The Discovery Process in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Personal injury insurance claims are opportunities for injured people to pursue compensation from the person or company at fault for the accident in which they were injured. The money they receive can cover lost wages from being unable to work, medical treatment, and damage to personal property. It can also compensate for intangible losses, such as emotional distress and pain and suffering.
Many personal injury claims settle out of court. Opposing parties can negotiate a settlement without needing to go to trial. However, negotiations don’t always go well. Sometimes, reaching an agreement isn’t possible. When that happens, proceeding with a lawsuit is necessary.
When a lawsuit is filed with the court, court rules and procedures allow for a period of discovery. This phase of the case comes after the initial complaint is filed and the defendant answers the complaint. The discovery process involves various requests each side submits to the other to obtain testimony, evidence, and additional information about the case.
Elements of Discovery in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
The purpose of discovery is for opposing parties to gather evidence to use at trial. It also allows each side to assess the other’s legal strategies and prepare arguments against them.
The plaintiff’s and defendant’s attorneys can file multiple requests during the discovery process, including:
- Interrogatories – Interrogatories are questions each side must answer regarding the case. The parties must respond in writing within 30 days of the filed request. The end of the document contains a section to sign in front of a notary public, indicating all answers are accurate and truthful. Each interrogatory can be a question or statement requiring a response. It might ask the respondent to explain how the incident occurred, provide basic contact information, or list all doctors who treated the injury.
- Request for Admissions – A request for admissions is a document including various statements about the case each party must admit to or deny. The respondent has 30 days from the filed date to answer the request for admissions.
- Request for Production – Lawyers require evidence to prove their cases. They can file a request for production to ask the other attorney for copies of evidence they plan to use in their case. Evidence might include the plaintiff’s medical records and bills, proof of lost wages, repair estimates for the damage to personal property, accident scene photos, and other documentation.
- Depositions – Each side can request a deposition with the plaintiff, defendant, and relevant witnesses. During a deposition, the lawyer can ask the deponent various questions about the case. Deponents answer every question under oath, meaning they must respond honestly. Lying during a deposition is similar to lying on the witness stand at trial. It is illegal and can lead to severe penalties.
Either party can file a motion to compel if the other side doesn’t respond to a discovery request. A motion to compel is a request for a court order to force the respondent to answer the request for evidence or information. If the respondent still refuses to comply, the court can impose sanctions, such as a fine.
How Long Does Discovery Take?
The duration of the discovery phase depends on multiple factors. Deadlines can ensure the process proceeds efficiently. However, one side might not adhere to those deadlines.
Some parties are more flexible than others and allow the opposing party additional time to produce evidence or respond to interrogatories. The entire process can last a few months. Although Texas Rules of Civil Procedure set a 180-day timetable for discovery to be completed, in a complex case, discovery might last up to a year or longer.
Steps After Discovery Concludes
Opposing attorneys can evaluate their cases and determine whether to change their strategies after discovery. Sometimes, one side realizes their case isn’t strong and might want to avoid trial because there’s a good chance they’ll lose.
Some judges require the parties in a personal injury lawsuit to attend mediation before the trial begins. Mediation is a chance for opposing sides to meet with a mediator and attempt to settle the case outside of court.
A mediator is an unbiased third party that manages settlement talks. They can listen to both sides and offer solutions to resolve the issue. However, they are not allowed to enter legal judgments or decide on the case. They’re meant to guide the parties toward a resolution.
If mediation leads to a settlement, each party can sign a settlement agreement for the judge to review and approve. The case ends at that point.
If mediation is unsuccessful, the case must proceed to trial. A trial involves multiple aspects, such as:
- Jury selection
- Filing motions to determine what evidence is admissible in court
- Each party’s opening statements
- Calling witnesses to the stand to testify and cross-examining the opposing party’s witnesses
- Closing arguments
- Jury deliberations
Once the judge or jury reaches a verdict, they will announce it in court. The defendant must provide monetary compensation if the court rules in the plaintiff’s favor.
If the court rules in the defendant’s favor, the plaintiff might be able to file an appeal. An appeal requests a higher court to review the legal issues in a case. The court will determine whether it overrules specific trial court decisions and could order a new trial.
Being unhappy with a verdict isn’t enough of a reason to appeal the court’s decision. There must be an error in the case that affected the outcome, such as jury misconduct or inadequate evidence to justify the verdict.
Loewy Law Firm has represented injured clients since 2005. We have a proven track record of success in handling personal injury cases. When you hire us, we will advocate for your rights and provide personalized attention during the legal process. You can depend on our team to fight for the justice you deserve.
If you sustained injuries in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, call us at (512) 957-9858 for a free consultation with an experienced Austin personal injury attorney today. Let us help you pursue the compensation you’re entitled to and hold the negligent party liable for their actions.