A car accident can turn your world upside down. Your vehicle may be damaged, leaving you struggling to get from point A to point B. You may be injured, trying to make sense of your new reality, and juggling your day-to-day responsibilities between doctor’s appointments. On top of all that, you will need to determine whether you are entitled to compensation for your expenses. Should you decide to pursue legal action against the other parties involved in the accident, the process can be complicated.
Personal injury lawsuits often involve processes that you may be totally unfamiliar with. For example, depending on the specific circumstances of your case, you may be required to respond to interrogatories or participate in a deposition. Undoubtedly, the personal injury claims process will involve big decisions that may affect the amount of compensation you can recover. You may have to decide whether you will benefit more from settling your claim or proceeding to trial.
Read on to learn more about the discovery phase of a car accident case and what you can expect after.
Building Your Case
As you think about your circumstances, you may be considering filing a lawsuit. Two important components of your case will be demonstrating negligence and establishing damages. The strength of the evidence supporting each of these elements will help you make important decisions about how to handle your case.
To prevail in a car accident lawsuit, you must demonstrate that the other party acted negligently or intentionally. In addition, you must show that the negligent or reckless behavior caused the accident and your injuries. Depending on the facts of the accident, several different parties may be negligent. Potentially negligent parties include:
- Another driver. If the other driver violated a traffic law, which caused the accident, they may be found negligent. Examples of traffic violations that may demonstrate negligence include speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, or running a red light. Some evidence of negligence may be included in a police report. However, other evidence of negligence will be harder to determine at the scene of the accident. At times, it may be easier to uncover evidence of negligence through a deposition or interrogatories.
- Car manufacturer. If any vehicle involved in the accident malfunctioned in a way that caused the accident, the manufacturer may be responsible. Alternatively, your vehicle’s safety equipment mat malfunction. For instance, an airbag may fail to deploy or deploy unnecessarily. In either case, the malfunction may cause you to sustain more severe injuries. To establish whether a vehicle malfunctioned, it may be necessary to conduct a deposition of a mechanic or manufacturer. Document production may also help provide helpful evidence.
- Local government. If the local government failed to properly maintain the roadway where the accident occurred, they may be liable. Local governments have a duty to maintain roadways that are safe for drivers. If a traffic signal malfunctions and causes an accident, the local government may be responsible for any resulting damages. However, securing information and pursuing a lawsuit against a governmental entity has restrictions and additional requirements that can be complicated to navigate.
To establish negligence, you will need to gather evidence about the events leading up to the accident. A police report or other documentation of the accident scene can provide valuable evidence initially. If law enforcement officers do not respond to the scene, be sure to file a collision report, as this is an obligation under Washington law. To build a strong case, you may also need additional evidence, such as interviews of witnesses or videos of the accident.
After a car accident, you are likely to be dealing with damage to your vehicle and as well as physical injuries. Depending on the seriousness of the accident, injuries can range from scratches and bruises to traumatic brain injuries.
Types of damages that are often recovered after sustaining injuries in a car accident include:
Medical expenses: The amount of your medical expenses will depend on the severity of your injuries. However, medical costs are likely to include doctor’s bills, hospital stays, and medications. If your injuries will require future care or ongoing rehabilitation, these expenses may also be recoverable.
Loss of income: Your injuries may require you to miss work, resulting in lost wages. These lost wages along with future time off are potentially recoverable damages. If your injuries limit your ability to perform your job or opportunities for future advancement, you may recover lost future earnings.
Property damage: Chances are high your car was damaged in the accident. In addition, the accident may have also damaged property you had with you in the vehicle. In your personal injury claim, you can seek the costs of repair or replacement of damaged property.
Emotional distress: Injured victims often experience emotional distress after an accident. Emotional distress can take many forms. For example, victims may experience depression from immobility caused by their injuries or PTSD that is triggered when riding in a car. You may recover for these damages.
Loss of enjoyment: Your injuries may limit your ability to perform activities you previously enjoyed, like playing an instrument or participating in sports. Injured victims may recover for the loss of enjoyment of these activities.
Punitive damages: You may have heard of defendants securing huge sums of money in the form of punitive damages. Punitive damages are not meant to compensate victims for their injuries, but rather, to punish the defendant for egregious behavior. Washington State does not permit a jury to award punitive damages, but in select circumstances, a court may award increased damages.
Calculating some damages will be straightforward, but others may require the input of experts, such as an economist or a medical expert. Include the full extent of the impact of your injuries in your damages claim. Any potential settlement or recovery will be based on the damages you assert in your claim.
While a police report and pictures of the accident scene will provide valuable insight, more in-depth research and evidence is often needed to build a strong case. The phase of a trial where the parties gather evidence is called discovery. The process utilized during discovery and the timeline is mandated by the courts. Parties often mutually agree to extend the timeline for discovery. Scheduling and gathering the required information can be a time- and work-intensive process.
Depositions provide sworn, out-of-court, oral testimony of witnesses or parties to a lawsuit. While it is sworn testimony, depositions do not happen in court or before a judge. The person being deposed is the one being questioned. Normally the deposed party, their lawyer (if they have one), the lawyer for the opposing party, and a court reporter are present. Any party to the case and their attorney also have a right to be present.
The deposition is conducted by the lawyer for the opposing party. The attorney for the deposed party can object to questions being asked of their client. Some depositions are calm and simply a fact gathering process. Other times, they can become heated, especially if they are addressing a contentious disputed fact of the case.
All depositions must follow the procedural requirements of the relevant state. After a deposition, a court reporter will generally prepare a transcript for review by both parties. At this point, it is important to identify any errors or omissions in testimony because the testimony may be referenced later in court.
Depositions allow the parties to gather evidence and receive a preview of any evidence that may be used against them at trial. Depositions are also helpful in preserving witness testimony while it is fresh, rather than waiting months or years before a trial.
While depositions are oral testimony of a witness, interrogatories are written questions provided to the opposing party for response. Interrogatories are also called “requests for further information.” Any questions included in interrogatories must be relevant to the issues involved in the lawsuit. Interrogatories are intended to clarify facts.
For example, in a car accident case, interrogatories may seek to undercover facts that demonstrate the other driver’s negligence, such as:
- How fast were you driving at the time of the accident?
- Within the past five years, have you been involved in any other automobile accident?
- Where were you coming from when the accident occurred? Where were you going?
- Did you consume any alcohol or medication in the 24 hours before the accident?
The above questions are just examples. However, they are intended to illustrate how well-crafted interrogatories can help draw out important information for the case. The questions will vary for each scenario. Additionally, the responding party will do their best to avoid providing harmful information where possible.
Document Production Requests
Depositions and interrogatories focus on getting information directly from people. In many situations, however, relevant evidence is contained in documents under the control of another party. To gain this information, a party will have to issue document production requests, also called “requests for production.” This is a legal request for documents, electronically stored information, or other tangible items that pertain to the subject matter of the lawsuit.
The other party is not obligated to produce any documents that are protected by attorney-client privilege or any other privilege. Other reasons for not producing documents may be that they are unavailable or if providing the document would be unduly burdensome.
Strategy After Discovery
The discovery phase of the trial, including depositions, will likely provide valuable information that will help evaluate the strength of your case. After this phase is completed, it is a good time to reevaluate your strategy. You may reconsider whether you want to continue to trial or attempt to settle.
The vast majority of personal injury cases are settled outside of court. Settlements are often favored because they offer a quicker resolution, more immediate compensation for the victim, and certainty in the outcome. Discovering evidence of the other party’s fault through depositions or other discovery, may provide leverage for an improved settlement offer. Alternatively, if discovery failed to provide you with solid evidence, you may consider a settlement to ensure some recovery.
While a much smaller percentage of cases proceed through the entire trial process, sometimes this is the better strategy. If the depositions or other discovery provide strong facts to support your position, it may become clear that the settlement offer is inadequate. Knowing you have strong evidence on your side may reduce the risk of an uncertain outcome at trial.
Should you choose to proceed to trial after discovery, it will be necessary to file and resolve any motions about the admissibility of evidence. If key evidence is found to be inadmissible, this may be another juncture to consider your settlement options. The jury will also be selected before the trial officially begins.
The parties are authorized to settle at any point before a final verdict is issued by the jury. The amount of negotiation power will depend on whether the arguments in the courtroom tend to support your position.
Contact an Attorney for Help
Many aspects of a personal injury case can be overwhelming and complicated. While it may be very clear that you were injured in the accident, it is often not enough to ensure you will recover for your damages.
A qualified attorney can help injured victims analyze the facts of their case and prepare a strategy for seeking recovery. Additionally, an attorney can build leverage during the discovery phase of the trial to benefit the case. Depositions, interrogatories, and production requests are valuable tools for securing evidence to support your claims of negligence and damages.
If, however, you don’t follow the procedural requirements, you may not receive any helpful information. Experienced attorneys are familiar with the procedural requirements associated with discovery. They may ensure that injured victims can secure the facts to support their cases.
After you have completed discovery, and throughout the process, you will want to continuously explore your settlement options. When appropriate, an attorney can help evaluate any settlement offer and consider the pros and cons of settling versus continuing through the trial process.
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