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What Is Legal Discovery?

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Posted on April 11, 2023

Any personal injury case that goes to trial has many other steps before it ever sees the inside of a courtroom. The work to build a case begins well before the first day of court. Legal discovery is one of the most important pretrial phases. It is the period of time when both parties have the chance to exchange evidence and information about a case.

What Is the Purpose of Legal Discovery?

In a civil cause of action, the discovery process is when both parties gather information and review evidence in preparation for trial. In a personal injury claim, the plaintiff or filing party has the burden of proof. The plaintiff’s goal is to establish that the accused party (defendant) caused the injury or harm in question. The claim must be established as more likely to be true than not true. The defendant’s goal is to show that the plaintiff has not met the burden of proof.

In preparation for trial, both parties will go through legal discovery. They will have the chance to communicate with each other, swap evidence and interview witnesses that will be testifying for the other side. The point of this is so both parties are properly prepared for trial, with neither side withholding evidence or attempting a “trial by ambush,” where one side presents something unexpected to take away the other side’s ability to prepare answering evidence.

What Does Legal Discovery Involve?

Legal discovery is a formal process with specific guidelines and methods for both parties to collect information. The types of evidence that may be requested by an attorney during the discovery phase can include the identity of anyone who knows something about the dispute, witnesses’ background information, things that a witness heard or saw, and any documents or records connected to the incident.

A few key processes are used to obtain this information during legal discovery:

  • Depositions: out-of-court statements given by someone involved in the case under oath. Depositions may be videotaped, recorded and/or transcribed in writing. In most cases, the attorney for one side will take the deposition of a witness for the other side with the attorneys for both sides present.
  • Interrogatories: lists of written questions submitted to the other party that must be answered in writing under oath. The responding party has 30 days of being served the interrogatory to answer. Since the recipient’s attorney can help the client respond to interrogatories, the answers are typically highly planned and controlled.
  • Requests for production or admission: formal requests given to the other side of a case to produce physical evidence, such as electronic files, documents, records or property, or for the admission of a statement to establish basic facts about the case. If one party refuses to respond to these requests, the court can issue a subpoena that demands compliance.

      Other methods of obtaining evidence and information can include informal discovery, subpoenas, ordering a physical examination for any injuries, and asking for documents to be submitted for examination to determine authenticity. Informal discovery may involve taking photographs of the scene of an accident, researching the opposing side and searching for evidence from third parties to support a claim.

      What to Expect During the Discovery Phase of a Personal Injury Lawsuit

      The goal of legal discovery is to promote transparency and fairness in the civil justice process by ensuring that all parties involved have access to the same evidence and information. If you have to file a personal injury lawsuit with a civil courthouse in Hillsborough County, the best way to prepare for the discovery phase and protect yourself as a plaintiff is to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer.

      Contacting an attorney can give you further information about the discovery phase part of your claim. You can also benefit from legal representation if you need to appear in person for a deposition or respond to interrogatories. Your lawyer can give you advice and guidance to help you avoid unintentionally hurting your case.