The car accident happened. You met with a personal injury attorney. Settlement negotiations broke down. Your attorney filed your lawsuit. What now?
One of the most important parts of any personal injury case is discovery. During the discovery process, lawyers exchange information. Read on to learn more about the discovery process and how it affects your car accident case.
Discovery: How Lawyers Find Things Out
Before we start, let’s review a few things. Your car accident (or motorcycle accident or truck accident or pedestrian accident) case begins when your attorney files a document called a complaint. The complaint explains why you (the plaintiff) think that the other driver (the defendant) caused your injuries. The defendant responds by filing a document called an answer that admits or denies the allegations in the complaint.
But here’s the thing: The allegations in the complaint are just that – allegations. To win your case, you will need to provide cold, hard facts. The discovery process allows injury lawyers to find the facts that they need.
You might be thinking, “I can give my attorney all the facts we’ll need.” However, the discovery process is not about your lawyer getting facts from you. It’s about your accident lawyer getting facts from the other side. The other side has useful information that can help prove your personal injury case. Discovery allows your attorney to request that information.
For example, if another driver hit you and later went to the hospital, your injury attorney might request the other driver’s medical records. Evidence that proves that the driver drove after drinking would be helpful to your case.
You should note, however, that discovery works in both directions. So, while you can request information from the defendant, the other side can also request information from you.
How Discovery Works
The discovery process begins when an attorney requests information. Lawyers must use specific methods to ask for specific actions or documents. Alabama law allows the following discovery techniques:
– Depositions. A deposition requests that a party to a lawsuit answer questions under oath before trial. This might not seem like a big deal, but depositions can be useful. The answers – and the defendant’s behavior while answering – give the attorneys important clues into how the trial will go. A bad deposition could make the defendant’s team more open to a settlement. Even better, if the defendant changes their story during trial, your accident lawyer can use the deposition to show the jury that the defendant is not credible.
– Interrogatories. Like depositions, interrogatories force a person to answer questions under oath. But while deposition answers are spoken, answers to interrogatories must be provided in writing.
– Production of Documents or Things. Personal injury lawyers regularly use document requests. In a car accident case, your attorney might request the defendant’s driving history, insurance records, and other information relevant to the auto accident.
– Physical and Mental Examinations. Alabama law allows a litigant to request that another party undergo a physical or mental examination. If your personal injury lawsuit claims that the accident caused you to suffer physical injuries or emotional distress, the defendant can request that you be examined by a neutral doctor.
– Requests for Admission. As its name implies, in a request for admission, an attorney asks the other party to admit certain facts. A request might say, “Mr. Smith’s car struck the Plaintiff’s car.” Mr. Smith’s attorney would either admit or deny that statement.
Are There Any Limits to What Must Be Revealed in Discovery?
The short answer here is, “Yes and no.” In general, judges grant lawyers a lot of leeway during discovery. However, there are a few limits.
First, under Alabama law, the discovery request must be relevant to the lawsuit. This means that items that have no relationship to the case are not discoverable. For example, if you injured your back in 2011 and claimed that the 2021 accident aggravated your back injuries, the records relating to the 2011 injury would probably be discoverable. However, if you survived skin cancer in 2006 but your case makes no mention of skin injuries, your accident attorney could argue that the other side is not entitled to those records.
Second, in Alabama, the discovery request must be proportional to the need. In other words, the defendant’s attorney cannot badger you with multiple requests for the same information.
Finally, in discovery matters, your attorney can ask the judge to limit the scope of the request. For example, if the defendant filed a document request for your entire medical history since birth, your personal injury attorney could ask the judge to narrow this request to only those records that are relevant to the case.
How Can a Personal Injury Attorney Help with Discovery Issues?
As you’ve probably noticed, discovery is a complex process regulated by judges, legal cases, and a rigid system of rules. As such, trying to navigate discovery by yourself is not the best decision. Hiring a personal injury attorney will help you in several ways.
First, all lawyers learn about the relevant discovery rules in law school. Skilled personal injury attorneys also keep up with changes in the law by reading bulletins or attending seminars.
Second, there are thousands of legal cases about the limits of discovery. A seasoned personal injury attorney not only knows these cases, but also knows how to pick the ones that will make the best arguments in personal injury lawsuits.
Third, an experienced accident attorney knows how to talk to judges. So, the attorney knows when and how to ask the judge to reject or limit intrusive or irrelevant discovery requests.
Finally, every discovery request must be completed within a certain time limit. Injury lawyers know how to craft quality answers within the strict time frame.
Do You Have More Questions About How Discovery Works in Personal Injury Cases?
Hopefully, this article has given you a better idea of what discovery is and how it can help your personal injury case. If you have more questions about discovery or anything else, contact Collins Law, LLC. Our personal injury lawyers handle many cases including: auto accidents, motorcycle accidents, truck accidents, and pedestrian accidents. Our firm will answer all of your questions and help you get the compensation you deserve. Call (205) 881-0403 or click here to schedule a free consultation.