The “discovery” phase of a slip and fall claim -- as in any civil lawsuit -- refers to the time period where the parties involved use different procedural tools to learn as much about the subject matter of the lawsuit as possible. Depending on the complexity of the lawsuit, and the number of lawsuits pending before the court, the discovery phase can last months, or even years. The purpose of this article is to help you know what to expect from the various parts of the discovery phase in a slip and fall lawsuit.
Interrogatories are written questions that must be answered under oath. Your attorney will submit questions to the property owner, and these are typically designed to learn more about the location of your fall and what notice (if any) the owner had of the dangerous condition that existed on the property.
In turn, the defense lawyer will submit questions to you, and these are designed to learn about your knowledge of any dangerous conditions on the property, what actions you took to be careful, and what physical conditions you may have that make you susceptible to falling. You can also expect questions about your medical history, especially as as it relates to the injury you're claiming.
Requests for production are written requests for documents and things (or the opportunity to inspect documents and things) related to the lawsuit. For example, your attorney will likely request things, such as incident reports, surveillance video of the area where the fall occurred, company policies and procedures related to maintenance and inspection of the property, and documents related to recent maintenance of the property.
The defense lawyer will be particularly interested in any medical records regarding treatment of the injuries you sustained in your fall. These can be very valuable pieces of evidence. They will provide a description of your injuries, and perhaps, your health care provider’s opinion as to the nature and severity of your injuries. They may provide a description (provided by you) regarding how the fall occurred. Your description of events may come in useful to the defense lawyer -- particularly if your version of events has changed over time.
Another type of information that is often available (and very useful to the defense lawyer) in your medical records is a medical history. If the medical history in your records contains any of the following, it may end up being useful “ammunition” for the defense lawyer:
Learn more about Requests for Medical Records in an Injury Claim.
A deposition is where the lawyers involved in a lawsuit have the opportunity to ask questions of witnesses in person, and the witness's answers are given under oath. A court reporter will be present to transcribe every word, and a videographer will often be present to record the whole thing.
During the deposition, the defense lawyer will attempt to learn everything you know about your fall. For example, the lawyer will likely ask you questions like the following:
A deposition can be very grueling. Some attorneys are more thorough in taking depositions than others; but no matter the attorney, your deposition in a slip and fall case will likely last anywhere from two to eight hours.
If your injuries are in dispute, the defense lawyer will probably request that you go to a doctor (typically selected by the defense lawyers, and paid for by the property owner's insurance company) for an independent medical exam (IME). The purpose of an IME is to provide all parties with an independent evaluation of your injuries.
You may feel, because the other side selected the physician, it will not be an impartial evaluation. That isn't necessarily the case. Most physicians do not want the reputation that they can be “bought and paid for” and will typically provide an evaluation that is genuinely independent. An IME can actually be very helpful to your case if it confirms the injuries you have alleged. But you do need to be careful. Get more Tips on the IME in an Injury Claim.