If you have filed a personal injury lawsuit, you may hear your attorney using the word “discovery.” The rules of court provide procedures that allow one party to learn about the other parties’ evidence and to preserve testimony for trial. So, the term “discovery” describes the process used to determine facts about the case. This involves several steps and can take considerable time, depending on the nature of the case. However, it is critical to building a strong case. It allows both sides in a lawsuit to obtain evidence – unless it is protected by privilege – that would not be readily available otherwise; for example, evidence contained in certain types of juvenile court records may not be available through the discovery process.
Examples of Discovery
Discovery can involve some or all of these steps:
- Making sworn statements of witnesses
- Requesting that parties in the case answer written questions
- Interviewing experts on the subject, including law enforcement officers, mechanical engineers, health care professionals and other specialists who can offer their opinions on what happened and why it happened
- Requesting documents and other records, either written or digital (video and audio recordings are the most common non-written documents)
Sworn statements of witnesses are conducted under oath with a court reporter present. You may hear your attorney refer to this as a “deposition.”
The Results of Discovery
During the discovery process, your lawyer will be looking for information that can be used as evidence of fault by the defendant. For example, if you have filed a medical malpractice lawsuit because you were injured by a doctor or other provider, your attorney will be looking for evidence that your health care professional did not follow the accepted standard of care when treating you. If you were injured in a car wreck, your legal team will be seeking evidence that the other driver was texting, driving drunk, exceeding the speed limit, not paying attention, or engaging in some other behavior that would be considered negligent under the law.
Texas Civil Procedure Changes That Limit Discovery
The specifics of the discovery process vary from state to state. The State of Texas, for example, adopted new rules of Civil Procedure in 2011 designed to discourage irresponsible litigation and expedite trials when damages are less than $100,000. An important change in the law is the introduction of much tighter deadlines for conducting discovery in expedited cases. The process must be completed within 180 days after the first discovery request (seeking testimony or documents) is served. Additionally, oral depositions under these rules are limited to six hours unless the parties agree to more, and even then, the sworn statements are limited to 10 hours.
In addition to the time limits imposed on discovery during expedited cases, each party is limited to 15 discovery requests in each category: interrogatories, requests for admissions, and requests for production. In layman’s terms, these types of discovery commonly involve answering written or oral questions, examining evidence and obtaining a medical or psychological exam. There is usually no limit on very general, standard requests, known as disclosures.
Other Legal Terms You May Hear During Civil Cases
People filing personal injury lawsuits will hear other terms as their cases progress. Common words and phrases are:
- Motions and requests: Asking the court to make rulings or do things before a trial
- Request for a jury: Not every type of case is decided by a jury and you may have to request one if your case can be decided that way
- Motion for continuance: Asking the judge to postpone a hearing or trial
- Petition in intervention: A filing by a third party seeking to join a lawsuit (for example, maybe someone else was injured in a car crash and he wants to join your case rather than file a separate lawsuit)
If you hear legal words and terms that you don’t understand, it’s important to ask your lawyer what they mean so that you can be a well-informed participant in your case. Knowing what is happening is one of the best ways to help yourself during a civil action such as a personal injury lawsuit.