Every once in awhile a case comes along that has a little bit more intrigue than the run-of-the mill investigation. A few years ago, we were asked to look into why a man was injured while working on a scissor lift that had apparently gotten away from him. In order to understand what happened, it is important that one realizes that a scissor lift can be raised and lowered while in place or moved forward and backward. The controls for this particular lift were located on the side of the platform railing and were raised and lowered as the platform was raised and lowered. This particular lift had been rented from an equipment rental company by a construction company and as stated earlier, was in use at the time of the accident. Specifically, a construction employee was standing on the platform in a raised position while attempting to move the lift to his left. Upon releasing the control to stop the machine, the machine did not respond and eventually crashed into a forklift. As a result of this incident, the rental company, by its contractual agreement with the construction company, was expecting to be indemnified because the employee had filed suit against the rental company for his injuries.
After receiving this assignment, a trip was made to the rental company’s location in order to conduct an examination of the machine. At first, no restrictions had been placed on the examination. Upon arrival, it was learned from rental company representatives that the lift could not be operated, disassembled, or tested in any way. The examination was to be limited to taking photographs and making notes of observations. One of the photographs that was taken is shown below. The photograph shows the condition of the control panel as it was found during the first examination. Note the dirty appearance and the type of joystick used.
Approximately four months later, a joint examination was organized wherein various parties that had used or worked on the machine gathered to witness the testing and examination of the lift. The examination was begun with allowing all of the parties to photograph the machine. Although the machine had been photographed four months previous, the lift was again photographed. When the photographs were later reviewed and compared with the photographs taken at the first examination, it was then discovered that the control in place during the second examination was different form the control initially found on the machine. The appearance of the control shown below is the control that was on the lift during the second examination. Clearly, this control is different from the one shown in the photograph above. It then became obvious that not only had the control been replaced but, the only reason to replace the control was to hide the problem in the first control that most likely caused the accident. Once the lawyers were made aware of the switch, the claim for indemnification by the rental company soon disappeared. Presumably, the lawsuit filed by the employee against the rental company was settled.
Although fraud exists, even in civil cases, it is fairly hard to prove. This aforementioned case was more the exception than the rule. Over the past 30 years, I have had several cases where I thought that something was missing or there was more to the situation than “meets the eye”. In all cases, at the end of the day, it’s what you can prove not what you can feel. If you can develop proof for what you can feel, then great! If not, then all you do is conclude based on your evidence. If you are going to commit fraud, be prepared to cover even the smallest detail. As illustrated above, no one thought that the control replacement would be noticed, but it was!