Limitations on Discovery in Georgia Personal Injury Cases
If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident because of the negligent conduct of another party, you may have the right to damages if you file a personal injury claim. In some situations it can be necessary to file a lawsuit. Although a personal injury lawsuit has many phases, the discovery phase is critically important but not necessarily well understood by many plaintiffs. The discovery phase of a lawsuit involves using approved procedures to obtain information, documents, physical evidence, testimony and other forms of evidence from the other side. There are a range of discovery tools that might be employed that include depositions, interrogatories (questions answered under oath), document demands, requests for admission and more.
Generally, information may be sought in discovery if it is relevant and not protected by some form of privilege or confidentiality. Although Georgia’s depositions and discovery law O.C.G.A. Section 9-11-26 defines the general rules and scope of discovery, the law does not specifically address every situation. This means that the parties may disagree on whether material is subject to discovery, so a discovery dispute arises. If the parties cannot resolve the matter, the party seeking discovery make file a motion to compel and/or the other side may file for a protective order indicating the information is not subject to discovery.
A recent court case provides an example of how such a discovery dispute might be resolved by a court. In Medical Center, Inc. v. Bowden (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), an appellate court ruled that information sought in discovery was not relevant. The plaintiff in the case was injured while she was a passenger in a rental car that was involved in a collision. She received emergency transport to a hospital, surgery and hospitalization for several days. The hospital where the plaintiff was treated filed a medical lien to recover the cost of the plaintiff’s care. The hospital expenses totaled $21,500. The plaintiff contended that the medical lien was unreasonable and sought discovery of certain information from the hospital that included information like:
- The hospital’s pricing structure with insured patients
- Gross revenue for the hospital
- The volume of uninsured patients treated at the hospital
When the hospital objected that the information was not relevant, the plaintiff filed a motion to compel discovery. Relying on O.C.G.A. Section 9-11-26-(b)(1), the appellate court indicated that parties can obtain discovery of any matter that is not privileged if it is relevant to the subject matter of the litigation. The information may be sought whether it related to the claim or defense of the party seeking discovery or defense of another party. The court also noted that the information requested need not be admissible evidence but must be reasonably calculated to lead to discovery of admissible evidence.
Applying this standard, the appellate court reversed the trial court, which had granted the request with limitations. The appellate court indicated that the information sought regarding rate setting agreements was not relevant to determining whether the specific fee the plaintiff was charged was reasonable. The court pointed out that under Georgia law hospitals are permitted to exercise discretion in contracting with insurance companies at preferred rates. Similarly, the court also rejected the notion that the gross revenue information requested was relevant to the reasonableness of the specific rate charged to the plaintiff for her care.
This case demonstrates the challenge that a plaintiff may face in determining what information is relevant when conducting discovery. Experienced Georgia personal injury lawyers recognize the relevant information that must be sought during discovery to build a compelling legal claim.
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