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An Overview of the Phases of Discovery in a Lawsuit

You were unable to reach a settlement for your personal injury claim and decided to file a lawsuit. Once your complaint is filed and responded to, it’s time to gather additional evidence, gain a better understanding of the other party’s position, and develop court strategies.

This is called the discovery process. 

Discovery allows both parties to request material that enables the parties to “discover” information that can be used as evidence at trial. The information gathered can either help or hurt your case.

[See Tom’s VTLA publication on Discovery]

There are several phases of discovery that serve as tools to gather information:

Interrogatories 

Interrogatories are questions submitted in writing directly to the other party. Through interrogatories, each side of the lawsuit receives information about the opposing party’s version of events, the identity of witnesses, and the claims and/or defenses it will make during litigation. This allows both sides to prepare their cases for court.

[See Tom’s VTLA publication on this topic]

Depositions 

Depositions are similar to interrogatories in that they ask questions to the other party, but differ because they are conducted in person and under oath. If you are called in for a discovery deposition, the defendant’s personal injury attorney hired by their insurance company will ask you questions about the circumstances and details related to your case. You should expect questions to include personal information, details of your claim, your injuries, any prior injuries, and how your life has changed.  Your lawyer will meet with you before the deposition to properly prepare you.

Beyond establishing your recollection of the injury, depositions allow attorneys to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the case, which will likely impact the verdict at trial.

Requests for the Production of Documents

Along with interrogatories, both parties can submit requests for the production of documents to the opposition. This is a request to produce documents the opposing party may have, such as police reports, photographs, and witness statements.

Rule 4:10 Medical Examination

One strategy that the defendant can employ in discovery under Virginia Supreme Court Rule 4:10 is a medical examination. The defendant can require a plaintiff to get examined by a doctor of their choosing to render an opinion on the injuries alleged in the lawsuit. Knowing your rights and obligations regarding medical exams is essential, as the doctor hired by the defense for the insurance company is more likely going to testify against you.

Request for Admissions

A request for admission is when a party requests the opposition to either admit or deny specific assertions. For example, you may request an admission that the defendant’s negligence caused your injuries. The defendant will then have to admit or deny that assertion. Just like the other tools of discovery, requests for admissions can be served by either party.

Subpoenas

Subpoenas are orders by the court to obtain evidence from a non-party witness of your case. These are issued to command the non-party to offer testimony or produce documents related to the case.

Conclusion

The overarching goal of discovery is to gather valuable information related to your case. While not every phase of discovery is used in every lawsuit, a combination of the above discovery tools most valuable to your case will be deployed to strengthen your case.

Next, we dig deeper into the details of interrogatories.

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