How Georgia court cases handle the discovery phase
Workers’ compensation works like insurance. An employer pays for coverage of their employees so that when an employee is injured at work, the provider of the coverage pays for expenses related to the worker’s injury.
Seems pretty straightforward, right?
But when there is a dispute over whether an employee should be covered by workers’ compensation, the matter may go before an administrative law judge — starting with the process known as “discovery.”
What is discovery?
Movies and TV often over dramatize the surprise witness or evidence that appears in the middle of a trial. These “surprises” do not generally happen in real litigation because of discovery, which is the process through which litigants obtain information.
If a workers’ compensation dispute goes to an administrative hearing, discovery is when each side will get information from the other side. This discovery process is what prevents the “surprise.” Each side must reveal who and what they intend to present in the hearing.
Each side is also allowed, through discovery, to force the other side to provide information.
Types of discovery
Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 9-11-26) provides for the general provision regarding discovery. The following discovery methods are allowed:
- Depositions upon oral examination
- Depositions upon written questions
- Written interrogatories
- Production of documents
- Physical and mental examinations
Depositions upon oral examination and written questions
A deposition is sworn testimony given prior to the actual hearing. Under Georgia law, once an action has commenced, a party is allowed by oral or written examination to ask questions to another party. The disposed party answers the question under oath.
If the party refuses to answer the question, the side asking questions can make a motion to the court to force the party to answer the question. If the court grants the party’s motion to compel, the court can sanction the deposed party for refusing to answer questions.
Interrogatories are much like written dispositions; however, the answering party receives the questions and answers them within a timeline. This means a party has time to answer and can consult with a lawyer while answering. Interrogatories are less confrontational than dispositions.
Other forms of discovery
There are other discovery methods used to obtain a document or to inspect something. When one side holds a document that that other side wants, they can force them to produce the document or to allow them to inspect something.
For example, if a worker is injured on a certain piece of equipment, the other side can seek an order to allow them to inspect the equipment or request maintenance or other records related to the equipment.
One side can also request a medical or physical examination. This often comes up in disputes over cause or degree of injury. Each side, after showing cause, can seek to have a person take an examination. Workers’ compensation claims are often over medical disputes. This causes an “expert verse expert” showing. The other side will want their expert to issue an opinion so they can counter the other side’s expert.
All of these methods of discovery are designed to prevent one party from keeping information from the other side. Other evidence rules apply, such as privilege and relevance, but for the most part, discovery is how each side puts their case together.
What is NOT considered discovery
Any person can do public records requests or inspections. This includes the secretary of state documents for business filings or SEC filings for a publicly-traded company. In workers’ compensation cases, there is often the use of private investigators.
A private investigator is free to contact people and ask them to give statements. This varies from a deposition or interrogatory in that the statement is not made under the penalty of perjury. However, they are still useful in investigations. A private investigator can also conduct surveillance. They are allowed to follow people in public places, take photos and record video. This practice is used often in workers’ compensation cases.
In a disputed claim, the insurer will seek to show that the person seeking compensation is not injured. They will hire a person to follow the injured employee around attempting to obtain evidence.
When to consult a Georgia work injury lawyer
The discovery process is not an easy thing to learn quickly. If you have a pending dispute, hiring a Georgia workers’ compensation lawyer will help you navigate the waters of discovery much better. They are trained to understand the best course of action.
Hiring a lawyer does not guarantee a certain outcome but they help you determine the best course of action. Lawyers know the ways in which to use discovery to obtain the right information.
For assistance on your workers’ compensation case, reach out to Gerber & Holder Law today. We are willing to help fight for your rights.