If you're filing a lawsuit over your development of mesothelioma or another illness caused by asbestos, you and your attorney will use the "discovery" process to gather evidence, investigate the details of your exposure to asbestos, chart the severity your illness, and build your strongest case. In this article, we'll explain what to expect during the "discovery" phase of an asbestos/mesothelioma claim.
"Discovery" is a legal term, but it merely refers to the process in which all the parties in a lawsuit discover things relevant to the lawsuit. Instead of using flashlights and maps, attorneys discover things by asking questions in writing (interrogatories) and in live proceedings (depositions), and by asking for (and sometimes going to court to force the other side to turn over) documents.
In an asbestos/mesothelioma lawsuit, the attorneys representing the defendants find out things about you, such as your employment, marriage, and most relevant, your medical history. In turn, your attorney will employ various discovery tactics to nail down who was responsible for your asbestos exposure at different places and at different times, and the learn about each potential defendant's financial situation (solvency). Using this information, each side puts together its case.
If a client is in poor health, the discovery stage of the case is usually compressed into a couple of months, but if there are no pressing concerns, the discovery process can go on for a year or more.
One form of discovery that directly impacts nearly every asbestos client is the deposition. This is a legal proceeding that takes place in or near the plaintiff's home or at an attorney’s office. The plaintiff, under oath, answers questions posed by the attorneys. The plaintiff’s attorneys begin by asking the first round of questions, and then the attorneys for the defendants have their chance to ask their own questions (on issues like the potential for a preexisting condition that might be causing or contributing to the plaintiff's claimed health problems.)
Learn more about testifying in an asbestos/mesothelioma case.
The deposition is sometimes over in a couple of hours, but on other occasions it may extend for days or weeks. It's important to have an experienced attorney who can keep the process as streamlined as possible, and who will meet with you beforehand to make sure you're thoroughly prepared for questioning and that any concerns are addressed. It's also your attorney's job to protect you during the deposition, by objecting to certain questions, requesting a break, and so on.
A team of investigators gather information from many sources, to identify the asbestos products that the client was exposed to, and to identify the companies responsible for the products and for worksite safety. These investigators (hired by your attorney) are likely to contact co-workers, review depositions, visit libraries and archives, query databases, search records collections, contact other law offices that might have relevant information, access government document collections, and examine company records.
The best lawyers leave no stone unturned as they expand upon the information gathered at your initial consultation. It is not uncommon for asbestos lawyers to review thousands of pages and talk to over a hundred potential witnesses.
Asbestos cases involve a lot of complex evidence. Establishing a concrete link between the asbestos exposure and resulting mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural plaque/effusion, or other illness often requires painstaking document review, research, and testimony from medical experts. Proving this causative link is often the hardest part of an asbestos related lawsuit—or any toxic tort case. The lengthy discovery process is necessary to ensure each client has the best chance at obtaining fair and adequate compensation.
If you’re considering filing an asbestos lawsuit, consult an attorney as soon as possible. A lawyer can explain what to expect in your case and make sure your rights are protected. Learn more about finding the right lawyer for you and your injury case.