If you are involved in a personal injury lawsuit in Los Angeles, you will likely hear your lawyer talk about a stage of the litigation called discovery. Discovery is a pre-trial process that allows the parties to seek information from each other. Whether you are involved in a truck accident or a slip and fall, some aspect of discovery will be part of your personal injury lawsuit.
You might wonder why you’d share information with the opposing party. Courts want to operate efficiently. Getting all the facts out there before the day of trial helps both sides prepare more efficiently for trial. And, once both sides know what they’re up against, it’s easier to see whether a settlement might be possible.
While some informal discovery may also occur, there are several types of formal discovery that are subject to court rules. Rules may vary depending on what court you’re in, but generally, court rules may limit the time you have to respond or how many questions you can ask.
Generally, after discovery ends, no new significant information will come to light about the case. That means fewer surprises at trial.
Some of the main types of discovery include:
Depositions are interviews given under oath but outside of trial. The lawyer for the party seeking information will question the other party, a witness with knowledge of the accident, or a third party who may have information relevant to the case.
At a deposition, a court reporter will create a written record of the interview. Sometimes, video recordings are taken as well. Depositions are important to find out what everyone involved knows about the case, but they’re also important to lock in the testimony of parties or witnesses. If someone later testifies in court to something that is different than what they said in their deposition, their credibility will be called into question.
If you are required to appear for a deposition, your lawyer will make sure you know what to expect. They will make sure you are prepared to answer questions that are most likely to be asked. And they’ll be there during your deposition to protect you from unfair questioning.
Interrogatories are a form of written discovery – they are questions submitted in writing to the opposing side. When a party answers interrogatories, they must answer them under oath. The answers are generally used to learn more about the other side’s position, but the answers can be used at trial if needed.
Requests for Production of Documents
Written discovery often includes a request for the production of documents. This is simply a request for documents related to the accident. For example, if you’re the plaintiff who was in a construction accident, your lawyer may ask for maintenance logs, training logs, and safety records. The construction company may ask you for medical records and other documents related to your claim for damages.
Requests for Admission
Requests for admission can be useful in narrowing down what facts are in dispute. These are another form of written discovery and simply consist of a list of statements asking the other side to admit to certain facts. Like other forms of discovery, the answers to requests for admission are made under oath and can be used at trial.
Only parties to the lawsuit are subject to discovery. But there are many instances when you might need information or documents from someone who is not a party. In that case, you might use a subpoena – a court order requiring a person to appear (such as for a deposition or to testify in court) or to produce certain documents.
Discovery Is Strategic and Complex
The above descriptions may make it seem like discovery is a straightforward process. It isn’t. While the concept is simple, the process is often lengthy and contentious, especially in complex cases when hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) are at stake.
Each side is required to respond to discovery requests, but they don’t necessarily have to answer the question or provide the documents requested. Instead, they may assert a valid objection as a form of response.
For example, an insurance company may ask for all of your medical records for the last ten years. Your medical records before your accident likely aren’t relevant, so your attorney will object to that request as being overly broad and not likely to lead to the discovery of relevant evidence.
Depending on the requests, other objections may be based on attorney-client privilege or administrative burden.
Courts like for parties to work out discovery disputes amongst themselves, but sometimes motions and hearings are necessary to settle disagreements. Motions to compel may be necessary if a party repeatedly fails to respond to discovery requests. Or, the other party may file a motion to compel if they don’t agree with the objection asserted.
An experienced attorney will know many of the games that insurance companies play during discovery, and they’ll help keep your case on track.