The discovery process is crucial in a personal injury case where both parties collect evidence to support their claims and defenses. This phase is essential because it allows both the plaintiff and the defendant to understand the facts of the case thoroughly, determine who is at fault, and assess the injuries sustained.
During discovery, various methods are used to gather information, including interrogatories (written questions), depositions (sworn testimony), and requests for documents.
What Is Discovery?
In a personal injury lawsuit, Discovery is a crucial stage where parties collect vital information to support their positions. During this phase, the plaintiff and defendant seek evidence of the incident, establishing fault and detailing the injuries sustained. The gathered evidence is then used in court to support arguments.
The duration of the discovery phase varies, often ranging from six months to a year, but it may extend in complex cases. The process includes several types of discovery:
- Written discovery encompasses interrogatories (written questions requiring written answers), requests for documents, and requests for admissions, which are statements the opposing party must admit or deny.
- Depositions are in-person interviews where witnesses provide sworn testimony.
The Significance of Discovery
The primary purpose of discovery is to allow both parties to build their case for trial. The main benefit is that this period allows both sides to get all the relevant information related to the case. This, in turn, allows both parties to evaluate fully what the case is worth and gives the best chance of settlement.
Evidence is Generally Not Required to be Produced Until a Lawsuit is Filed
Insurance companies for defendant drivers are not required to produce a copy of the declaration’s page
until after a lawsuit is filed. This will show the “policy limits” of their insured. The most the case will settle for.
Walmart or another store is not required to produce the security video until after the lawsuit is filed.
Likewise, the defendant truck driver’s GPS log will not be produced until required in a lawsuit.
Duration of the Discovery Phase
Timeframe for Discovery Phase
The discovery phase in a personal injury lawsuit typically lasts from 6 months to a year. This phase involves collecting and exchanging information and evidence from the parties involved in the lawsuit. The duration of the discovery phase may vary based on several factors:
- Case Complexity: A case with multiple parties or complex legal issues often requires more time to gather all relevant information.
- Cooperation Level: The speed of the discovery process can be influenced by the willingness of both sides to share the requested documents and information.
- Expert Witnesses: The involvement of expert witnesses may necessitate additional time to prepare and deliver their testimony.
The court sets the deadline for the discovery process. If the parties anticipate going over this deadline, they must file a motion with the court to extend the scheduling deadlines.
Methods of Discovery
The following are three standard discovery methods:
- Written Interrogatories: These are written questions exchanged between the involved parties. They’re used to record answers and clarify facts, which helps collect detailed case information. In Oklahoma state court, the parties are limited to 30 interrogatories per party. The parties may agree to increase this limit by written stipulation, or by order of the court.
- Requests for Production of Documents: Parties may request the other side to provide pertinent documents, including medical and accident reports or insurance policies. Such documents are crucial as they can be used as evidence to support claims.
- Requests for Admissions: This method asks the other party to confirm or deny specific statements, which helps to focus on the central issues of the case. It’s effective in simplifying the discovery process and reducing disputes.
Other methods, such as depositions and medical examinations, are also employed to obtain additional evidence and witness testimonies.
Interrogatories are written questions utilized in the legal process to collect comprehensive information relevant to a personal injury lawsuit. Here are the key reasons they play a vital role:
- Information Collection: Interrogatories enable both parties to acquire in-depth details about the incident, those involved, medical treatments, and the damages being claimed, which is instrumental in forming a detailed picture of the situation.
- Fact Confirmation: These written questions require the parties to confirm or deny specific facts and claims, streamlining the facts and focusing the dispute on the actual points of contention.
- Evidence: Responses to interrogatories can serve as evidence in court or during settlement discussions, underpinning the arguments of each party involved in the case.
Limitations on Interrogatories
The scope of interrogatories is restricted to ensure they are relevant and not overly burdensome. Some information is protected and can’t be obtained through this process. This includes confidential discussions between attorneys and clients (attorney-client privilege), and spouses. Courts have the authority to restrict the range of information that can be collected and may narrow down what interrogatories can cover.
Request for Documents
Common documents requested of personal injury plaintiffs:
- Medical Records
- Medical Bills
- Employment records
- Reports of damages
- Any photos or videos related to the incident
- Social media information
Common document requested of personal injury defendants:
- Cell phone records from the date of the wreck (if a car accident)
- Corporate training documents (if one of the defendants caused the accident while in the scope and course of employment)
- Security video showing the incident
- Incident reports
- List of witnesses or anyone aware of the incident
Depositions are essentially formal interviews where the witness provides sworn testimony. A court reporter will be typing everything down during the conversation.
This process enables lawyers to get statements “on the record.” During depositions, participants share their account of the incident, their knowledge of the facts, and any statements considered admissions of responsibility or fault.
One of the primary benefits of depositions is the ability to evaluate the reliability of witnesses before trial. Lawyers can identify discrepancies in stories or statements, which may prove pivotal during the trial. The information revealed during depositions, which often includes documentation like medical records and bills, can significantly influence the direction and outcome of the case.
At the very least, this is a chance for the opposing party to interview the other party on their version of what happened.