When a lawsuit gets underway, there is a period of time during which the attorneys involved begin investigating and gathering information related to the lawsuit. This phase is known as the discovery process because attorneys often bring to light important facts and documents that were previously not known – to one or both parties involved – during this phase of the lawsuit. To better understand the discovery process in a lawsuit and what you might expect from it, please scroll down.
What Is the Discovery Process in a Lawsuit in Missouri?
Have you been injured in an accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence? Before filing a lawsuit, your lawyer will try to negotiate with the at-fault party’s insurance company to try to reach a settlement. If the company denies the claim, disputes it, or extends an unreasonably low offer, your attorney may file a formal civil complaint to commence a lawsuit. The defendant will then have some time to respond. Once his or her response has been filed, the case will proceed to the discovery process in a lawsuit.
During the discovery phase, both parties learn what the other knows about the evidence by asking for certain documents, asking for answers to interrogatories, and taking depositions of witnesses who are under oath. The discovery process can help the parties understand the relative strengths of both sides and help facilitate a potential settlement agreement.
In Missouri, the rules that govern the discovery process are found in MO. R. Civ. P. Rules 56-59. Both parties to a lawsuit are required to participate in the discovery process and to exchange the evidence they have with each other.
The duration of the discovery process depends on the complexity of the case, but typically this is the most time-consuming portion of the case. Most car accident claims conclude discovery within six months. Extremely complex cases may take several years.
Written Discovery Phase
The first phase of the discovery process is the written discovery phase. During this phase, your attorney may send and receive requests to produce documents, requests for admissions of facts, and written interrogatories. Your lawyer may also respond to requests from the defense counsel when the requests are unreasonable.
Written interrogatories are lists of questions that both parties may send to the other party. When you receive interrogatories from the other side, you are supposed to answer the questions in writing and sign them in front of a notary public. Your attorney may review any interrogatories that the defense sends before you answer them and object to certain questions. Your lawyer will also help you answer the questions so that you do so in such a way that you are truthful but do not state anything in a way that could harm your case.
If you are asked to produce certain documents, you will need to provide them. You need to make certain that you give your lawyer all of the documents that you have about your claim even if you don’t think that they’re important.
The next phase of the discovery process is the deposition phase. Normally, it starts after the written discovery phase ends; however, these phases sometimes overlap. When a deposition is scheduled, you and the defendant will both be required to appear to be deposed (i.e. questioned). Your deposition testimony is given under oath. You can be questioned by both your attorney and the defendant’s attorney, and your attorney will also be able to cross-examine the defendant. Other witnesses may be deposed as well.
Throughout the discovery process, your attorney will continue to engage in settlement negotiations with the defense attorney. Sometimes the evidence that is exchanged with the defense during the discovery process encourages the defendant to settle. If your case does settle during the discovery phase, your attorney will file a notice of it with the court. Once the court approves the settlement agreement, your case will end.
Motion for Summary Judgment
In some cases, one side or the other will find that there are no facts in dispute during the discovery process. When this occurs, an attorney can file a motion for summary judgment. This type of motion asks for the judge to dismiss the case or to issue a final ruling without a trial. If the defendant files a motion for summary judgment in your case, your attorney may argue against it at a hearing. If the motion is granted, your case will be dismissed. If it is denied, your case will proceed to trial.
Trial or Settlement
The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits are settled out of trial. However, settlement negotiations sometimes fail. When this happens, the experienced trial lawyers at the Law Offices of Bryan Musgrave are prepared to litigate aggressively on behalf of clients during a jury or bench trial.
Contact the Law Offices of Bryan Musgrave Today
Have you been injured in an accident due to someone else’s actions? You may be entitled to recover compensation. Contact the Law Offices of Bryan Musgrave today by calling 417-322-2222 or completing our online form to schedule your free consultation.