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The discovery phase of your personal injury trial

After your accident, you may have felt like your world was on pause while doctors and specialists worked to bring you healing and relief. You may still feel like you are impatiently waiting for normal to return, and the wait may be more frustrating each day. In addition to the pain and disability you may be experiencing, you are likely watching the medical bills pile up.

While you can't deny yourself the care you need to make a full recovery, you may have heavy concerns about how to afford the total cost, which could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you have decided that it would be in your best interests to file a lawsuit in California civil court to recoup some of your financial losses from the person responsible for your accident, you may be hearing many terms and phrases that are unfamiliar to you. One of them may be the word "discovery."

Documents in discovery

Surprise evidence revealed in the courtroom makes excellent TV drama. When the jury gasps and the attorneys' jaws drop in shock, the viewer understands the case is won or lost because of the secrets the witness just revealed. However, this kind of drama rarely happens in real life. In reality, whether a civil or criminal trial, the process of discovery takes place before any of the players set foot in a courtroom.

Discovery can include written documents in which you, your opponent and any witnesses to the accident write down their versions of the events. This is a separate process from document production, which requires all parties to turn over any relevant documentation about the event. For example, you may reveal documentation of the medical treatment you have received, and your opponent may turn over documentation regarding assets at stake.

Deposition

The third phase of discovery is the deposition. This may be the stage many find most worrisome because it entails answering questions under oath. Your deposition may last a few hours, or it may go on for many days. There are three objectives to the deposition process:

  • To establish facts from which you will not be able to deviate during trial
  • To learn the evidence against which to build a defense
  • To give attorneys a chance to see how their witnesses will behave on the stand

It is not unusual for a witness to become nervous and begin talking too much. During a deposition, or any stage of discovery, it is important to follow the instructions of your attorney. While withholding pertinent information could easily lead to damaging results at trial, it will be crucial to restrain yourself from giving more information than the attorney asks for.

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