Role of Discovery in a DC Personal Injury Case
Evidence serves as the building blocks of any case, and one of the primary reasons people on either side of any case retain legal counsel is because lawyers know what information to look for and where to find it. Discovery is the legal method that allows the defending party to investigate the claim that has been brought by the plaintiff, and in turn, allows the plaintiff to investigate any legal defenses that may be brought by the defendant.
If you are dealing with a personal injury in Washington, DC, you should be operating under the assumption that the party that caused your injuries is going to be searching for every way that they can refute your claims. Our DC injury lawyers have a wealth of experience with a diverse array of injury cases and are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to defend your claims and work toward seeking the compensation you deserve.
How Discovery Applies
Discovery applies to personal injury cases in a number of ways. First, it enables the defendants to investigate how the incident occurred. This will allow the defense team to determine whether the defendant is in fact at fault for the incident or if the plaintiff somehow caused or contributed to his or her injuries.
In the District of Columbia, there is a law of contributory negligence, which can be used as an affirmative defense against the claim. This means that if the injured person, or plaintiff, is even 1% contributory to the negligence, then he or she is barred from seeking recovery. Thus, this affirmative defense is always investigated by the defense in order to evaluate the actions of the plaintiff.
Additionally, the defense is allowed to challenge the nature and extent of the injuries claimed by the plaintiff. Therefore, the discovery process will allow the defense to obtain any and all medical information surrounding the injuries sustained in the accident and the treatment that followed, as well as the complete medical history of the plaintiff prior and subsequent to the incident that led to the claim. It is critical to provide a complete medical history to the attorney so that he or she can know this information and evaluate the claim based upon it.
Thus, the defense will take every opportunity it has to determine whether a preexisting condition was the cause of the injuries that the plaintiff is alleging were caused by the incident with the defendant.
The discovery process is also a time that any other pertinent issues to the claim can be investigated in order to develop any legal theories at trial.
Forms of Discovery
Discovery is manifested in a number of forms. The most common forms of discovery are written, and are interrogatories as well as requests for production of documents, and each are afforded the same weight. The requested documents are produced by and submitted to both sides, and include written answers to interrogatories under oath, and access to certain documents that may be in the possession of one side and are relevant to the claim.
The documents will be produced to the attorneys and ultimately viewed by the parties involved in a case, the potential expert witnesses, and any other witnesses. No one is required to produce documents that are not in his or her possession, and the document request only requires production of documents in the possession of the party to whom the request is directed. If documentation previously existed but was in a deleted file, then the information will not be disclosed to a side, and ultimately, no record will be produced. However, if allowed under the circumstances, the responding party may request additional methods in order to harvest that information, and documents can be reconstructed under certain circumstances.
Discovery can also take the form of a deposition, which is an opportunity for the attorneys to ask the involved parties and any potential witnesses a number of questions regarding information surrounding the claim. When an individual is deposed, they are under oath, and must answer as such, and the information collected in a deposition can go well beyond the written questions outlined in the earlier interrogatories. Depositions are typically done in a conference room with both attorneys and the witness. A deposition will be conducted in the presence of a court reporter who will swear in the witness, and transcribe everything that is said.
The purpose of having a deposition is to allow the parties to investigate the claim and hone in on the issues involved. If there are some questions as to how the incident occurred, then a deposition will allow the attorney to ask the parties involved exactly how the incident occurred, and describe the step-by-step process leading up to the incident. Because depositions require that answers be given truthfully an under oath, and that a full answer is required pursuant to court rules, they are the best way to hone in on the issues and obtain necessary information.
In personal injury cases, a deposition will go forward at the request of either party to take the deposition of the other. The deposition will help the plaintiff in a number of ways by allowing their counsel to meet with and evaluate the defendant in the case as they have the opportunity to question the defendant about the pertinent issues involved in the case. If the defense wishes to depose the plaintiff, which it often does, the plaintiff’s attorney can assist the plaintiff in preparing for the deposition by explaining the process, the rules regarding the taking of a deposition, and details of that nature.
Additionally, once litigation is started, the parties can issue a subpoena within the confines of court rules. This will allow both parties to investigate the medical condition of the plaintiff prior to and subsequent to any incident that results in a personal injury claim.
Benefits of Various Forms
An interrogatory is useful in order to obtain written responses to requests under oath by the responding party, while a request for admission is used in order to obtain admissions to facts so that the same information does not have to be proven by other methods that can cost both parties time and money. The most significant difference between the two is that the interrogatory allows the responding party to craft a response as he or she feels appropriate, whereas the request for admission posits a yes or no question requiring the party to simply admit or deny the request of fact.
Requests for admission are more beneficial in certain circumstances as compared to interrogatories. For example, if a person needs information as to how an event occurred, a request for admission may not afford the responding party the opportunity to provide that information, whereas an interrogatory will do so. If, on the other hand, a person simply wants to nail down a fact, a request for admission may be a better tool.
The ability to collect and compare information in various ways works to help the legal teams on both sides build out their most robust approach to their side of the case.