What is the Discovery Process in a Medical Malpractice Case?Published: Oct 15, 2021 in Medical Malpractice, Personal Injury
The litigation process in negligence lawsuits can be complicated. In every civil lawsuit, the rules of civil procedure allow for a process called Discovery. This process is allowed in personal injury negligence cases such as medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors, nurses, health care companies, and other medical professionals. Ultimately, the discovery process is the portion during the litigation timeline in which the plaintiffs and defendants share information about the case. This is usually the portion of the litigation timeline that takes the longest.
Sharing of Information
Medical malpractice lawsuits begin by the injured plaintiff filing a complaint against the medical professionals whose negligence caused the plaintiff to suffer personal injuries. This complaint lays out the facts of the case from the plaintiff’s perspective, detailing what the doctor or nurse did incorrectly and negligently and what injuries and damages were suffered by the plaintiff. After the complaint is filed, the defendant has a certain period to answer the complaint and either admit or deny every allegation in the complaint. Once this initial stage of the case is complete, the timeline moves to the discovery phase.
During the discovery stage of the lawsuit, the plaintiff and defendant are supposed to exchange information about each party and the facts of the case. Each case is different, involving different parties, different issues, and different types of medical negligence, so no two medical malpractice lawsuits are going to proceed in the same manner. However, every case follows the same procedures and progresses with the same timeline.
The first way that the parties exchange information is to send written questions to each other. These questions are called Interrogatories. The number of interrogatories that are initially allowed are set by the rules of civil procedure. The kinds of information requested will be determined by the facts of the case and what type of medical procedures were involved and what type of injuries were sustained by the plaintiff. Here are the areas of information that are requested by the defendant to the plaintiff in the initial batch of interrogatories:
- History of any medical problems and history of medical treatment and where the treatment was given
- Names of all witnesses that the plaintiff may call at trial and a summary of what areas of facts they will testify about, i.e., facts of the malpractice, facts of the injuries, facts on how the injuries affected the plaintiff’s life
- Names of any expert witnesses the plaintiff will use at trial to prove their case and to prove any economic damages suffered and the educational and professional background of those witnesses
- Plaintiff’s history of education, work, and income and how the injuries might have affected the plaintiff’s ability to continue working
- What types of medical treatment were necessary after the negligent medical treatment
- How did the personal injuries affect the plaintiff’s life when it comes to hobbies, things done around the home, and work
- Any out-of-pocket expenses or other economic losses the plaintiff is attributing to the personal injuries caused by the medical negligence
Request for Production of Documents
While interrogatories are sent to the plaintiff, a set of Requests for Production of Documents is sent as well. These requests ask the plaintiff and his or her malpractice lawyer to produce certain documentation regarding the case. These documents can be wide ranging depending on the facts of the case:
- Past and present medical records as they relate at all to the injuries suffered from the malpractice event
- Past and present medical bills, including paid and unpaid medical bills along with the source of any payments made
- Tax records and income records, especially if there is a wage loss claim being made by the plaintiff
- Any written statements or reports prepared by any witnesses that might testify at trial
- Any documentation regarding any applications for short-term or long-term disability or Social Security Disability
- Any photographs that are pertinent to the case and/or will be used at trial, including photos of scars, hospital photos, treatment photos, and photos of the use of ambulatory devices
- Any reports or documents written by and relied on by any medical, economic, or vocational experts who will testify at trial
- Any other documents that are pertinent to the potential issues in the case and/or may be used as exhibits at trial
If there are any interrogatories or requests for documents that the plaintiff believes is inappropriate or not relevant, an objection can be filed with the court. If that happens, after a hearing, ultimately the judge assigned to the case will have to decide on the objection and whether the information should be provided.
Depositions are the last stage of the discovery process that is usually completed. A deposition is where the defendant’s lawyer meets with the plaintiff, his or her lawyer, and any witnesses in person to verbally ask questions. The deposition will take place in the presence of a court reporter who will transcribe everything that is said. These questions and answers are under oath, meaning that the plaintiff or witness is sworn in and must tell the truth just like if they were testifying before a judge and jury. If it turns out that the witness has lied under oath, that person can be charged with perjury.
Prior to the plaintiff’s deposition, his or her lawyer will prepare the plaintiff and go over the various questions that might be asked so that the plaintiff can be as prepared as possible. The plaintiff’s lawyer can review the questions and the answers that the plaintiff or witness will give. The types of questions asked of the plaintiff will be similar to the written questions and related to the requested documents. The defendant’s lawyer will ask questions about the history of the plaintiff, history of any medical problems, the facts surrounding the medical malpractice event, the facts surrounding the aftermath of the personal injuries, and how the whole event affected the person’s life. Depositions will be taken of every plaintiff, every defendant, and every witness that might testify at trial.
The goal of the entire discovery process is to learn all the information that might be presented at trial so there are no surprises. The idea is to make sure that the lawyer mostly knows what each witness will testify about at trial.
Belleville Medical Malpractice Lawyers at The Cates Law Firm, LLC Fight for the Rights of Injured Patients
If you or a loved one was injured because of the negligence of a health care professional, the Belleville medical malpractice lawyers at The Cates Law Firm, LLC are available to assist. Our legal team fights for fair and just compensation for people injured by medical errors. Call us today at 618-277-3644 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Swansea, Illinois, we serve clients in St. Louis, Belleville, East St. Louis, Edwardsville, Granite City, Waterloo, Chester, Carbondale, St. Clair County, Madison County, Monroe County, Randolph County, and other regions throughout Southern Illinois.