What Is the Discovery Phase in a Legal Case?

If you are, for example, hurt in a car accident, then according to the team at HasnerLaw.com, you may be able to recover damages for your injuries. The Hasner Law firm is a team of personal injury lawyers who handle primarily car accidents but also other civil cases where someone else’s actions and negligence harmed another person.

If you hire a personal injury attorney after you’re hurt, you are seeking compensation for your damages.

In the case of a car accident, you may be seeking compensation to cover the medical expenses stemming from your injuries, as well as other losses such as loss of income and for pain and suffering.

In fault states, which many are, in order to recover damages for injuries from another driver’s car insurance company, you do have to prove fault.

An attorney’s biggest role in these cases, aside from negotiating with insurance companies, is to thoroughly investigate a car accident.

They will delve deep into the available evidence and identify evidence to determine what truly caused an accident and identify who is liable, which means who is at fault.

They will then seek damages from anyone caused you or your loved one to get hurt.

A lot of what’s done by a personal injury lawyer in a car accident case or another type of civil case is through the discovery phase, so what exactly does that mean?

What is the Discovery Process?

The idea behind the discovery process, which is important in the entire legal system in America, is that there should be minimal, if any, surprises in a lawsuit. The federal court system has required since the 1940s that all relevant documents and facts are disclosed to the other side before a trial, and most states now require the same.

The discovery process is when these documents and facts are shared between sides.

There are three main types of discovery—written, depositions, and document production.

Discovery is a formal process, and everything is focused on the provision of information about witnesses and evidence that will be presented at trial.

Discovery is something that takes place outside of the courtroom mostly, but if the involved parties can’t agree on something being handed over during the process, a judge may intervene and come up with a resolution.

There aren’t a lot of limits as far as what can’t be forced to be provided during discovery.

Examples of things you might request during discovery include the identity of other people who may have knowledge relating to the case, inspection of physical objects, and documents related to the case.

Along with getting information from the other party involved in the accident, it can also be a time to get information from businesses and people that aren’t part of the legal proceedings.

What Can Be Discovered?

If something pertains even a little to a lawsuit, as long as it’s not legally protected, then it can typically be discovered.

Some of the things that are commonly asked for during this phase of a civil suit include:

  • What witnesses saw, heard, or did
  • What someone said at a particular time
  • Identities of people who might know something
  • Documents like medical exams and bills
  • The personal and professional background of witnesses

There are some legal limits on what can be discovered.

For example, confidential conversations are limited in discovery. Conversations between a doctor and patient, a lawyer and client, or two spouses are considered confidential.

Increasingly courts are also recognizing the importance of allowing people to keep certain information private, even in legal situations, such as things related to their body or health, or sexuality.

Procedures

There are a few different discovery tools that are primarily used in lawsuits.

First, there is the broad category of written discovery.

These include interrogatories and requests for admission.

Interrogatories are questions that you answer in a written format, under oath, that is a way to determine the facts as you see them.

Usually, a lawyer will send over a form interrogatory, but they might also have custom questions specific to your case, which is known as a special interrogatory. These questions range from very broad to highly specific.

If you are asked to complete these written questions, and you don’t understand them or feel the questions are unfair you can consult with your attorney.

A request for admission is another type of written discovery, but they’re not commonly used. Basically, what this does is ask a party to either deny or admit facts relating to a case. If you don’t answer, answer falsely or answer late, there may be penalties.

Another part of discovery is document production, which tends to be pretty simple and straightforward.

Then, there are depositions that take place during the discovery phase.

A deposition is a sworn statement.

You go and sit down with the other party’s attorney, and your own attorney is present too.

You answer questions under oath. The conversation is recorded by a court reporter.

Depositions can be short—maybe an hour or so, or they can last a week or more.

There are a few goals of a deposition.

First, lawyers want to lock you into a story.

The other is to see what the other party says. Then some lawyers will use them as a practice trial to gauge how someone will conduct themselves in court.

During the discovery phase of a civil case, it’s important to realize that everything is likely to come out sooner or later.

You need to be honest during this process, and you need to make sure you give your attorney everything upfront so they can represent you in the best possible way.

One of the things that can cause you to quickly lose your cause is lying and then getting caught during discovery, so be mindful of this.

Your lawyer will be highly experienced at what the discovery phase entails, which is one more reason it’s a good idea to hire someone to represent you after an accident.

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