What to Expect During the Discovery Process of a Car Crash Lawsuit
When you file a lawsuit to recover compensation after an accident, discovery is one of the most important first steps in the legal process. Many accident victims may not know what to expect.
Below, we discuss what steps are involved in the process of discovery and how to prepare.
If you were in an accident and are wondering what your legal options are, call our New Jersey car crash lawyers today. We do not charge you any upfront fees, and the consultation is free. There is no risk to you.
What is Discovery?
Discovery is the process of collecting evidence from the opposing party that may help build a strong case to present at a trial. It is one of the first steps after filing a lawsuit.
Court rules govern the process of discovery, so there may be some variations on what is admissible depending on where the case is filed. Generally, the process follows the same steps.
What Steps Are Involved in the Discovery Process?
There are several steps in the discovery process. They are as follows:
Requests for Admission
This is when one party asks the other to admit certain aspects of a case that are not being argued. For example, your attorney will request that the other party admit he or she was driving the vehicle involved in the accident. The liable party may also ask you for certain admissions, especially if you have a pre-existing injury.
The purpose of requests for admissions is to make arguing the case a little simpler. It gets each side to admit facts that do not need to be argued. In the example of the liable party admitting to driving the vehicle involved in the crash, it makes your attorney’s job easier because he or she does not have to provide evidence proving this.
As for the admission of a pre-existing injury, this can be tricky. Since your medical records play a large role in the case, an old injury will most likely come to light. If it does, the opposing party may request admission of its existence. This means you must now prove your old injury was aggravated by the accident instead of being caused by it.
Once the facts in the case are admitted, the process of discovery can move on to the next step.
Also called interrogatories, this is when each side sends a questionnaire for the opposing party to answer. The questions are usually open-ended and ask for a lot of details. Due to the nature of the interrogatory questions, most states limit how many questions each party may ask.
New Jersey law states that “all actions seeking recovery for property damage to automobiles and in all personal injury cases… each party may propound ten supplemental questions, without subparts… Any additional interrogatories shall be permitted only by the court in its discretion on motion.”
In other words, each party to a lawsuit may only ask 10 interrogatory questions unless a judge approves more.
Each side must answer these written questions in a timely manner. Courts generally provide a maximum of 30 days to reply.
Your attorney may be able to object to certain questions he or she does not think are relevant to the case or if it would be an undue burden to you. For example, your attorney may not provide your Social Security number for fear of identity theft.
After written discovery is complete, the case may move on to the oral discovery portion, which consists of depositions.
A deposition is a recorded conversation between one party to the lawsuit and the opposing party’s attorney. For example, your deposition would be the insurance company’s lawyer. Your attorney would be present during the conversation.
During the deposition, you will be asked about details of the accident, your injuries and other personal information that may be relevant to the case. Prior to the deposition, your attorney will most likely go over what questions he or she expects you to be asked, so you can be prepared with an appropriate answer to help your case.
These recorded conversations will be submitted for the record, and during the jury trial, each side’s attorney will most likely reference them.
Others who may be providing testimony at the trial may also be deposed, including your doctor, eyewitnesses and other expert witnesses. If your family members are testifying, they may also be deposed.
What Information Can Be Discovered?
In general, courts will allow any relevant evidence to be discoverable. In accordance with New Jersey court rules, “relevant evidence” means evidence that has a tendency in reason to prove or disprove any fact of consequence to the case.
However, there are certain limitations. For example, privileged information is not discoverable. This means any communications between you and your attorney, which are protected by attorney-client privilege, may not be submitted for discovery. Other privileged information includes conversations between you and your spouse or you and your doctor. However, if these conversations may benefit your case, your attorney may want to include at least parts of those conversations as evidence.
If the evidence is not relevant to the case, and the opposing party only wants to discover it to attack your character, it may not be admitted by the court. For example, if you had an extra-marital affair that your spouse does not know about, the liable party may try to use that as a way to attack your credibility. The court will most likely not allow that information to be discoverable or be brought up at trial since it has nothing to do with the accident or your injuries.
Will Information From the Discovery Process Be Made Public?
Information from the discovery process may be made public. Remember that a court filing is generally subject to public records requests, so theoretically anyone may access the information.
Obviously, certain sensitive information may be redacted from the record. For example, any confidential personal identifiers.
The fear of having certain details about your personal life, including your financial status, is often one reason why accident victims choose to settle with the insurance company instead of filing a lawsuit after an accident.
Is Discovery Mandatory?
Discovery is mandatory if a lawsuit is filed and a judge approves the case to move forward. It may not be necessary if you settle a claim before it is time to move on to the discovery process. Discovery is also not mandatory if you never file a lawsuit.
It is important to note that you may continue to negotiate a settlement even after filing a lawsuit.
What Happens After Discovery?
After the conclusion of the discovery phase, each party may determine its chances of having a jury rule in its favor. For accident victims, this means you and your attorney must evaluate how likely the jury is to determine the other party’s negligent actions caused the accident that resulted in your damages.
If your attorney is confident with the strength of your case, he or she may advise to prepare for a trial. You may have the option to say no and settle the lawsuit instead.
The liable party must also review its own case defending its actions or denying liability. In some instances, the insurance company may decide to settle the claim for what you and your attorney are demanding in compensation.
Each case is unique, so you should strongly consider getting legal help after an accident.
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