Discovery in a Personal Injury Case
Discovery is one of the stages of a personal injury lawsuit before a case goes to trial. Each party uses various discovery methods to obtain information about the facts related to the lawsuit. This puts both parties on equal footing and prevents surprises at trial.
The length of discovery will vary depending on your case, but it is sometimes the longest portion of a personal injury lawsuit.
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What Information is Discoverable?
Almost everything related to the lawsuit will be discoverable. However, there are a few types of information that are protected from discovery requests.
First, the information must be relevant to a party’s claim or defense. For example, documents relating to your mental health may be irrelevant to the case if you haven’t placed your mental health at issue. However, if you are claiming damages for mental and emotional distress caused by an accident, these documents would be relevant to your claim and may be discoverable.
Another limitation on discovery is that privileged information is not discoverable. There are a few types of privileges, but attorney-client privilege is the one most commonly asserted. This generally prevents the discovery of confidential communications between you and your attorney.
Note that information can be discoverable even if it would not be admissible as evidence at trial. The scope of discovery is quite broad, but certain types of evidence may be excluded during a trial for a variety of reasons.
Required Initial Disclosures
Before discovery begins, Texas law requires both parties to make certain initial disclosures. These disclosures need to be made without requiring the opposing party to ask for the information under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 194.2.
The required disclosures include basic information about the parties and the events causing the lawsuit, such as:
- Names and contact information of the parties
- The general facts and legal theories supporting the claims and defenses to be used
- Calculations for each category of damages
- Contact information for potential witnesses
Because this information is generally needed in every lawsuit, Texas law simplifies the discovery process by requiring the parties to provide this information up-front. A failure to provide this information in a timely manner can result in sanctions from the court.
There are several methods each party to a lawsuit can use to obtain discovery of relevant information. Parties get this information by requesting it from the opposing party or third parties.
Requests for Admissions
Parties can submit a request for admissions to the opposing party. This is a list of alleged facts or statements. The receiving party can choose to admit, deny, or state that they lack the knowledge to respond to an allegation.
The request for admissions determines the basic facts that both parties agree on. The attorneys can then focus their legal arguments on the facts that are actually in dispute.
Requests for the Production of Documents
Each party can request copies of documents with information relevant to the case. These documents must generally be provided unless they are irrelevant or privileged.
The following documents are commonly discovered in personal injury cases:
- Medical records
- Police reports
- Vehicle repair records
- Letters from an employer verifying time missed at work
- Photos from the scene of the accident
These requests can be made for both tangible documents and electronically stored documents.
Interrogatories are a list of written questions that are sent to the opposing party. The other party must either answer the question to the best of their knowledge or provide an objection to the question.
Interrogatories are used to gather the following types of information in a personal injury case:
- Identity of any expert witnesses that will be used
- Insurance coverage information
- Facts about the location and circumstances of the accident
Interrogatories can only be submitted to parties–they can’t be used on non-party witnesses. A party must respond to each interrogatory within 30 days under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 197.2.
Depositions involve questions submitted to a party or witness that must be answered under oath. The answers can be used as evidence at a trial.
A party’s attorney generally performs depositions in a recorded session.
How Discovery Impacts Your Personal Injury Case
Some personal injury cases are settled before discovery. A personal injury settlement can also happen at any time during the discovery process.
Information obtained during discovery may impact how each party views the strengths or weaknesses of their case. Your personal injury lawyer should keep you updated to let you know how the discovery process is developing.
What Happens After Discovery is Completed?
Once discovery is completed, your case will go to trial (unless you settle the case). At trial, each party will have the chance to make arguments and present evidence to a jury.