Personal Injury Court Cases: Discovery Is Essential
If you’ve watched many courtroom dramas, you’re probably used to seeing crazy things happen in front of the bench: surprise evidence, witnesses with shocking testimony, and bold accusations that cause the whole courtroom to explode into an uproar. After all, what’s a drama without a few good twists and turns?
As it turns out, the answer to that question is “most actual court cases.” As exciting as a few surprises can be, it’s not fair to the other party to spring something like that out of nowhere and not let them prepare a good counterargument. Surprises like that can sway a jury even if they’re misleading or beside the point, and so both sides in a case deserve to know what the other side is preparing before they start making arguments.
The Discovery Period
The discovery period takes place after the plaintiff (or the State in criminal cases) files a lawsuit and you go through the initial hearings, and it ends when it’s time to start arguing the trial itself. Discovery usually takes longer than any other part of the trial, and that’s not just because this is the time when both sides gather all the evidence and statements they need to make their case.
Discovery is also the time when both sides can demand information from each other, including all the evidence and arguments they plan to use in their case. The two sides can also demand confidential information from each other, things that can shed a lot of light on a case. This can take some time because the side getting the demand can argue that the papers have nothing to do with the case. It also takes a while because both sides can look at each other’s evidence and prepare new arguments, and then prepare arguments against those.
Because the discovery period can take so long, corporations and individuals sometimes use it as a weapon. Personal injury lawyers work on commission, so they don’t get paid until you get results, but the same isn’t true about personal defense lawyers. What corporations do then is countersue the plaintiff, forcing them to take on a defense lawyer who will need to be paid so long as the discovery continues. Since the corporation has more money to spend than individuals do, they can hold on until the plaintiff runs out of money and has to drop the suit.
This abuse has led to people demanding limits to the discovery period, but that can be dangerous, too. Ending discovery early can leave one side unprepared for the trial, and it’s much more likely to be the individual rather than the corporation. For these situations it’s probably best to let the judge decide whether one side or the other is stalling.
Courtroom drama is fun when it’s in a movie or a TV show, but when it’s your court case and tens of thousands of dollars are riding on the answer, the last thing you want is a giant swerve out of nowhere. Discovery gives both sides of a case the chance to gather evidence and prepare a case against each other, and that’s why it’s a time-consuming but essential part of the legal process.