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Understanding the discovery process in personal injury cases

If you are actively involved in pursuing a personal injury case, at some point you will go through the discovery process. The three main points of discovery are Interrogatories, Requests for Production of Documents and Requests for Admission.

The first category, Interrogatories, are questions asked by opposing counsel to you. Many are very basic and standard in all cases, but some will be quite specific regarding your version of the events, as well as your claims of injury. You are required by law to answer them all truthfully unless your attorney objects. The basis of allowable objections can vary greatly, and the court may order a litigant to answer regardless.

The second category is self-explanatory. Parties to litigation have the right to view documents that are germane to their case, and this can be quite broadly interpreted. For a simple slip and fall or basic car accident, there may be few documents requested, mostly police or incident reports and medical records. In a complicated product liability or medical malpractice case, there can be reams of documents.

The last category is a powerful legal tool that is often underused. Parties are asked to deny or admit specific facts related to the litigation. Lying carries serious penalties.

It's important to realize that while the discovery process is a fact-finding mission, many of the questions asked will already have been answered for opposing counsel through a public records check, independent sources or other means. Attempting to hide something unflattering or negative can only backfire and may decimate your case.

Instead, come clean with your own attorney. Tell him or her the truth, and allow the attorney to craft your answer in the best light possible while remaining truthful at all times. A skilled personal injury attorney can deflect questions using semantics or by outright objecting to the court.

Source: Findlaw, "Fact-Finding: Understanding the Discovery Process," accessed Sep. 10, 2015

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