Illinois Personal Injury 101: What is Discovery?
Many old television shows about lawyers feature a common courtroom trope: The underdog attorney is about to lose the case until, by some stroke of luck or genius, he or she stumbles across some hitherto-unknown evidence that conclusively proves his or her client’s case. Television writers rely on this trope to make their stories more dramatic, but it isn’t very realistic.
Instead, real trials rarely feature such surprises. To prevent what courts and commentators call “trial by surprise,” state and federal rules of civil procedure in Illinois prescribe rules for pre-trial discovery. As we’ve mentioned before, discovery is the process through which the parties to a lawsuit share all the evidence they have, enabling each to put on the strongest case possible.
Today, let’s take a bit closer look at the discovery process in Illinois state courts and how an Illinois personal injury lawyer from Costa Ivone can you help you through it.
Types of Discovery
As we mentioned in September, Illinois’ rules of civil procedure authorize several different types of discovery. In our September article, we explained that those include:
- Depositions (out-of-court testimony)
- Written interrogatories (requests for information)
- Requests for production (or discovery of documents, objects, or tangible things, and inspection of real estate)
- Requests for admissions (e.g., “Admit that such-and-such document is genuine.”)
- Physical and mental examinations.
Discovery Time Limits
Litigants must keep tabs on two types of discovery time limits. The first type is an overall limit on the discovery process. The second is the amount of time in which to respond to discovery requests.
The overall time limit for discovery is set by a court order following a conference with the parties’ lawyers. Unless the parties agree otherwise, the time limit in the court’s order must be at least 60 days before trial.
Additionally, while discovery is ongoing, the rules of civil procedure impose time limits on discovery responses. The amount of time available depends on the type of discovery request to which a party is responding. For example:
- Answers or objections to interrogatories are due 28 days after receiving them.
- Requests for production must give at least 28 days for a response, unless the parties agree otherwise or the court orders a shorter period.
- Admissions or denials in response to requests for admissions are due 28 days after receiving the requests.
Failing to respond to a discovery request in time can have serious negative consequences for your case. For example, if you fail to deny the allegations in a request for admission within the 28 days you’re given, you will be deemed as having admitted them. Sophisticated parties often try to use requests for admissions to make their opponents lose the entire case in this way!
How an Illinois Personal Injury Lawyer Helps with Discovery
Discovery is a complex process that requires the help of an experienced personal injury attorney. An Illinois personal injury lawyer helps his or her clients in two ways:
- Developing a comprehensive, effective discovery plan. With a well-designed discovery plan and well-drafted requests, an Illinois personal injury attorney can gain a full and clear view of the disputed issues in a lawsuit and the opposing party’s strategy. This enables the attorney to build the strongest case possible and convince the defendant to settle or a jury to find the defendant liable.
- Avoiding traps for the unwary. Although discovery is meant to avoid “trial by surprise,” the process itself includes several traps for the unwary—“pre-trial by surprise,” if you will. Sophisticated parties are fond of using requests for admissions to prevail over litigants who don’t know about the harsh consequences of failing to respond in time. An experienced lawyer helps his or her clients avoid traps like that.
If you’ve been injured and are considering litigation, don’t try to go it alone. Contact the experienced Chicago personal injury attorneys of Costa Ivone for help.