Guidelines for Discovery in California Personal Injury Cases

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Practice Areas: Auto Accident

THE WRITTEN DISCOVERY PROCESS

Once a personal injury lawsuit is filed in the Courts, each party to the case has the opportunity to conduct “discovery” to learn facts and information, and to obtain evidence helpful to their case.

Discovery may include written questions (“interrogatories”), requests that the other side provide certain documents (“document production”), or requests to admit or deny certain facts are true.  This process of exchanging written information with the other parties in the case is referred to as “discovery” and is an important source of evidence for any party to a lawsuit.

THE CLIENT’S ROLE IN WRITTEN DISCOVERY

Discovery requests are sent to your lawyer who will then forward a copy to  you with the request that you provide draft answers to each question.  Based upon your draft answers, your attorney will formulate the appropriate legal response, add any necessary legal objections, and prepare your formal written responses for timely delivery to the other side.

With each discovery request, your attorney will provide a Verification form for you to sign and return with your draft answers.  Your signed Verification will be attached to your completed responses.

Discovery requests, and your responses, are very time sensitive.  Typically, formal written verified responses are due in thirty (30) days after receipt of the discovery request.  As such, it is important that you respond immediately to any discovery request provided by your attorney.

Your draft responses should be sent to your attorney only.  These should NOT be sent to the opposing attorney and you should never have direct contact, written or otherwise, with opposing counsel.

TYPES OF WRITTEN DISCOVERY REQUESTS

Form Interrogatories: These are a lengthy set of questions designed and approved for use in most injury cases.  The defense will serve a set of Form Interrogatories at the beginning of almost every case.

Special Interrogatories: These are specially crafted questions which pertain to the specific case.

Request for Production: Sometimes titled Demand for Production and Inspection or some variant, this is a request that you produce certain documents relevant to the case and verify that they are complete and authentic using a Verification form.

Request for Admissions: These allow opposing counsel to secure your admission or denial of certain facts and allegations in the case.

With each type of written discovery request, a copy of the request will be provided to you with instructions and a Verification form.  Again, time is of the essence.  If you fail to provide responses within the thirty day limit, it may compromise your right to object to questions or prevent access to information which ought to be kept private.

WRITTEN DISCOVERY DIRECTED TO THE DEFENDANTS

Discovery is a two way street; while you and your attorney are responding to discovery requests served by the defendants, your attorney will be serving requests which the defense must answer, under oath, within 30 days.  In this fashion you and your lawyer can determine what the defense position will be with regard to your claims and obtain any evidence they may have.

OTHER TYPES OF DISCOVERY

In addition to the exchange of written discovery requests, any party may obtain information and documents using the following tools:

Depositions: Each party (and any non-party witnesses) may be required to give sworn testimony at a deposition—this is a live question and answer session which is transcribed by a stenographic reporter.  Plaintiffs in a personal injury lawsuit can expect to give testimony at a deposition.  Your attorney will give you advance notice of any deposition and will provide complete instructions for the deposition.  Further, your attorney will meet with you to thoroughly prepare for the deposition and will attend the deposition with you to protect your interests.

Records Subpoenas: Each side may issue subpoenas to any non-party (typically doctors, hospitals, and employers) to obtain records relevant to the claims and allegations in the lawsuit.  Your attorney will receive a copy of each subpoena in advance and have a chance to object if appropriate, or to obtain copies of records produced under the subpoena.

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