After your auto accident lawsuit has been filed in court, you will enter the pre-trial phase. This includes what is commonly known as the “discovery” process. Pretrial discovery involves both sides taking the opportunity to gather and exchange information about their cases, using certain procedures specifically designed for that purpose. Some of those procedures include the following:
- Interrogatories: The discovery phase typically begins with each side sending interrogatories (a series of written questions) to the other side. The receiving party must answer these questions under oath. The plaintiff is allowed to serve interrogatories on the defendant along with the initial paperwork, which forces the defendant to answer questions first. While this likely will not affect the questions you receive in turn and certainly will not affect your own answers, it can be advantageous to know what the defendant is claiming about the case so early in its process.
- Document production: Each party will send the other a request for a list of documents such as medical records, treatment bills, proof of income, receipts for vehicle repairs and any other information that could be useful in the case.
- Depositions: Like interrogatories, depositions are made under oath, but they are face-to-face instead of written. The lawyer who scheduled the deposition will question the person being deposed. The defense lawyer will typically be the one to schedule your deposition, and your attorney will also have an opportunity to depose the defendant, especially if the facts surrounding the case are disputed. Other people could be deposed as well, including witnesses to the accident and medical experts who oversaw your treatment afterwards.
- Independent medical examinations: The defense will usually schedule an independent medical exam. Keep in mind that this “independent” expert works for the side that hired them, so it is important to have records of your previous exams made by your physician on record for the purpose of comparing the results of each examination. The exchange of information from medical examinations is typically governed by court orders that establish deadlines for you to complete specific procedures. You could be penalized if you miss these guidelines, so it is imperative to act promptly as soon as you have received orders.