What is Discovery?
Finding out that your personal injury case is going to trial can be overwhelming, so it helps to understand the process. After a complaint is filed with the court, you may be asked to gather specific information and provide certain documents related to the incident. Those requests are all part of the discovery process.
Since it’s a formal legal process, discovery allows both sides of the case to collect and share evidence to narrow down issues before trial.
It’s designed to prevent surprises and allow both sides ample preparation time. Like any legal process, discovery has rules and procedures to follow.
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Types of Discovery in Personal Injury Cases
Though attorneys have many avenues for discovery, there are six primary types. For personal injury cases, these categories generally provide the necessary information that both parties need.
One or both sides may send a list of questions, formerly known as an interrogatory, to the other party. Usually, attorneys help their clients respond to these questions, but the recipient still must answer under oath.
Depositions also involve questions, but they are face-to-face, under-oath questioning of either party, witnesses to the car accident, or experts. Usually, the session includes representatives from both parties and a court reporter. Notably, third-party depositions tend to be inadmissible in trials because they often qualify as hearsay.
Attorneys have authority from the court to issue a subpoena to demand records or testimony deemed essential to the case. Florida provides specific rules regarding the issuance of subpoenas, including penalties for failure to comply.
Inspections and Examinations
Inspections and examinations remain critical elements of personal injury cases, especially during discovery because both sides seek the best possible outcome. Either side can request inspections of the other’s property or request their own examinations of the other party.
Request for Admission
One side can request the other side to admit or deny the veracity of a statement under oath. Usually, requests for admission only happen toward the end of the process.
Limitations to Discovery
While discovery is meant to provide both sides with the same information, like lists of witnesses and examinations, there are methods to block certain requests. A court order could prevent the disclosure of specific information or block unreasonable requests.
Medical information and health records are crucial to any personal injury case, but some of that information may fall under the privileged information umbrella.
Privileged information, like conversations between an attorney and their client or a doctor and their patient, could be protected from disclosure during the discovery process.
What If One Side Doesn’t Respond?
Unfortunately, some people don’t respond to discovery requests, even though it’s not in their best interest.
The respondent should have a set deadline to respond, usually thirty days. If the requesting side doesn’t receive a response they can file a motion with the court to compel the other party to respond.
Florida’s Rules of Civil Procedure include rule 1.380 regarding failure to make discovery to address repercussions for failing to respond during the discovery process. Keeping up with technological advancements, the rule includes provisions for electronically stored information and sanctions for attempting to erase valuable data.
What to Expect with Discovery in Personal Injury Cases
Dealing with a personal injury case can be intimidating no matter what side you’re on.
Discovery is the most important step in your case, and it can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete the discovery process in a personal injury case.
It helps to know what to expect, but it’s a good idea to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer to protect your interests and handle any issues, like requests for irrelevant information. Sometimes there’s a fine line between what’s relevant and what isn’t.
For example, while an injured party’s current medical records would be important, routine physicals from childhood aren’t relevant. Likewise, requesting financial records in a personal injury case should be kept private by both parties unless absolutely necessary.