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Achieving Maximum Value in Personal Injury Cases (Part II): Jurisdiction and Discovery

Dec 23, 2016 - Personal Injury by

Selection of jurisdiction and venue is one of the most important factors in the value of any case. The jury venire, rules of court, and judges are all considerations. We typically prefer state court, but sometimes choose to file the case in federal court if there is diversity of jurisdiction. We often do so because the state venue may be more conservative. For instance, the Western Division of the Northern District is made up of at least three counties that are historically far more liberal than Tuscaloosa County (Greene, Pickens and Sumter).

The jury venire is drawn from the Western Division, which includes these three counties. An additional factor involves expert testimony. Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, expert witnesses are permitted to give opinions as to the ultimate issue in the case.

We handle a number of cases in Mississippi. My law partner, Justin Smith, is licensed to practice in Mississippi. Occasionally, we have cases that allow us to choose between the two states. In those instances, we compare and contrast the available venues in both states and consider any evidence of negligence on the part of our client. Mississippi is a pure comparative negligence state while Alabama has maintained contributory negligence as a defense.

We believe it is imperative to explore all options regarding venue in state court. For better or worse, the county where the case is filed will play a significant role in the evaluation by both plaintiff and defendant. We owe it to our clients to choose the most favorable venue available and to ensure that we have considered all possibilities.

Factors to consider include the cause of action, residency of all the parties and witnesses and the location where the event or events giving rise to the cause of action occurred. We frequently review the venue statutes and applicable case law when determining where to file to make sure that we are not overlooking anything. We recently filed a case in which venue was proper in several different counties across Alabama. After considering all of the factors, we chose the most favorable venue. It will make a substantial difference in the value of the case.

Discovery

The completion of well prepared and exhaustive written discovery is imperative. We typically serve our first set of interrogatories and request for production of documents with the complaint. In document-intensive cases, after we receive complete and adequate answers to the first set of discovery, we serve more specific and specially tailored discovery requests. Persistence is paramount in successfully completing this process. Motions to Compel and court intervention are often required.

After we have exhausted the written discovery process, we are then much better prepared and equipped to take more effective depositions. We take a lot of depositions of corporate employees who reside in other states. We almost always videotape these depositions so that we ensure that the jury can see and hear the deponent at trial.

We are currently handling a serious personal injury case that involves egregious misconduct by several defendants. We are seeking substantial compensatory and punitive damages. The case has been very document intensive. We have engaged in aggressive discovery with all defendants and have recovered explosive material every step of the way. This material will drive the punitive damages awards in the case. But, if we had not been persistent with specific and specially tailored discovery requests, we never would have discovered the damaging evidence.

We believe that it is equally important to employ the same time and attention to detail in defending discovery requests as it is in seeking discovery. The lawyers in our firm review answers to interrogatories and document production ourselves. Our staff does an excellent job of preparing responses to most discovery requests, but we carefully review everything before it is served.

We also spend a considerable amount of time with our clients to prepare them for deposition. Every detail is covered with them in a two-part preparation session. The first part is preparing them to give an effective deposition in any case. The second part is preparing them for the specific law and facts in their particular cases. In every case, we have at least two meetings with the clients prior to their depositions.

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"My father-in-law was involved in a horrible traffic accident. The firm was great at handling all of his questions. In the end they got him a great settlement, but the thing he remembers most is that the people at the law firm cared about him as a person. I would highly recommend them to anyone in need of legal services."