Once a legal complaint in a personal injury case is filed and served in New Jersey the discovery phase of the case begins. Discovery is the word used to describe the exchange of information and evidence between the parties to a lawsuit. Pursuant to New Jersey Court Rule 4:24-1 the time for completion of discovery and other pretrial proceedings in personal injury cases such as motor vehicle accidents, slip, trip or fall accidents and the like is 300 days. The period of discovery in somewhat more complex cases like medical malpractice and products liability is 450 days. In most cases extensions of the discovery period is also allowed if good cause is presented to the court. Additionally there are circumstances where discovery is extended significantly if there are exceptional circumstances that require it. Therefore as a personal injury client once a lawsuit is filed you can expect in general the discovery period to take anywhere from 1 year to 2 years in duration, or more in complex cases.
As the client you should expect several things to happen during the period of discovery. During this time the attorneys for all the parties will exchange all the evidential documents that will be relied upon in the case. This includes things like medical records and reports, police reports and other investigation materials to name just a few. In addition you as the client will be involved in several key aspects of the discovery. You will be asked to answer written questions called interrogatories dealing with how the accident happened, what injuries you sustained and what damages have been caused such as lost wages or similar things. You also will likely be required to attend a deposition which is a procedure where the attorneys can ask all the people involved questions in person about the accident and its consequences. In almost all cases you will be required to sign authorizations allowing the attorneys to get records from your doctors, your job and anything else related to the claim. Another common part of discovery is your requirement to attend medical exams with doctors the opposing attorney chooses to evaluate your medical condition.
These are just a few of the many things that occur during the court mandated discovery period. The attorneys are even more involved in exchange of information and many discovery procedures that do not require the direct involvement of the client. As the client it is important to understand what is happening and why during this 1 to 2 year period of time. What happens during the discovery phase is one of the most influential and important factors in the successful resolution of your case.