If you have recently experienced an injury due to someone else’s carelessness, you may have decided that the best way to relieve the financial burden associated with your injuries is to hold the other party accountable for their actions. In most cases, accountability necessitates a personal injury lawsuit, in which you can pursue compensation for the financial damages caused by the other party. Hiring a skilled personal injury attorney is the first step in your pursuit of the process – and it is the step with which most people are familiar.
The remaining phases of a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, however, can be a bit of a mystery to those unfamiliar with the process. Worse, descriptions of each phase are often filled with legal terms, making them even more confusing to the uninitiated. Here, we provide some insight into one of the most essential phases of your personal injury lawsuit – the discovery phase.
What Is the Discovery Phase?
In essence, the discovery phase is exactly like it sounds – a process that enables attorneys from both sides of the case to “discover” the information the other side possesses. The discovery phase can begin as soon as your attorney files your initial complaint, and the defendant receives the complaint. At this point, you know your side of the case, the defendant knows theirs, and all evidence held by either side has thus far remained restricted.
The discovery phase, by contrast, entitles both you and the defendant – as well as your respective attorneys – to learn all the information the other party knows. As a result, both sides can adequately prepare for a trial phase – if necessary – with full knowledge of the evidence involved. In addition, the discovery phase essentially eliminates the potential for surprises during a trial.
How Does the Discovery Phase Work?
While the discovery phase cannot begin until the defendant receives your official complaint – and must certainly end before a trial begins – discovery may remain ongoing even as settlement negotiations occur. There are several forms discovery may take during this time, and you are likely to experience each of these key actions during a personal injury lawsuit:
- Interrogatories. Interrogate is another word for question. Interrogatories are exactly what they sound like – a chance for one party to question the other during the discovery phase. Each attorney is able to send a set of questions to the opposing party, all of which must be answered honestly and to the best of their ability. In California, attorneys are limited to 35 interrogatories, and both defendant and plaintiff must respond within 30 days (35 if served via mail).In a personal injury case, interrogatories are particularly useful. For example, if you experienced an injury as the result of a car accident, your attorney will likely inquire as to whether the defendant was consuming alcohol or distracted at the time of the accident. Similarly, in the event of a dog bite injury, your attorney may inquire whether the dog was previously aggressive; serving the defendant with interrogatories is the best way to obtain crucial information.
- Request for Production of Documents. As the name of this discovery action suggests, each attorney may request that the opposing party produce certain documents during the discovery phase. The request enables each party to learn more about the case and adequately prepare for negotiation or trial. During a personal injury lawsuit, each party may request documents like accident reports, medical bills, photographs of injuries and property damage, loss of wages claims, and more.
- Request for Admission of Facts. While your attorney must prove several facts to legitimize your claim, not all of the facts involved are contested – and needing to prove uncontested facts can be a waste of time and money for both parties. As such, each attorney can request the other party to admit to certain uncontested facts before negotiations or trial begins. This process allows the attorney to introduce facts at trial and eliminates time spent arguing uncontested items.
- Depositions. The final discovery action is likely the one you are the most familiar with – depositions allow attorneys to question the other party or other witnesses who may have knowledge about the case. A deposition takes place under oath and before a court reporter and videographer who record the content of the questioning. Testimony given during the deposition may be introduced during a trial, but more often allows both attorneys to prepare a trial strategy, identify potential witnesses, and develop other questions to ask during open court.
A successful discovery phase reveals the crucial information your attorney needs to pursue your case successfully and can make all the difference when it comes to garnering you compensation for your injuries. As such, utilizing the services of an experienced personal injury attorney is essential. If you’ve received injuries due to someone else’s negligence, we can help – contact the Law Offices of Black & DePaoli today to request a consultation.