Every case, whether a circuit court or district court, has a phase of discovery. In the district court, this simply involves the exchange of written questions, known as interrogatories. In the circuit court, this involves more interrogatories, plus some document requests, and likely depositions.
We’re going to cover what to expect in the discovery process for district court in this article. In the district court, unless you are proceeding by way of small claims (case limited to $5,000.00 recovery), each side is permitted to ask the other side up to 15 written questions (interrogatories). There is not specific required form, so we don’t always know what is going to be asked of us. But, most lawyers tend to use the same interrogatories over and over again, so we can tell you the questions that GEICO lawyers usually ask, the questions that State Farm lawyers usually ask, and so on. (For examples, click on these links: Allstate IROG (04-08-18), SF IROG (04-08-18))
Your lawyer will get these questions, and will usually do a first draft of the answers based on the intake with you, and a review of the file (including the police report, medical records, and other documents). Then, the lawyer will usually ask you to fill in the blanks.
The important thing to remember is that you will be signing these documents under oath—that is, under the penalty of perjury. So, you need to make sure the answers are correct, to the best of your knowledge. If you testify differently at trial, the other side will make you out to be a liar or at least mistaken—either of which will hurt your credibility and your case. Even a mild mistake—like saying that the other car hit the driver’s side of your vehicle instead of the passenger side could hurt you at trial. So please, read every word and make sure that it is absolutely correct.
That said, there are some questions you need to focus on:
- How the collision occurred: you need to give your lawyer all the information—what road were you one, what is the nearest intersection, what are nearby landmarks, what speed were you going, where was the other vehicle, how fast was the other vehicle going, when did you first see the other vehicle, how many lanes on each roads, were there any traffic lights or signs, what do the road markings look like, and most importantly, how did the collision occur?
- What medical care did you receive: after the collision, did you receive any medical care? Where did you go? Your lawyer needs to collect your medical records and bills well in advance of trial, so please make sure that the list is correct. Don’t forget about urgent care, ambulance, and visits to your primary care doctor.
- What are your damages: aside from your medical bills, what other damages did you have? Lost wages? If so, you might need to get paystubs from your job (about 15 weeks prior to the collision should help, as well as proof of lower pay while you were recovering). Also, notes from the doctor putting you off of work are useful (doctors don’t always put those in with your medical records, so please keep copies!). Property Damage? Did your prescription sunglasses fly off your head and get damaged? Get your lawyer a receipt for the replacement. Did your car sustain damage, and you paid out-of-pocket for the deductible or repair? Get documentation to your lawyer. Other Damages? Perhaps you had to drive back and forth to the doctor—keep track of your mileage. Maybe you purchased extra Advil at the grocery store—keep your receipts. Maybe your car was in the shop for a week and you needed a rental, or used an Uber—keep receipts and documentation.
- What was your prior medical history: it sounds like overkill, but this is an extremely important question. We want to know the past 15 years of your medical history. To the best of your ability, tell us every doctor you went to (including your primary care doctor), every disease, surgery, illness or problem you went to the doctor to, and every bit of medication you have been prescribed. We especially need to know if you ever had injuries to the same parts of your body that were injured in this collision. This is important because at trial, the defense may try to argue that some of your injuries were pre-existing.
- Prior/Subsequent accidents: if you ever had any other significant accidents (auto collisions, dog bites, work injuries, fell of a ladder, slip-and-fall, snow shoveling back injury, etc.), then you need to let your lawyers know as many details as possible. Again, the other side might argue that those accidents caused current problems, and we need to know about it in order to help prove that they are not an issue for your case.
- Criminal history: were you ever arrested? Let us know. Most of the time, your criminal history is irrelevant at trial. But, we can’t protect you if we don’t know about it. Tell us about all arrests, and tell us about all convictions (date, court location, case number if you have it, and what you were convicted of).
- Witnesses: did anyone else see the collision? Do you have their contact information? We need to be able to get them to trial if they can help you.
- Conversations: Did anyone else talk to you at the scene of the collision? Did the other driver apologize to you or say anything? Sometimes, things said to you can be admissible in court. We had one case where a driver told our client that he wasn’t paying attention because his son’s hamster got out of his cage in the car. He denied being at fault at trial, but when we questioned the other side about his son’s hamster (how else would we know about it?), the judge ended up believing our client’s description of the collision. Every little detail can make a difference.
- Property damage: was there any damage to the vehicles? Do you have photographs? We need every photograph, even if you think it doesn’t show anything important. Sometimes, small details, like leaked car fluids on the roadway, can be extremely important to show who was at fault.
If you have questions about discovery or helping your lawyers to prepare for trial, contact John at 410.252.0600, or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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