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Massachusetts Accident and Injury Cases: Discovery Issues

Discovery is allowed by Massachusetts court rules and makes up an important investigative portion of your case. Sometimes, discovery can make or break a case. Let’s say you were rear-ended on Route 1 in Saugus, Massachusetts during rush hour and got soft tissue injuries to your back and neck.  You should hire an injury lawyer from the North Shore who would file a Complaint in the Essex County Superior Court.  The Defendant (the guy who rear-ended you) would file an answer and the next important stage of the case would be Discovery.

Sometimes, discovery can make or break a case as happened in Grace v. Winchester Nursing Center, Inc., 84 Mass. App. Ct. 1129 (2014).

Your lawyer will use discovery to learn how the defendant views the facts, what caused the accident and who was at fault and why. The defense lawyer will use it to learn how you view the accident and if you contributed to it and the extent of your injuries. Discovery gives both sides the chance to “discover” each other’s version of what happened.  Discovery can be a bit intimidating, but as you begin working together with your lawyer, you will soon find it is not too bad.

Let’s say the accident happened at 6:00 p.m. and the guy who hit you was driving a delivery truck for a local office supply store.  Your lawyer will use discovery to explore facts such as: a) was the driver of the delivery truck on-duty or off-duty;  b) was he on his usual route, taking a detour or was he new to the route; c) was the delivery guy late and in a hurry and how many hours had he worked that day, when did he last eat or have any alcohol; d) what were the weather and road conditions at the time of the accident, did the angle of the sun or a wet road contribute and e) was the delivery guy texting or talking on his phone?

Your personal injury lawyer may conduct discovery on the other driver, witnesses to the accident, the investigating police officer or an accident reconstruction expert, or perhaps on the wireless phone company used by the driver.  Similar techniques are likely to be used by the delivery driver’s lawyer who may try to discover facts from you, such as: where were you coming from and going, were your brake lights working, were you on your cell phone, did you cause or contribute to the accident, and how bad are your injuries?

The three primary methods used to discover the facts of the case, by both sides are:

  • Interrogatories;
  • Requests for Production of Documents; and
  • Depositions.

Interrogatories are written questions from one party to another, usually only between the parties in the law suit. Once served with interrogatories, the other party has forty-five days to answer.[1]

Requests for Production of Documents are requests made by one party, to another, to inspect and/or copy documents or electronically stored data identified in the request.[2]  Document requests can be between the parties or served on third parties such as witnesses with a subpoena duces tecum. [3]  There is no limit to the number of documents that can be requested and the party served with a request for production of documents has thirty days to respond.

A Deposition is the opportunity for the lawyer to ask questions of any person with information about the law suit. The answers are taken down by a stenographer or recording and are answered under oath. You can usually require the deposition of any other person so long as you give at least seven-day notice and that person does not have to travel more than fifty miles. [4] But, as with most Massachusetts laws, there are exceptions.

Both the plaintiff and the defendant usually conduct discovery.  They want to confirm and prove facts already known and documents in existence; and to try to learn new facts and find new documents.

Discovery takes time and effort but is an important part of the process in a personal injury lawsuit.  The facts discovered or established by discovery will help paint the picture of your story and prove it to the judge and jury.

[1] M.R.C.P. 33
[2] M.R.C.P. 34
[3] M.R.C.P. 45
[4] M.R.C.P. 30