What is Discovery in a Maryland Car Accident?
There is a lot of activity that goes on outside the courtroom as attorneys are preparing a civil case for trial. Discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit where the parties use different tools, as designated by Maryland law, to obtain information and evidence about the other side, or sides, in a situation involving multiple parties.
Scope of Discovery
In general, a party may use discovery methods to obtain any information that does not qualify as privileged. Privileged information would include communications between the parties and the lawyers working on the case. The information must also be relevant to the cause of action, relating to a claim or defense of any party. It is important to note that information may be subject to discovery rules even if the evidence would not be admissible at trial. As long as the information sought could lead a party to find information that would be admissible, the discovery would be allowed.
The Purpose of Discovery
Through discovery methods, the parties are seeking to determine the existence, description, condition, and location of documents and tangible things, including electronically stored information, such as email communications. When the respective attorneys have a full picture of the evidence involved in a case, they can better assess the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. The lawyers can also determine which issues they agree upon and where there are contested matters. Often, the discovery process leads parties to engage in settlement discussions rather than go to a full trial, where the risk is considerable.
Methods Used for Discovery
There are different methods allowed by law for parties to engage in discovery. Asking another party for information is a discovery request, and Maryland law allows for five types.
- Production of Documents: Attorneys use a production of documents request to obtain paperwork that is relevant to their clients’ claims or defenses. In a Maryland car accident case, these documents may include police reports, medical records, statements of witnesses, statements of parties, and other written or electronically stored materials. A party is required to turn over this information as long as it is not privileged, but it is not necessary to give information that is not within the party’s possession.
- Interrogatories: An attorney may use written interrogatories to ask questions to other parties involved in the litigation. The questions may be “Yes or No,” or open ended. The party answering the interrogatories must give truthful responses to the inquiries because the information is sworn on oath: Dishonesty is a perjury offense that may be punished under Maryland law.
- Mental or Physical Examinations: It is common in a car accident case for the defendant to use discovery methods to arrange a medical examination of the injury victim. These exams may be mental or physical, depending on the circumstances. A party may want to retain their own medical expert to conduct a mental or physical assessment of the plaintiff, instead of relying on the plaintiff’s medical records. The exam may lead to information that disproves the victim’s claims or supports the defendant’s defense.
- Requests to Admit Facts: This discovery tool is similar to interrogatories, but instead of supplying questions, the requesting party states facts and asks the other party to admit or deny them. The request for admission may also ask the party to admit or deny the genuineness of a document. Timing is critical when a party receives a request to admit, as the facts are considered as truth by a court if they are not specifically denied within 30 days after service.
- Depositions: A deposition is a question-and-answer session attended by a party, his or her own attorney, and the lawyer for the requesting party. The process begins with a notice of deposition, requiring the party to appear for the proceeding. There will be a court reporter present to record the deposition through audio and written transcript. At the start of the deposition, the person is sworn in by the court reporter. Like interrogatories, the deponent must give truthful answers to deposition questions, or be subject to the penalties of perjury.