At Skinner Law Firm, we work very hard to get our clients a speedy and just resolution because we know our clients ultimately just want to get back to their regular routine as soon as possible. A lot of the time, reasonable minds prevail and we are able to get our clients well compensated through a negotiated settlement. However, our clients are occasionally injured by people or companies who deny responsibility, or worse, who attempt to cover up their responsibility, even when they are clearly at fault. These defendants may think they can procedurally bully or unlawfully evade a claim to the point that the injured person gives up. But we don’t stand for it. Our attorneys at Skinner Law Firm are always prepared to take a case to trial for our clients. Getting a case ready for trial involves the discovery process.
What is discovery?
Discovery is the investigation phase of litigation. Discovery is the process of digging deep into the facts of a case to uncover all of the important evidence that may need to be presented at trial to prove the case. One of its main purposes is to ensure that there are no surprises for either party at trial, which helps make the ultimate trial run more fairly and smoothly. Describing discovery, the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure state:
Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense—including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons who know of any discoverable matter. For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
In other words, both sides in a dispute are able to learn a great deal about the other. Discovery may seem fairly simple; however it takes an experienced litigation attorney to know and recognize all the tricks, lawful and sometimes inappropriate, that certain defense lawyers will use to avoid the truth coming out. During this time, we are able to require relevant information and responses from the defendant(s), and the defendant(s) will require relevant information and responses from our client(s). The process of discovery is normally the longest phase of a lawsuit. To the client, it can often feel like a prolonged period of “hurry up and wait,” but it is a very important part of the litigation process.
The Discovery Process most commonly occurs in four different forms:
- Interrogatories: a list of written questions to be answered under oath and in writing. Generally, the response time for interrogatories is thirty days from the date they are mailed to a party.
- Requests for Admission: statements of fact that must be either admitted or denied. For instance, “Admit that you did not stop at the stop sign on the corner of 8th and Main on the date of the accident.” Again, there is usually a thirty-day time period for response.
- Requests for Production: copies of documents or files that are relevant to the case. Depending on the case, these may include phone records, bank statements, medical records, photographs, or even video or audio recordings. Thirty days is the typical time for response.
- Depositions: out-of-court testimony given under oath potentially for later use in court. Depositions can be taken of any witnesses or relevant persons involved in the matter. In a deposition, the person being deposed is sworn to tell the truth and then each side’s attorney has the opportunity to ask questions while a court reporter records the deposition.
Sometimes, our clients think the questions and requests put to them during the discovery process seem intrusive. They may feel that they are unrelated to the lawsuit and simply irrelevant. For instance, a client may be suing someone who injured her in an automobile collision, and the defense may ask to be provided with a list of all prescription medications our client was taking at the time of the collision. This is a proper question. Our client will need to answer it truthfully.
The good news is that even if a question is acceptable in discovery, it may not be appropriate for a jury to hear. When a case needs to go to trial, we work hard to keep improper questions from being asked in front of the jury.
Our staff and attorneys assist our clients in every stage of discovery. We should be viewed as our client’s gatekeeper during the process. It is our job to review the questions submitted to the client in discovery and to object to those that are outside of the scope of what is permitted by rules.
Sometimes, extensive discovery isn’t needed because reasonable minds prevail and injury claims are justly compensated through a negotiated settlement. However, discovery is a very important stage in the process of conducting a lawsuit when a speedy and just settlement isn’t available. If you have been severely injured by another’s unlawful actions, do not be discouraged by the discovery process.