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Four Stages of Discovery in a Typical Personal Injury Case

Thursday, October 2, 2014
Shedding Light On The Discovery Process

After your lawyer files suit, you will go through several stages of a process called discovery. Most people do not know what that means or what it looks like, so I will give you a snapshot here.

Discovery picture

Written Discovery: Interrogatories, Request for Production of Documents and Things, and Request for Admission.

Initially, after suit has been filed, your lawyer will send the other side a series of questions that the Defendant has to answer in writing, under oath. Those questions are called Interrogatories. Interrogatories are limited to 30 in number unless there is a good reason for why you need more and then the judge has to approve it first.

At the same time, your lawyer will send Request for Production of Documents to the Defendant, or his attorney. This is a formal request for the other side to produce documentation that they will use to combat the lawsuit.

And lastly, Request for Admissions are usually done after all the written discovery and depositions described below are completed. In this process, your lawyer can ask the other side to admit certain things to conclusively establish facts prior to trial. This usually streamlines the trial and highlights the areas of disagreement for the court and the jury.  It can also serve as a basis for a motion for summary judgment.

Party Depositions.

In every case, the other side’s lawyer gets to sit down across the table from you and ask you questions about your case. These questions could be questions about the car wreck, about your prior medical history, or about your current injuries, treatment, or prognosis. This is usually pretty informal and most attorneys are just interested in obtaining information directly from you. Your lawyer will set next to you the whole time and object to anything that might be objectionable.

At the same time, your lawyer will likely depose the defendant and ask questions about the wreck to establish his or her negligence, recklessness, etc.

Other Depositions.

If there are witnesses to the car wreck or other witnesses, including doctors, that might testify at the trial, they can be deposed too. The deposition puts the witness on the record stating what his or her testimony might be. If the witness testifies differently at trial, the lawyer can pull out the deposition and show the jury or the judge that the person either lied in court or lied in his or her deposition.

Defense Medical Examination (DME)

The Defense attorney is entitled to hire a doctor to examine you if your injuries are still persisting and those injuries are observable. That doctor is then required to write a report with his or her findings and that report must be filed with the court. The Defense attorneys usually call this an independent medical examination, but there is nothing independent about it. The doctor is hired by the Defense attorney and paid by the insurance company. That bias usually comes out during the doctors deposition.

Alternatively, the Defense attorney may hire a doctor just to review your medical records and give an opinion. That type of “record review” is not the same as a DME. The same bias applies and the doctor never sees you in person, which limits his or her ability to truly and honestly evaluate your injuries and treatment.

After all of this is complete, your case is typically ready for trial.  Your lawyer will likely set the trial date somewhere in the middle of this process.  This trial date gives you and your lawyers a date to work towards.

I hope this helps to shed some light on the process that we call discovery. Please note that this is a general overview, or a snapshot, if you will, of a very long and complicated process. Every case is different so some of these tools may not be used in your case.

As a personal injury law firm, we do these things on a daily basis and we can help you navigate this complicated process.  Contact us for a free personal injury consultation and we will walk with you through this difficult time.

Posted by Brandon S. Osterbind, Esq.