What to Expect During the Discovery Phase – Part 2
Typically, the first step for both sides in discovery is to send written questions for the other side to answer. These written questions are called interrogatories, and in many areas, you will answer these questions under oath, even though they are written and you will not be in a courtroom. Interrogatories will usually ask you about the accident, your background and your damages, including any past injuries or problems for which you have sought health care, as well as any previous legal claims you were involved with. You may also be asked to provide details about any income you lost or information about your past employment. The goal is to build a story about the relevant parts of your life before and after the accident. When you have written your answers, you will sign them and they will be sent to the defendant’s lawyer.
We find that some clients are initially reluctant to answer these questions, because they can be personal or stray into topics considered impolite or irrelevant. Your lawyer can and will formally object to an inappropriate interrogatory, or to a number of interrogatories that exceeds limits set by your state’s laws. However, these questions are usually being asked because they are relevant to your case. Most of the information about your health and your finances is considered “discoverable,” which means it is a fair question during discovery. Your responses help your own lawyer and the other side gather the information they need to evaluate your claim, which helps you get closer to settling your case fairly. Our team at John Bales Attorneys would love to be your lawyers!
Requests for Admissions
Another written discovery tool is a request for admissions, which is simply a document asking one side to admit or deny the facts it specifies. When you might get these requests depends on the rules of your court. If you dispute or deny a request for admissions, you must write down the facts that you believe support your position. Your lawyer should help you with this. Using requests for admissions helps both sides determine which facts are agreed upon, which are disputed and which must be part of the lawsuit.
It is important to respond to requests for admissions in a timely manner, because if you miss the specified deadline, the court will behave as if you admitted to everything asserted in the request.
Requests for Production
Requests for production of documents — that is, asking the other side to send copies of specific papers — are an important part of discovery. Requests for production may come with the interrogatories, but both sides are free to request production of documents throughout discovery.
Requests for production should be requests for documents that are relevant to the lawsuit, the accident or your damages. This often includes copies of your health care records, receipts or invoices for your health care expenses, accident reports, witness statements and pictures of the scene of the accident. If you are claiming a loss of income, you will probably be asked to provide your tax returns for several years prior to the accident. You may even be asked to produce any notes or diaries you have kept. But either side may request any discoverable document. Your law firm may review the request for production with you and help you copy the documents and send them to the defendant’s lawyer.
In addition to requesting documents and evidence from you, the defendant’s lawyer may also ask other people or companies for information. Most commonly, he or she may request copies of your medical records directly from your treating doctors. The defendant may also be entitled to request information about you from your employers, schools you have attended or from the military, if you have served. Additionally, if you have applied for Social Security benefits, the defendant’s lawyer may request information about your claim from the Social Security Administration. You may feel uncomfortable with these requests, but if the information is discoverable, the defendant’s lawyer is entitled to ask for these documents. In fact, you may even be required to sign forms authorizing release of the information.
We will address what to expect during a deposition in a separate blog.
Discovery and Settlement
The discovery tools outlined in this chapter are only some of those available in a lawsuit, but these will be used in the majority of cases. Discovery may seem time-consuming, but by exchanging this information, the parties can often get the information they need to settle the case without a trial. And if the parties are still not able to resolve their case after discovery, the information they exchange during discovery will help them build evidence for their cases and narrow down which facts must be decided at trial.