The vast majority of personal injury claims end up settling before trial, but there can be a lot of twists and turns along the road toward a settlement during the discovery process.
If you’ve never been involved in a serious accident before, learning more about how “discovery” works can help you better prepare (and ease some anxiety).
What is discovery?
In essence, this is the process that both sides use to learn more about the other’s position. Unlike what you may see on Matlock or Law & Order, real trials should never involve “surprises” in the evidence (nor surprise witnesses).
Interrogatories and depositions are two of the most common methods used by both sides of a case to try to suss out its strengths and weaknesses. Interrogatories are written statements in response to a set of questions sent by the other side. It’s important to note that whatever answers you give are submitted under oath of perjury, so you’ll generally complete those with your attorney’s help.
Depositions, however, are a bit more involved – and often more revealing. A deposition is sometimes like a “mini-trial.” Although there’s no courtroom, judge, jury or verdict, the process is much the same and it’s recorded (often via camera, although the use of a court reporter is possible).
During a deposition, plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses can all be required to testify under direct examination and cross-examination. In part, this helps both sides elicit any information they may not have already discovered through the written material they have, but it’s also done for another important reason: It shows both sides exactly how a plaintiff or defendant may do on an actual witness stand.
The opposing attorney will be evaluating both sides to determine how articulate they are about the accident, how likable (or unlikable) they may be to a jury and how sincere they seem when they speak.
When serious injuries are involved, earnest negotiations may not even start until the depositions are over, so don’t be dismayed if you don’t have a quick settlement. Instead, find out more about what you can do to put the best possible case forward so that you get all the compensation you deserve.