Balancing Burden Versus Benefit in Discovery in Illinois Injury Cases

motor coachIn an injury case, as with any civil action, one of the key aspects of the case is the discovery phase of the lawsuit. Whether your case is about liability and damages, or just damages, the discovery process is a vital part of the proceeding, and handling this aspect well can be key to achieving a successful outcome. You certainly want to make sure that you turn over those things that the law says you have to disclose, but you also don’t want to do anything that isn’t required and may weaken your case. In the case of an injured computer analyst, the Illinois Appellate Court issued a ruling recently, stating that he did not have to make discovery disclosures unless the trial court first made findings that the benefit outweighed the burden that would be placed on him.

The plaintiff had just landed a job as a senior computer analyst for a major health products company in 2012 when a commercial bus rear-ended him while he was driving in Lake County. The analyst sued, alleging that the wreck caused him to suffer emotional distress, physical disfigurement, and disability (including cognitive harm).

The bus company admitted that its driver was liable, but it contested the issue of damages. The bus company asked for forensic images (“mirror copies”) of each of the plaintiff’s five computers, including one provided to him by his employer. The plaintiff fought these requests, arguing to the judge that they were outside the bounds of permissible discovery. The law blocks parties from making discovery demands that are overly broad, unduly burdensome, or irrelevant to the issue at hand. The trial court, however, ordered the plaintiff to comply.

The appeals court reversed that ruling. The higher court explained that, to be discoverable, information must be relevant, and the benefits of its production must outweigh the burdens of producing it. When it comes to electronically stored information, including the metadata the defense sought in this case, the court concluded that such data is often not discoverable because of the high burden associated with getting to it.

Another aspect of this discovery request that worked against the defense was the nature of the demand itself. Instead of asking the plaintiff to search his files and disclose information fitting the request, the defense essentially asked to copy the plaintiff’s entire computers and then search those copies for the information it wanted. The appeals court stated that an inversion of the traditional approach to discovery might be proper in some circumstances, but those generally involved an unusual case or a party’s past history of non-cooperation with discovery demands. In this plaintiff’s case, there was no history of non-compliance, and his was just an ordinary auto accident case; in other words, there was “no support for the defendants’ request to invert the traditional discovery protocol.”

Based upon what the defense sought, the alleged benefit would have to be extremely great, since the burden clearly was high. Giving the defense what it desired would mean giving the defense the plaintiff’s “personal photographs, declarations of love, bank records and other financial information, records of online purchases, confidential information about family and friends contained in communications with them, and private online activities utterly unconnected to this suit.” To the appeals court, the request was like “asking to search the entire contents of a house merely because some items in the house might be relevant.”

The defense could still win this discovery dispute, but it would first have to clear the high hurdle of this balancing test. Since the trial court didn’t do the correct balancing analysis, the ruling had to be reversed.

If you’ve been injured in a bus accident, the experienced Chicago motor vehicle accident attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck are here to help. Our team of attorneys has been helping injured drivers and passengers for many years in pursuing the compensation they deserve. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Illinois Residents Injured in Indiana Bus Crash Defeat Effort to Move Their Case Out of State, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, May 8, 2017

Woman Hit By Champaign City Bus Obtains $9M Injury Verdict Award, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, March 15, 2017