The pretrial investigation process in a car accident lawsuit is known as “discovery.” In the discovery stage, each side attempts to learn about the other side’s claims. The three major types of discovery include interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and depositions.
Interrogatories are written questions about parties and their claims and defenses. Each side sends the other this letter. Requests for production of documents are requests for documents that supports the other party’s claims and defenses in the lawsuit. Lastly, depositions are statements made out of court, but taken under oath in front of a court reporter.
This blog post will focus on the role of a lawyer in a car accident case during the discovery phase.
Discovery Phase and How a Lawyer Helps
Giving a clear and accurate response is critical in a car accident lawsuit during the discovery phase. One task of a lawyer is to help his or her client respond to discovery. Not responding properly can result in the client’s claims at trial to be limited or dismissed. Lawyers help during the process in the following ways:
- Interrogatories. Lawyers will usually send the client the other party’s car accident interrogatories with instructions to answer the questions as best as they can. Interrogatories are meant for the client, but some questions require the lawyer to answer. The attorney is the one who prepares the answers to the interrogatory questions that ask for the plaintiff’s witnesses and legal claims in the lawsuit.
These questions must be answered with precision. Failing to do so in a way that complies with court rules can lead to dismissal of the case. Answering these interrogatories requires a combined effort from the client and the attorney. When finished, the lawyer will revise and edit the answers. The answers act as formal legal documents and they bind the client to a position stated in the lawsuit. Working together to get the answers right is critical.
- Document requests. Generally, the attorney will review the list of requests with their client and advise the client on which exact documents they must produce. It is very important for the lawyer to translate confusing legal terms into language the client can understand. Much of the discovery phase is blanketed in legal jargon, so the lawyer's ability to translate is crucial.
- Depositions. Depositions can often be the most important part of the discovery process. Generally speaking, the insurance company’s first and only opportunity to see the plaintiff for themselves and see how they perform under pressure and under oath happens during the deposition. If a client isn’t properly prepared for a deposition and they perform poorly, their case value may significantly diminish.
Experienced car accident lawyers understand the significance of a deposition. They will spend as long as it takes to prepare a deposition. Sometimes a client will need only an hour to prepare, but other times it will take multiple visits to get it right. Either way, a good lawyer does what he or she needs to do to ensure a successful case. Plaintiffs who are preparing for a deposition in a car accident case should ask the lawyer as many questions as they feel they need to. Depositions can be an intimidating experience, so the more preparation, the better. Being uncomfortable at a deposition will affect performance and may affect the value of the case.