Performing a site inspection for a legal matter for the first time can be intimidating. Whether you’re an expert witness inspecting a workplace, construction site, office building, or hotel, the legal team that hired you is relying on your opinion, professionalism, and expertise to support their injured client.
Here is a checklist to help you prepare for your first site inspection:
1) Understand the Underlying Dispute
Understanding the underlying claim helps you prepare for how you’ll review the property and decide what tools you need. In addition to the basics, like measuring tape and a camera, you may want more advanced equipment like laser measuring tools.
You’ll also learn whether you need to inspect the property as a whole or focus on a specific area, such as an allegedly defective staircase.
A lawyer may ask you to give your opinion regarding a potential property defect, safety issue, or regulatory violation. You may need to opine regarding who or what is responsible for the problem. It’s an important task.
Keep in mind, you’re a neutral third party. You’re there to inspect the site to provide your expert opinion regarding a specific issue. Your job is not to automatically agree with your hiring attorney’s stance.
2) Request Relevant Documents Beforehand
Ask the legal team involved for any relevant documents, such as blueprints, previous site inspection reports, or information regarding repairs. You may need these documents for comparison or context. Don’t go into the site inspection without any information about the property.
3) Plan to Document Everything
You’re conducting a site inspection to record your findings for a legal team and court case. You may need to back up your observations and conclusions in court. To do that, you’ll want to thoroughly document the property in photos, videos, and your notes.
Consider how you’ll document the site. For example, would you benefit from more than one pair of hands? Maybe you’ll take photos while someone else records a video. Discuss your preferences with the hiring attorney. It may be that the lawyer can attend the site inspection with you and help. On the other hand, the attorney may prefer to hire an additional photographer or videographer.
As for your notes, consider the method that works best for you. Different methods include using a voice recorder, pen and paper, or a mobile phone or tablet. Whatever way you choose, make sure it’s secure and something you can easily protect or back up.
In most cases, you won’t have a second chance to review the property. You have to be thorough in the time you’re allowed. To keep yourself on track, you might prefer to create a checklist to bring to the site inspection.
4) Discuss Your Limitations
It’s important to establish with your hiring lawyer where you will and won’t go and what you will or won’t do. For instance, does the lawyer expect you to go somewhere potentially dangerous? Precarious locations could include a crawl space, unfinished attic, roof, or balcony without railings. You and the attorney should discuss potential hazards beforehand. If inspecting the site in question requires safety equipment, be sure to let your hiring attorney know in advance.
Another limitation may be that you won’t move furniture or other objects. Again, your team should know what to expect. This includes whether your inspection will be based purely on what you can see without moving property.
5) Don’t Let Anyone Rush You
If you haven’t performed site inspections for a lawsuit before, you might not be sure how long it’ll take. Talk with the attorney and provide a liberal estimate for how long you’ll need to be thorough. It helps to overestimate the possible hours. If you underestimate the time, you may run into an issue with the property owner or the opposing legal team.
You’ll want to be efficient, but don’t rush. Hurrying through the inspection can lead to mistakes. Consequently, the opposing party can use those mistakes to tarnish the credibility of your report.
6) Prepare for Interference
A representative from the opposing side may be at the inspection. While they should be polite and not obstruct your work or attempt to intimidate you, opposing counsel could be difficult. Whatever happens, you’ll need to remain professional and confident in your process. Also, don’t hesitate to note any intimidation or interference in your voice or written notes.
Opposing counsel may ask you questions during the site inspection. You aren’t required to answer—this isn’t a deposition (though you may be deposed later). In fact, it’s usually better for your legal team if you don’t. One way to sidestep this issue is to say they’ll see your report when you’re finished.
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