What to Expect During the Discovery Phase of Your Car Accident Lawsuit

Obtaining and examining documents is an important part of the discovery processYou’ve filed your case. You have described how the accident happened, why the defendant was negligent, and the damages that you suffered and that you are seeking to recover. However, before your case is heard in court, you and the defendant are both going to want additional information. You are going to want to gather evidence that is admissible in court so that you can make the strongest possible arguments in motions to the court, in settlement talks with the insurance company, or at trial.

How Discovery Works

In Alaska state courts, the general rules for discovery are found in the Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure. The general rule for discovery is found in Rule 26. Rule 26(a) deals with required disclosures—or the things that you must tell the other party whether or not they ask for the specific information.

Rule 26(b) describes the scope and limit of discovery. According to the rule:

  • The parties may engage in discoveyr that relates to any non-privileged matter that is relevant to the claim or the defense.
  • The evidence that is gathered does not have to be admissible in court.
  • The court may limit certain methods of discovery (such as interrogatories or depositions, which will be discussed below). Generally, the court can decide on its own or after a motion from one of the parties that the discovery requested is unreasonably cumulative, duplicative, or burdensome.

Other rules further explain the specific methods that can be used during discovery. Three of the most commonly used discovery methods include:

  • Depositions. Rule 27 in the Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure establishes how and when depositions may occur. A deposition gives you or your attorney the right to ask questions of someone else under oath. If you are requesting a deposition before trial, then you need to file a petition with the court and serve the petition on the person to be deposed.
  • Interrogatories. Rule 33 of the Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure explains how interrogatories work. Interrogatories are written questions that must be answered in writing under oath by another person (or entity, such as an organization or business). You may present 30 interrogatories to another party without permission of the court, and you may present additional interrogatories if you have the permission of the court. The responding party must answer each question fully or state an objection and explain the basis for that objection.
  • Requests for Production of Documents. Rules 34 of the Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure allow you to review or get copies of certain documents that could be relevant to your claim. You may ask any other party in the lawsuit to produce for you or to permit you to inspect and copy relevant documents such as writings, drawings, graphs, charts, photographs, and other documents.

Any of these discovery methods can be very useful to proving your claim. Other methods of discovery should also be discussed with your attorney so that you can make sure that you are getting all of the information that you need to make a strong claim.

Don’t Handle Discovery on Your Own

There are two parts to the discovery phase of your trial. One is planning your own discovery requests and the other is responding to the defendant’s discovery requests. Both parts are equally important and can have a significant impact on your success during settlement negotiations or in court. Additionally, you must comply with all of the applicable legal rules when requesting discovery or responding to discovery requests.

Accordingly, it is important that you work with an experienced car accident lawyer before beginning this phase of litigation. A lawyer can make sure that you comply with all of the court rules, that you provide only what must be provided to the other party, and that you request all relevant information from the other party in a way that compels that party to provide you with the requested information.

For more information about how to protect your legal rights after a car crash, please request your free copy of A Guide to Car Accident Claims in Alaska, or contact attorney Ben Crittenden directly for a free consultation.