FOIA and Personal Injury
FOIA stands for the Freedom of Information Act. Both the U.S. and all 50 states have FOIA laws. The laws at the state level differ from state to state. You need to know the details of your state law to make a FOIA request at that level.
There are some basics that apply across the board whether you’re dealing with the U.S. or a state.
FOIA Requests Must Be Focused, Concise and Tough
First, target your request. In dealing with the U.S., there are nine (9) areas of inquiry that are exempt. This means that requests that fall into any one of those 9 areas may be objected to. In dealing with the U.S., the areas that you most often see as being claimed as exempt are requests for classified info, law enforcement info, privacy protected info, internal decisions and matters subject to a privilege.
Second, write your request in plain English. Research who in an office may have the documents you want. Use search terms that are narrow and that the person who is likely to do the search will know.
Third, be tough. Under U.S. law the agency must respond within 20 business days. Once that deadline passes, you have the right to go to court. You need to be tough in the pursuit of your request. Follow up any phone calls with persons handling your request with an email stating the details of what was said.
Other FOIA Requests
Some common areas of requests are such things as car crashes. Request the 911 logs to identify who called in the crash. Any call logs dealing with a crash will identify the phone number of the caller. These people may not be listed on the police report.Keep in mind that some public records are only kept for a short time. Filing a prompt request is a good idea. As part of your 911 request you can also request police radio traffic in regards to the event. You may also want prior 911 calls dealing with that same spot where the crash occurred. Call, or contact us for a free consult.
In addition in regards to car crashes, you may also want to obtain traffic light info dealing with sequence and how long a light stays green. In addition you can get info about walk signals and how the walk signal may relate to the traffic signal.
You may also obtain photo logs of the roadway. Crashes that occur near a government building or near a police car may be on video.
In your premises case you may want to get 911 calls to that property and any prior police presence at that address. These may show that the defect that you are claiming has existed for a long time.
If your case is a real estate dispute, any planning or zoning documents may be sought through a FOIA request.
In cases involving people who have a license issued by the U.S., state or local body, you should obtain all prior complaints, license info or other papers maintained as to that person. In addition send a FOIA request to the public health office to obtain any info or adverse event reports about that person.
Two Stage Requests
A good tactic to use is to submit your request in two (2) stages. The first request should be very narrow. Based on what they produce from that request, you should then submit a second request that is broader. The wider net will likely produce a bigger catch.