Lawyers often use legal terms or jargon to describe various aspects of litigation. For many with no legal education, these legal terms can be confusing and intimidating. Most clients are interested primarily with the outcome of the case, and are less interested in learning about the legal process. However, favorable case outcomes are almost always dependent on procedural factors such as properly filing a lawsuit, negotiation with the other side, settlement offers, and – if necessary – taking a case to trial.
Understanding how a lawsuit works is important. If you have been injured and are weighing the pros and cons of hiring a Maryland personal injury attorney, it is crucial to understand that bringing a successful personal injury lawsuit requires a significant amount of legal training and experience.
What is Discovery?
Discovery is the process during which an attorney gathers evidence from the other party to the lawsuit. For instance, in a personal injury lawsuit, discovery is an opportunity for the injured person, the plaintiff, to get information from the person who injured them, the defendant.
Information that is discoverable must be relevant to the lawsuit, but can include:
- Facts about the opposing party such as their address or employment history;
- The identity of any witnesses;
- Actions taken or statements made by a witness or party;
- Photographic evidence;
- Social media evidence;
- Injuries or money damages that a party has suffered;
- Business documents; or
- Relevant emails or other correspondence.
How Does Discovery Work?
Discovery is a two-way street. Each party to a lawsuit must provide the other side with relevant information and evidence. Discovery can take place through several different mechanisms such as interrogatories, requests for production, requests for admission, and depositions.
Interrogatories – Interrogatories are questions that are sent from one party to the other. The questions must be answered in writing under oath. The Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure limit the number of interrogatories a party may ask to 30.
Requests for Production – A request for production allows a party to seek documents that are relevant to a lawsuit. For example, a request for production can allow a party to obtain copies of medical bills, tax forms, wage documentation, and photographs.
Requests for Admission – Requests for admission allow a party to request that the other side admit or deny facts relevant to the lawsuit. If a request for admission is not answered in a timely manner, the court may consider the fact admitted. This can be an effective way to limit the number of issues on which the parties must present evidence at trial.
Depositions – Depositions are a chance for parties to a lawsuit to ask the other party or any witnesses questions under oath. The questions can cover a broad range of information, and information from a deposition can be used to impeach a witness who offers a contradictory answer during trial.
Why is Discovery Important?
Discovery can make or break a lawsuit. For example, a 2012 case in the Court of Special Appeals was dismissed because the lawyer was several days late in responding to discovery requests. More often though, discovery can help the parties to a lawsuit reach a settlement. When the attorneys involved in a lawsuit have a complete picture of all the evidence that could be presented at trial, they are better able to estimate the verdict that a judge or jury would reach. By settling before the case goes to trial, both parties are able to avoid unnecessary expenses and delay.
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