You may have heard your San Antonio injury lawyer throw around the word “discovery” or tell you that your case is in the “discovery stage.” If so, you may be wondering, “What exactly does that mean?” Discovery is the legal process your attorney uses to gather information and evidence in support of your case. The opposing party’s attorney uses the same process to gather information in support of his client’s case Information uncovered during discovery helps the attorneys narrow the issues and strategize the best method of presenting their case for settlement and/or at trial. Attorneys use five tools in discovery: interrogatories, requests for disclosure, requests for admissions, requests for production, and depositions.
Interrogatories are written questions and requests for information. In Texas, each party is allowed to submit twenty-five written questions to the opposing party, and the opposing party is required to respond truthfully, under oath. Interrogatories are questions that are tailored to the facts of the individual case. For example:
- List all of your medical providers since the accident.
- Were you on medication at the time of the accident? If so, list all medications you were taking.
- Describe the injuries you sustained in the accident.
- When did you last have contact with ____? What was the substance of the conversation?
Requests for Disclosure
Requests for disclosure are similar to interrogatories, as they are also written questions. Unlike interrogatories though, these questions can be unlimited in number and tend to be more generic. Examples include requests for disclosure of any witnesses, experts, or parties with relevant information; the amount of restitution/damages the other party is seeking; and the legal theories or basis of the claim. This gives the attorney an idea of the opposing counsel’s game plan for trial, which allows the attorney to plan and prepare counter-arguments.
Requests for Admissions
Requests for admissions ask the other party to admit or deny, in writing, certain allegations or the truth of a specific matter. For example, an attorney may ask the other party: Admit or deny you were wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. If true, the responding party may state that he neither admits or denies a request, but must give a reason for doing so, such as, “I do not have sufficient information to admit or deny . . . .” Requests for admissions simplify for the trial by eliminating matters about which there is no real controversy. The biggest threat with requests for admissions comes when a party fails to respond by the deadline (generally within 30 days of being served). When this happens, the requests are automatically deemed admitted for all purposes (which means they may be used against that party at trial)! As with all discovery requests, the party served must do his due diligence to respond to the requests.
Requests for Production
Requests for production are written requests for the opposing party to produce particular documents or tangible evidence. Your San Antonio injury attorney also may ask to inspect certain tangible evidence or documents. Any requests must specify which documents or evidence need to be produced and the place for production. The opposing party has the responsibility to produce such documents/evidence or to make them available. Evidence and items commonly requested for production include copies of insurance or indemnity agreements, phone records, and medical/health records. As another example, in a slip and fall case, the injured party might be asked to produce the shoes she was wearing at the time of the incident. There may be possible privacy or confidentiality objections to certain requests depending on the nature of the information requested.
A deposition is similar to an interview, in which the attorney gets to ask questions of the opposing party or a witness (the “deponent”). A deposition is sworn testimony, given under oath, just like in a courtroom. It usually is conducted in person, but occasionally by video/phone conference. The testimony is recorded by a court reporter and sometimes even videotaped. A deposition is a useful tool in gathering information, especially when videotaped because you can see when a witness hesitated to answer specific questions, cried, or made inaudible gestures.
It is likely that you will be deposed by opposing counsel in your personal injury case. Don’t worry. Your San Antonio injury attorney will make sure you are well prepared and you know what to expect from opposing counsel and the deposition process. Plus, your attorney will be with you during the deposition to prevent you from being harassed and to protect your rights.
General Rules of Discovery
All requests for discovery will go through your San Antonio injury attorney, and your attorney will help you in preparing responses to written discovery. Typically, a party has 30 days to respond to written discovery requests. You, together with your San Antonio injury attorney, must make a good faith effort to answer the questions and/or locate and produce the information or item requested. Discovery responses are sworn to under oath and can be used in court to impeach witnesses or sometimes even admitted into evidence. For this reason, it is important to be honest and forthcoming in responding to discovery.