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What is discovery in connection with my personal injury claim

It is axiomatic that to seek justice the legal system must be based upon two core concepts: truth and fairness. Any system of justice, criminal or civil, that would allow attorneys to effectively play games in the courtroom by holding back evidence, or witnesses, or arguments until the last minute in the hope of surprising the other side would soon lose the public trust. The Florida legislature understands the need to avoid such a disastrous outcome, and has implemented in its rules of civil procedure a process by which attorneys can gather information from the other side before trial. This process is known as, "discovery."

Through discovery, an attorney can legally obtain from the other party information that is relevant to the underlying dispute. This information can be in writing, in the form of documents and written records, audio or video recordings, sworn testimony, including oral depositions, written interrogatories, and lists of witnesses.

In fact, the process of discovery can be described as intrusive: an attorney can require parties on the other side to allow access to their property for inspection, and even require them to undergo physical or mental examinations. The process of discovery can take weeks; oral depositions alone can take multiple days to complete, and depending upon the complexity of the issues in dispute documentation requests can require the production of thousands of pages.

There are some restrictions on the use of discovery: the most important being confidential, or "privileged" communications between attorneys and their clients. Often during depositions an attorney may object to questions being put to his or her clients, and those objections may have a bearing on whether the answers to the questions may be used.

The usefulness of discovery to avoid unfairness in the form of courtroom surprises makes it an indispensable tool in the pursuit of truth and fairness. But this does not mean that discovery cannot be abused, which is a topic beyond the scope of this post. What this means to you if you are involved in a legal dispute, such as a personal injury claim arising from a car accident, is that not only must your attorney be able to make the best use of the discovery tools available, but he or she must also be on guard to protect you when the other side's attorney uses those same tools.

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