If you are injured by another person’s negligence in the greater Chicago area, what are your legal rights? If you seek compensation for your injuries with a personal injury lawsuit, how does that work? What is the “discovery” process? What is a deposition? What is an interrogatory? Keep reading, because anyone can be seriously injured by another person’s negligence.

When you are injured because another person was negligent, and you file a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages, both sides will need to examine all of the facts in the case – and particularly the other party’s allegations – comprehensively and thoroughly. If there is no immediate settlement, the “discovery” process generally begins.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING DISCOVERY?

During the discovery procedure, the attorneys for both sides gather and exchange evidence and information regarding the case. Discovery allows your personal injury attorney to compile evidence, obtain witness statements, and learn what evidence the other side intends to present in court.

When you’ve been seriously injured by another person’s negligence and you decide to take legal action, the discovery process is your opportunity to request, collect, review, and evaluate the documents, statements, and other evidence that may play an important role in your personal injury case.

Throughout the discovery process, information obtained by the attorneys for either side must usually be shared with the other side. The goal of discovery is to ensure that both sides have a fair and full opportunity to prepare for a personal injury trial. A key element of the discovery process is called the “deposition.”

WHAT IS A DEPOSITION?

The deposition is the primary tool used by attorneys to obtain testimony in the discovery phase of a personal injury case. Depositions give both sides the chance to ask the other side questions under oath before a trial begins. When conducting a deposition, an attorney hopes to “discover” evidence that strengthens his or her side of the case.

Because the questions at a deposition are answered under oath, deposition testimony can generally be entered as evidence at a personal injury trial if the witness cannot testify at the trial, and the deposition will be given the same value and weight as direct personal testimony. A deposition is typically “taken,” meaning that it is conducted, in a lawyer’s office or conference room.

If you are the plaintiff or defendant in a personal injury case, you will probably be “deposed” – that is, questioned under oath – by the opposing side’s attorney. Other witnesses may be deposed by the attorneys for either or both sides. A court reporter creates a transcript of everything that is said in a deposition.

WHAT SHOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT BEING DEPOSED?

If you testify as a plaintiff at a deposition, listen carefully to the full question before you begin to answer when the defendant’s attorney questions you.

This gives you a moment to think about your response, and it allows your attorney a moment to object to the question if an objection is appropriate.

Offered here are some other tips for testifying at a deposition:

• Dress well. Let the way that you carry yourself tell the other side that you mean business.

• Speak up and speak clearly so that the court reporter can accurately record your answers.

• Be serious. A deposition is not a casual conversation. Do not make any jokes or small talk, because these don’t read well in transcript form.

• Be polite. Do not argue or dispute with the other side’s attorney. Just answer each question as concisely and as truthfully as you can.

AT A DEPOSITION, WHAT SHOULD YOU BE READY TO DISCUSS?

If you are the plaintiff in a personal injury case, be prepared to talk at your deposition about your injuries and your medical condition, because you will be asked where it hurts, how badly it hurts, and how your injuries have impacted your life, your work, and your family.

Judges are not typically present at a deposition, but a court reporter will have you take an oath to tell the “whole truth and nothing but the truth.” The opposing attorney will ask you questions, but your own attorney will consult with you prior to the deposition so that you will be fully prepared.

You will may want to ask your attorney these questions before you are deposed:

• Who else will be in the room while I am being deposed?
• Are there particular documents that I should bring to the deposition?
• How long does a deposition last? Is there any time limit?

WHAT ARE INTERROGATORIES?

An “interrogatory” is similar to a deposition, except that it’s in writing. If you are the plaintiff in a personal injury case, you may be asked to answer interrogatory questions similar to the questions that you would be asked at a deposition. And also like a deposition, an interrogatory is conducted “under oath,” so you will need to answer the interrogatory questions honestly and accurately.

An experienced Chicago personal injury attorney will work diligently to negotiate an out-of-court settlement of your personal injury claim before a trial begins. Many Illinois personal injury cases are resolved outside of the courtroom, but a number of cases still go to trial. Your personal injury attorney needs to be a skilled negotiator, but he or she must also have substantial trial experience.

If you are injured by another person’s negligence in the greater Chicago area, obtain the services of an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney right away. You may receive compensation to cover your current and future medical bills, lost wages and any lost future earning capacity, and in some cases, you may even be compensated for the pain and suffering associated with your personal injury or injuries. If you’ve been injured by negligence, compensation is your right.

By: Stephen Phillips

Stephen D. Phillips is the managing partner at the Phillips Law Offices in Chicago. He earned his Juris Doctor from Loyola University in 1985 and his B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1981. He is an extensively published writer and sought-after lecturer on legal topics ranging from medical malpractice to tort reform. Mr. Phillips is also the recipient of a number of awards and honors from various legal and community groups.