The Discovery Process in Personal Injury Cases

Author: Tara L. Umbrino, Stafford, VA Personal Injury Attorney

For those who are not familiar with litigation, the process of taking legal action may seem mysterious. Many of us have heard the term “discovery” on TV shows, but what does it really mean

If you’re injured in an accident and your attorney files a complaint, you have the facts from one side of the story – yours.  But we know that there’s more than one side to any story.  In a civil case (where one person sues another person or company, for example, seeking compensation for injuries resulting from a car crash, or from slipping and falling, or in a divorce case),  discovery is the process that entitles the parties in the case to learn what information the other parties know. Discovery not only eliminates potential surprises at trial but also allows the parties to prepare their trial strategy. Discovery can – and often will – take several forms.

Interrogatories

Interrogatory is a fancy word for question. A set of interrogatories is a set of questions that one party sends to another party to answer. In Virginia, parties who send interrogatories may only ask a limited number of questions, and parties responding to interrogatories have a limited amount of time to respond. When responding to interrogatories, parties must answer the questions honestly and to the best of their ability. If parties learn something new or realize that they left something out of their original answer, they have to update their answers (which is called “supplementing” their answers) and let the other party know the new information.

Interrogatories are common in personal injury cases. For example, in a car accident, you may want to know if the driver was drinking and driving, talking on his phone, or if he had a valid license at the time of the accident. Serving an interrogatory is a simple way to obtain this information.

Request for Production of Documents

Requests for Production of Documents, like the name says, ask a party to produce certain documents.  Documents are helpful because they help the parties learn more about a case and may be introduced as evidence at trial.  In a personal injury case for a car accident, parties frequently request documents such as medical bills, medical records, pictures of injuries, vehicle repair bills and photographs of vehicle damage, and wage loss records.

Request for Admission of Facts

At trial, the plaintiff must prove certain facts to prove his or her claim.  At times, some of the facts surrounding the incident are uncontested.  Taking the time to prove facts that are not in dispute can be a waste of time and money for both sides.  In order to avoid having to prove facts that are not in dispute, a party can serve a Request for Admission, which asks the other party to admit certain facts.  If the fact is admitted, the admission can be introduced as fact at trial without the need to spend time or money calling witnesses or convincing the jury of something that no one is challenging.

Depositions

Depositions are opportunities for parties to question the opposing party or other witnesses who have knowledge of facts of the case. Depositions are sworn testimony, meaning that the person who is answering the questions must answer truthfully, because they are under oath. Depositions are conducted in the presence of a court reporter who produces a written transcript of the testimony for both parties, and sometimes, in the presence of a videographer who records the session.

Unlike interrogatories, there is no limitation on the number of questions that an attorney may ask during the deposition. Attorneys for the parties often rely upon deposition testimony to develop trial strategy, negotiate a settlement, discover additional witnesses, and determine what questions to ask at trial.  If the deposition was videotaped, the video may be introduced at trial, in some situations.

Discovery is how attorneys and their clients can better understand the facts of the case. If you’ve been injured through no fault of your own, we can help. Call us for a free consultation at 1-866-388-1307.

About The Author: Tara L. Umbrino is a personal injury attorney practicing with the law firm of Allen & Allen in the Stafford location. Her practice is focused exclusively on personal injury cases including car and motorcycle accidentsbicycle accidentsdog bites and chasesmedical malpracticeslip and falls, mold inhalation and exposure, and wrongful death.

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