Dames and double-crossers
Mention 'private investigator' these days and it's hard not to think of those old Hollywood films. You know, the ones with mucky mac'd PIs sneaking around, busting bad guys and raising hell with a dame or two.
A cliche, of course, and the reality is rather more mundane. It's more likely you'll be dealing with divorce cases, investigating tax fraud and looking into employee dishonesty.
Writing reports and carrying out background checks might not sound sexy, but it is risky. Accuse the wrong person and you could end up with a defamation claim filed against you. Overlook some evidence crucial to your client's investigation and you could get sued for negligence.
The last thing you need is to be investigated yourself.
Private eye in the public eye
Real fears about private investigators "operating in the shadows" and invading privacy have led to a raft of regulatory and data protection laws, putting PIs under more scrutiny than ever.
PI (professional indemnity this time) insurance doesn't cover anything illegal, of course. But it does cover certain errors and negligent acts, including defamation, breach of confidentiality and loss of documents or data.
That's not the full story, though. If you're going out and about, you open the door to a different type of risk: people.
Accidents happen, no matter how careful you are. If you're to blame for something getting broken or a person getting hurt, you could face a big bill to fix it and another one for compensation. Public liability insurance covers claims against you for bodily injury and property damage, including the legal costs to defend you.
Detective without a clue
Far be it from us to tell you how to do your job. But there are certain things you can do to make it less risky (from an insurance point of view). Just think of the following as taking some practical steps towards self-preservation:
Protect your interests. Draw up a contract that spells out your terms of work and payment plus any complaints procedures. That way, you can deal with problems between you and your client quickly (and preferably out of court). Remember to include a section detailing your client's reasons for the investigation and what they intend to do with the information you give them – this reduces your liability in case of later disputes.
Vet your staff. If you're head of a surveillance company, you need to check all your staff are licensed, including employees, employers, managers, supervisors, directors and partners, and any other PI firms you work with. The maximum penalty for failing to do this is a fine of up to £5,000 and six months in prison.
Bone up on the law. If you find yourself straying into unknown legal territory, or in need of a recap on specific areas of law, professional bods like the Institute of Professional Investigators and the Association of British Investigators offer plenty of courses to warn you of the pitfalls.
Review your licence. Not directly related to insurance, but worth doing to demonstrate your competence and professionalism. Under UK law, anyone who gathers information by surveillance or investigation needs to be licensed by the Security Industry Authority. The relevant act is being revised by the Home Office, so if you have doubts about whether what you do will be licensed in future, now's the time to drop them a line.
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