Personal injury lawsuits are tried in civil court. While most injury claims are settled without filing a lawsuit, many other cases are decided by a jury trial. The discovery process is used in civil cases to gather more information and evidence to prepare for trial.
What is Discovery in a Personal Injury Case?
The discovery phase occurs after a party files a lawsuit but before the case goes to trial. The attorneys for each party submit discovery requests to the opposing parties. The process allows personal injury attorneys to learn what information and evidence the other party intends to present in court.
The opposing parties may learn information or gain new evidence that affects the case through the discovery process. In addition, the information gained during the discovery process allows attorneys to evaluate the other side’s case for strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, a party may determine that the evidence against them is overwhelming. They may then be willing to negotiate a settlement rather than take the case to trial.
Therefore, pre-trial discovery also serves the purpose of encouraging the parties to engage in settlement negotiations to resolve their disputes.
What Happens During Discovery in a Civil Action?
Parties are not required to send discovery requests to the other party. However, if a party receives a discovery request, it must respond to the request according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, depending on whether the case is heard in federal or state court.
Failing to respond to a discovery request could result in court sanctions. There are four common forms of discovery used in personal injury cases. Your attorney may use one or more of these discovery tools to gather more evidence and evaluate the other party’s claim or defense.
The four common types of discovery requests in injury cases are:
A deposition is testimony by a person given outside of a courtroom or hearing. A court reporter administers the oath so that every answer is made under penalty of perjury. The attorney who scheduled the deposition asks the person questions related to the case.
Individuals who might be called to testify at a deposition for a personal injury case include, but are not limited to:
- The parties to the lawsuit
- Expert witnesses
- Doctors and medical providers
- Law enforcement officers
Anyone with knowledge that directly relates to an issue within the case may be required to submit to a deposition.
During the deposition, the court reporter records everything spoken in the disposition unless the parties agree to go off the record. Then, the recording is transcribed and becomes the official record of the deposition. If a party changes their story in court, the attorney uses the deposition to challenge the person’s testimony.
Interrogatories are a common discovery tool because they are an effective, low-cost method of obtaining information from the other party. Interrogatories are written questions submitted to the opposing party. The party must respond to the questions under oath to the best of their knowledge.
Common interrogatories in a personal injury case include:
- Information about insurance coverage
- Names and contacts of witnesses, including expert witnesses, the party intends to call at trial
- Identity of any other parties who might share liability for damages
- Whether the person has ever been involved in a prior car accident or other accident
- Injuries sustained before the accident or incident in question
- Identify the evidence the party intends to submit in court
- Information regarding lost wages, medical bills, and other monetary losses
- Description of injuries and damages
- Description of physical evidence being submitted in court
- Location of electronically stored information related to the case
Generally, an attorney’s notes and work product are not subject to discovery. Parties are required to update responses to interrogatories if they obtain additional information after submitting their response to interrogatories.
Request for Production of Documents
Most lawyers send requests for the production of documents with the interrogatories. A request for the production of documents is a list of documents the other party wants access to make copies of the documents. The documents must be related to the case.
Typical items included in requests to produce documents are:
- Applicable insurance policies
- Medical statements and records
- Employment records and evidence of lost time from work
- Photographs and videos of the accident scene and your injuries
- Financial records
- Cell phone records
The documents requested are case-specific. For example, an attorney may request copies of veterinary records in a dog bite case.
Request for Admissions
Another simple, cost-effective form of discovery is requests for admissions. The attorney submits a list of statements to the other party.
The party must admit or deny each statement. The party may also state that they do not have sufficient information to admit or deny the statement.
Requests for admissions allow the attorneys to identify facts that are not in dispute. Therefore, they can narrow down the issues to be addressed in court.
Call Now for a Free Consultation with an Experienced Harrisburg Personal Injury Lawyer
If you have questions about a personal injury claim, contact our law office at (717) 231-1640 to schedule a free consultation with a Harrisburg personal injury attorney. You are under no obligation to hire our law firm after receiving legal advice.