If a private investigator fails to get results, does the client get a refund?

Just curious. If you hire a private detective and he fails to, for instance, find a missing person, does a client get some of his money back? Is that kind of thing covered by insurance?

I would expect those kinds of issues to be covered in the contract. You’re probably going to pay x amount for his time and y amount for a certain specified end result. So he’ll at least get x and possible get x+y.

Not paying anything at all unless a body is found sounds more like a bounty hunter.

You’re paying the PI for his time, not for the results.

It’s like a doctor. If the doctor makes a good faith effort to cure you, he still keeps his fees even if he fails.

I have never hired a PI. It is probably like most other professional services, where there is an industry-standard way of doing things, which is probably hourly fee + expenses. Nothing would prevent you from proposing a contingency-based arrangement, but that doesn’t mean anyone would touch it.

Lawyers often take civil suits on a contingency basis, collecting typically 1/3 of the award if they win and nothing if they lose. But when lawyer takes a civil case, he’s got a pretty good idea what the case is all about and can assess whether he’s got a good chance to win. Private investigations, OTOH, are high risk. If you hire a PI to find a missing person, he doesn’t know whether that person has been kidnapped, at the bottom of a lake, or hiding and not wanting to be found. To manage that risk the fee would have to be pretty high. So you would pay nothing if he fails, but you might pay three times as much for success as someone who bought the same job by the hour.

Why would you expect them to? They might be hired to do an essentially impossible talk kile find somone who their employer thinks ran away but is actually dead and buried in a swamp.

I am very skeptical any PI would ever agree to a contingency fee for the very same reason. They know they may be given a task that cannot be achieved, but they can’t know it can’t be achieved before they make the contract.

I’ve done some P.I. work. On some types of cases this is exactly how it works.

On others (like surveillance work) it’s just an hourly rate. On a case like an insurance/workers comp case an investigator can’t guarantee that the subject under surveillance is going to go out and do something worth video taping. The P.I. can only sit and wait, and his fee is to do just that. And it’s usually an hourly fee with a minimum required (mine was always 8 hours plus expenses).

Some investigators do civil process work. That is paid per paper served. Sometimes there is a fee for an attempt, sometimes there is no fee until 3 attempts are made. It depends on who you hire.

Up until about 3 years ago I used to do a ton of Workers Comp surveillance work to supplement my income as a police officer.

Some ask for a retainer- they get to keep that (and expenses) success or failure. It does depend on your deal/contract, some will work on a continency basis with a deposit.

My buddy’s ex-wife disappeared with his son. He says different PIs have come back to him and his 2nd wife with, “That’s going to take more than your $500.” She seems to have changed her name in an unusual way, or illegally.

He didn’t get his money back, AFAIK.

I was just curious, my only experience with private investigators is through mystery novels. I was thinking if they came up empty handed, you would still owe them for expenses. And if you had enough money to hire a p.i. in the first place, then you wouldn’t be worrying about getting a refund if there were no results. Thx for the answers.

However, since you pay for services rendered and have serious suspicions that the PI didn’t fulfill the service part, he would be guilty of fraud or false accounting. Difficult to prove in practice of course, but a theoretical possibility. Depends on why the person is missing, and why you are hiring the PI - a child kidnapped by a non-custody parent is different than an adult; an adult who was murdered and buried in thousands of square miles of national forest is pretty hard to find, but somebody who moved into next town without changing their name should be rather easy. So is the person hiring the PI because they are a 70-year old frail old granny, or a 50.-year old naive man without any idea how to find people, or is it a 30-year old woman who’s exhausted all internet search and now needs an expert?

If a second PI finds the missing person after 1 day, and the first billed for 2 weeks, that could be an indication that the first messed up somewhere; or that the second was lucky by stumbling across the missing person in the supermarket.

As a matter of curiosity, I wonder if a lot of private investigators also go after bounties. It seems like there’d be considerable overlap in the skill set at least. In fictional television, Keith Mars went back and forth between the two types of work, though his bounty hunting was often a plot device to leave Veronica alone for the entire episode, or to lift or lower the Mars family fortunes as required.