In the recent case of Stephen Slesinger, Inc. v. Walt Disney Co.,(Cal.App. 2 Dist.) the Plaintiff saw it’s case dismissed for deliberate and egregious conduct. The Plaintiff had hired a private investigator who trespassed on the defendant’s property and removed confidential documents from trash bins.
While this is an extreme example of how spying on your opponent can backfire, one should always think carefully about hiring an investigator to initiate surveillance on the opposing party. This tactic has become very popular in personal injury cases where the defendant just doesn’t believe that the plaintiff is as injured as badly as he says. Sometimes, you do hit the jack-pot. Often times though what you get is a hard to see video of a plaintiff merely walking to his car. One of the attorneys in this office had the experience where the video was actually of the plaintiff’s really large and masculine looking wife. The judge laughed out loud when the wife showed up at trial and identified herself on the video-tape.
The key is to balance how sleazy will you look for spying on your opponent, compared to any useful information you might gather. Each case should be analyzed carefully before determining to go forward with the expense of a private investigator.