After filing a complaint on behalf of a client, the next step is frequently to begin discovery with the at-fault party. Discovery is a legal mechanism for both sides of a lawsuit to discover the facts surrounding that lawsuit. Under Illinois law, once a party files a set of questions, called interrogatories, and a set of document requests, the other party has 28 days to respond to those requests. Both the interrogatories and document requests are important for many reasons, but these are the five most important:
Learning the facts of the case
This is the most obvious thing learned from interrogatories and requests for production of documents. Each side of the lawsuit will put forth their version of what occurred. This will give each party the opportunity to see what happened and see what things were not known. There are always instances when a person forgets a critical piece of evidence from the scene of the injury, and a skillful interrogatory can reveal the circumstances, backgrounds, policies, road conditions, and any other explanations of what took place. Discovery is the last chance to ensure you have pled all that may be available to you, and therefore it is critical to have a full understanding of the facts before discovery is closed.
Learning where the parties disagree
Once the facts are set forth, it is possible to see where the parties agree on what occurred, and where the parties disagree. Those issues which both parties agree upon may be stipulated. This means they formally acknowledged as a fact by both parties. More critical are those issues that the parties disagree on. This will help define what areas will need future development in evidence and deposition.
Learning who will testify at trial
One of the most important questions asked in nearly every interrogatory is who the witnesses to the events are, and who will testify on behalf of each party. Illinois law requires that each side reveal the individuals they intend to call at trial. The lawyers will be held to that list once discovery is closed. It is important to note that while an initial list of witnesses may not be complete, both parties have the duty and obligation to supplement all answers to discovery if any answer changes. This is especially true with regards to a witness list. This means it is critical to think with your attorney about each and every person who could help testify on your behalf early in your case.
Learning the insurance coverage
If I was writing this list when I first began practicing law, I would not have included insurance coverage on this list, but increasingly, I understand the importance of determining whether insurance coverage is available, and the extent of that coverage. It may seem like a simple question about the extent and limits of any insurance that is available, but this question will drive the value of your case. With some exceptions, insurance will likely be the party that ultimately makes payment on your case from either a settlement or a verdict. There are instances where an individual is made to pay for the injuries they cause because they can afford it, but such instances are rare. By learning the extent of the insurance available, you can begin to learn the damages available in the case and the extent of recovery possible.
Learning what must be proven still
As stated above, each party has a duty and obligation to update their discovery. In addition, each party may file supplemental requests or interrogatories upon the other party so long as discovery has not closed. This practice allows parties to learn information, see what information they are lacking, and ask additional follow-up questions. This does mean that there may be several rounds of questions as additional facts are learned and new theories are explored. Discovery is a long and drawn out process. However, it is also a very important one. Once finished, your case will be significantly closer to resolution.