While no two personal injury cases are factually alike, every personal injury lawsuit filed in New Jersey Superior Court court proceeds according to the same rules of civil procedure. In these cases, after a defendant files an Answer to a plaintiff’s Complaint, the timeframe called the “discovery period” begins. The discovery period is the longest-running portion of a personal injury lawsuit, where the parties gather and exchange information relating to the case.
Discovery Period Overview
During this phase of your case, both sides seek information from each other. This allows you to obtain key evidence, learn the strengths and potential weaknesses of your case, and prevent any surprises that could occur at trial.
The information exchanged is both written and oral. Your personal injury lawyer serves requests for information on the defendant with specific questions and requests for documents and things. The defendant’s lawyer serves the same types of requests.
You and your lawyer will respond to the defendant’s requests. You may also be required to sit for a deposition, and your personal injury lawyer will likely depose one or more defendants and fact witnesses in order to to gather important information about the case.
The discovery period can last for more than one year. A number of factors, including court deadlines, scheduling, availability, compliance, and case complexity, may impact the total discovery timeframe. New Jersey Court Rule 4:24 addresses the discovery timeline in Superior Court.
Written discovery typically consists of Interrogatories, Requests for Production of Documents and Requests for Admissions.
These are written questions that parties in the lawsuit must respond to. These questions typically cover the specifics of the accident and injury, such as the where, when, who, how, and why.
Depending on the nature of the claim, you may be asked questions regarding your personal, financial, and medical history. Former involvement in lawsuits and legal claims may be explored as well. The scope of inquiry permitted in interrogatories is broad.
Requests for Production of Documents and Things
These written requests are typically served with interrogatories. They seek documents and other things that are relevant to a case. Some examples include:
- Medical records and HIPPAA-compliant medical releases
- Expert reports
- Police reports
- Witness statements
- Tax returns and W-2s
- Medical bills
- Site and product inspections
Requests for Admissions
Requests for admissions are written statements that parties are asked to either admit or deny. These may help a party establish key facts on which the case will turn.
At a deposition, a party to a lawsuit is asked questions under oath by an opposing lawyer. Depositions usually take place after written discovery has been exchanged. Plaintiffs, defendants, eyewitnesses, treating physicians and expert witnesses may all be deposed in a personal injury lawsuit.
When a plaintiff is deposed in a personal injury lawsuit, the personal injury lawyer is typically by their side during the proceeding. The plaintiff and lawyer usually meet before the deposition to prepare.
Mental and Physical Exams
As a personal injury plaintiff, you are placing certain aspects of your health into dispute, thus you may be required to submit to a mental or physical examination called an Independent Medical Examination (IME). The defendant’s lawyer typically chooses the physician who will perform the IME. Your personal injury lawyer may also have you examined by a doctor of their choosing.
The discovery phase takes up the majority of the lifespan of a personal injury case. Facts that can win a case are typically developed during the discovery period. An experienced personal injury lawyer can devise a discovery strategy that capitalizes on the strengths of your case and exploits the weaknesses of the defendant’s case. Knowledge, skill, experience, and thorough preparation are key in this regard.