com.
Try http://publicrecords.searchsystems.net/index.php. This company states that it is “the largest directory of links to free public record databases on the Internet.” You can find business information, corporate filings, property records, unclaimed property, professional licenses, offenders, inmates, criminal and civil court filings, etc.
Several years ago, I was retained by the parents of a 7-year-old boy who suffered severe injuries to two of his fingers when an improperly mortared cement block fell on his hand. I did not feel I could properly assess the value of this case until the boy reached his full height. When he turned 18, I began settlement negotiations. It is essential in every lawsuit to serve the suit papers on the defendant. I needed to locate the homeowner, who had long since moved. I was amazed that in a matter of seconds I found her via Google.
Medical Provider Records
There are websites that allow you to research a physician’s record with ease. Look at www.HealthGrades.com. This site enables you to research over 600,000 physicians nationwide. You can access disciplinary actions, board certification, phone numbers and addresses, education and training, and patient surveys.
Or try www.choicetrust.com. You can instantly conduct a national search for doctors, dentists, chiropractors, and nurses across several specialty areas. You can review their credentials, including general contact information, education, and license details. This site states that nearly 100,000 sanctions and disciplinary actions exist for health care providers throughout the country. When pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit, make sure you research the doctor’s license, education, and credentials.
Medical Terminology and Information
For medical dictionary/encyclopedia sites:
You can do medical research at:
Often, a medical report will contain medical abbreviations that are difficult to
decipher. For a medical abbreviations dictionary:
For serious injury cases, it is critical to use anatomical drawings, animations, and/or models. These tools help to simplify the medical science. They also make the evidence of injury more interesting for the jury. Juries only return large verdicts when they are properly motivated. You cannot motivate unless you first have the jury’s attention. For a good source of these types of tools, see:www.doereport.com.
My website, www.LegalAidman.com, is not a porn site. But a few years back, you might have gotten that impression. These are the perils of those who fail to promptly renew their domain name. This story begins at the time my website was first constructed. Because my web designer listed himself as the billing contact and then moved without giving the domain company his forwarding address, my domain name expired.
There are vultures that react to such events by registering expired domain names for themselves. They then hold the domain name hostage. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that people seeking my website, devoted to helping individuals involved in personal injury litigation, were being directed to a porn site.
Fortunately, a sternly worded letter to Mr. XXX brought him to his senses and he promptly released my site from his unscrupulous clutches.
Exposing Lies with the Internet
Here is an amazing discovery I made via the Internet. I recently filed a lawsuit against a lawyer who refused to pay me a referral fee for a personal injury case I had referred to his firm. He had agreed to pay me one third of the total fee. When the case settled, he conveniently forgot about me.
I decided to sue him in Philadelphia to gain the “home field advantage.” This lawyer practices in New York and New Jersey. He filed objections to my lawsuit, claiming that he did no work in Pennsylvania and had no connection of any kind to Pennsylvania and that, therefore, the Pennsylvania courts had no jurisdiction over him. “Jurisdiction” is defined as the power, right, or authority to interpret and apply the law. He sought transfer of the case to New York or New Jersey.
Just to be sure, I decided to “Google” him. I tried “Googling” his name and his law firm’s name, but found nothing helpful. Finally, I added his middle name and struck pay dirt. It turns out that this lawyer was licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania in 1998. I learned this from his advertisement on www.lawyers.com.
On his website, he holds himself out as a “personal injury specialist in NY, NJ and PA.” Also, the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently transferred him to “inactive status.” I found this information on www.pabulletin.com.
In Pennsylvania, jurisdiction is proper over any person who engages in any business or profession in the Commonwealth. His objections were overruled.
Another Amazing Internet Advance
Google Desktop is a convenience that helps with locating vital information. If you have ever had the frustrating experience of searching through your computer’s files, only to fail to find a piece of important information, try Google Desktop, http://desktop.google.com.
Everyone knows you can search the Internet with Google or any other search engine. Now you can locate missing data on your own computer simply by doing a Google Desktop search. Once you download Google Desktop, do a Google search in the usual way. At the top of the search results, you will see where on your hard drive the information can be found. If it does not appear, try clicking on “desktop.”
This morning I needed the phone number of a person I am scheduled to meet later today. I could not find her number in the usual places, so I “Googled” her name. Within moments I found the file containing her phone number. Google tip of the day: Double-click your control button. This should generate a Google search box on your screen.
Be Careful with E-mail
Whenever you send an e-mail, be aware that unintended eyes may view it. In litigation, this is particularly important. E-mails between attorney and client are protected by the attorney-client privilege. But e-mails to others are not. The other attorney may obtain your client’s e-mails to others via subpoena. I explain this to all of my clients who use e-mail. I also tell them that whenever they send an e-mail regarding their litigation to anyone but me, to do the following:
- Consider first how they would feel if that e-mail were to be viewed by their opponent in the litigation.
- Put into writing only what is absolutely necessary.
- Put into writing only what is true.
- Send the e-mail to me first so that I can be sure it is ok to forward.
It is always a good idea to check with your attorney before taking any step in furtherance of your case. With e-mail, it is especially important.
“Friending” and the Law
Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace continue to grow. These sites have tools to maintain privacy. But is any online content truly private? On Facebook, one permits access to information through a process called “friending.” It is important that your clients “friend” only people they know. What is to stop a lawyer from “friending” an opposing party to gather information? Ethics? Anyone who indiscriminately accepts “friends” may open the door to a dangerous loss of privacy.
Smart lawyers make use of Google and other search tools for many reasons. If a litigant has posted anything relevant to the litigation, it may be admissible as evidence. Further, your client’s online content will allow the opposing attorney into their world. This may provide insight into the client’s personality that can work against them.
You should never post anything on the Internet that could some day be embarrassing. Smart employers Google prospective employees. If they find inappropriate photos or words in connection with your name, you are unlikely to receive a job offer. Now more than ever, you need to evaluate how you, clients, and family members conduct yourselves online. All parents should teach their children that what goes online never really goes away.
Other Legal Research
A wealth of resources for legal research is available on the Internet.
A few examples:
The Library of Congress Law Library iswww.loc.gov/law/index.php.
Service of Process
It is important to know the county where a defendant resides or does business. When you file suit, each defendant must be served with the suit papers. In many states, only the sheriff or constable for the appropriate county can serve the papers. One of my favorite sites to find out the proper county, based on place name or zip code, is: http://quickfacts.census.gov/cgi-bin/qfd/lookup?state=51000. Or just run a Google search on the name of the city. It should be easy to determine the county this way.
You can enter default judgment against a defendant who does not respond when you file suit. You may need to verify that the defendant is not in the military. See: www.dmdc.osd.mil/scra/owa/scra.home.
You can find an exceptional list of websites for litigation beginning on page 96 of The Litigation Paralegal, A Systems Approach (Fifth Edition) by James W. H. McCord, J.D. Find the sites that work best for you.