By Steven Kazan, A California Asbestos Attorney
If you become involved in an asbestos/mesothelioma injury case, you and your attorney(s) will need to go through the process of discovery to gather evidence and investigate the details of your injury to build a strong case.
"Discovery" is a legal term, but it really means nothing more than the process for all the parties in a lawsuit to discover things relevant to the lawsuit. Instead of using flashlights and maps, attorneys discover things by asking written questions (called interrogatories) and asking for documents (subpoenas and requests for production of documents.)
The attorneys representing the defendants find out things about you, the plaintiff, such as your employment, marriage, and most relevant, your medical history. On behalf of the plaintiff, the mesothelioma attorney finds out relevant information about who was responsible for the asbestos exposure at different places and at different times. Using this information, each side puts together its case.
One form of discovery that directly impacts every client is the deposition. This is a legal proceeding that takes place in or near the plaintiff's home or at the attorney’s office. The plaintiff, under oath and on video, 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 round.
The deposition is sometimes over in a couple of hours, but on other occasions it may extend for days or weeks. It is important to have an experienced attorney who can keep it relevant and as short as possible. An experienced attorney will meet with the client before the deposition to prepare the client for what will happen, address the client's concerns, and protect the client throughout the deposition.
Lawyers who are looking out for the good of their client will do their best not to disrupt the clients' lives, and will try to limit the time it takes for the deposition, document review, and other preparation.
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 level of safety at the site. They are likely to contact co-workers, review depositions, visit libraries and archives, query databases, search records collections, contact other law offices that might have information on the topic, access government document collections, and examine company records. The best lawyers leave no stone unturned as they expand upon the information gathered at the first interview. It is not uncommon for them 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 require numerous detailed documents 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 total compensation.
If a client is in poor health, this stage of the case is usually compressed into a couple of months. However, if there is no medical urgency, the to and fro of the discovery process between plaintiffs and defendants can extend over many months.