One of the most–perhaps “the most”–important part of most civil justice lawsuits is known as “discovery.” This is the longest, most substantial part of the legal process. Essentially, this refers to the time when each side in a dispute seeks to “discover” information about exactly what went on in a case. That information can include things like paperwork (i.e. medical records), depositions (interviews with involved parties), and admissions or written questions answered by the other side.
Contrary to the perception in films and television shows, there is not much in the way of “surprise” evidence or information that comes out at the trial itself. Instead, most of the information is well-known to both parties ahead of time as a result of the discovery process. The justice system is designed to get at the truth–whatever that might be. And so the discovery process is the point where both sides lay everything on the table in an effort to ensure everything that is helpful at getting at the truth is brought to light.
In practice, there is often a bit of legal maneuvering and conflict throughout discovery. There are rules about what information has to be presented to the other side and how it must be presented. Disagreement about interpretation of those rules and abiding by their dictates may lead to delays and courtroom battles before the trial itself. In general, however, most fair-minded participants understand that the discovery process is meant to ensure fairness and get at the root of the problem.
In fact, in many cases as the discovery process is nearing an end, the parties in the matter will come to an understanding about what likely happened and reach a settlement. Because there are not intended to be any “surprises” at trial, it is often in the best interest of both parties to settle a matter beforehand, knowing what information would likely be presented if the case goes to trial.
Long-story short, the discovery process cannot be underestimated in importance in the civil justice system.
Discover Begins in Breast Cancer Malpractice Case
In fact, the discovery is so crucial to these cases, that sometimes it makes news headlines itself. For example, the Texas Record published a story recently announcing how a breast cancer malpractice case was entering the discovery phase.
According to the report, the case was first filed in May of this year. It involves a patient who was referred to the defendant-doctor for evaluation after a mass was found in her breast. Tests indicated that she had “low-grade invasive ductal carcinoma.” However, tests for thirteen lymph nodes showed that they were not malignant. The suit claims that the defendant-doctor’s surgical actions in response to the testing was inappropriate. The standard of care for those conditions, claim the suit, was to conduct a biopsy instead of a lymph node dissection. As a result of the doctor’s medical actions, the suit claims that the patient has suffered a wide range of complications.
The case is now proceeding and the plaintiff’s attorney has filed a “certificate of discovery.” This indicates that the lawyer intends to take a deposition of the defendant-attorney. That deposition will likely be one of the most important pieces of information collected in the entire case. The answers the defendant gives in that deposition, and how they mesh with expert testimony in the matter, may determine if a settlement is reached and how much is agreed upon.
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