When you’re involved in a legal dispute following an injury—especially if you’re representing yourself—it’s important to understand every tool at your disposal. One such tool is a motion to compel.
Let’s unpack what this motion entails and how it can potentially aid your personal injury lawsuit.
Understanding a motion to compel in court proceedings
A motion to compel is a formal request a party makes to the court during the discovery phase of the lawsuit.
Discovery is the period when both sides are required to share information relevant to the case. If one party withholds information or does not respond to discovery requests adequately, the other side can file a motion to compel, seeking a court order mandating compliance with discovery demands.
Learn about some of the most common motions in a personal injury case, including a motion to dismiss, motion for summary judgment, and motion in limine.
How to file a motion to compel
Filing a motion to compel involves several critical steps:
- Attempt to resolve the dispute out of court: Before you can file a motion to compel, you must try resolving the dispute directly with the other party. This "good faith" negotiation involves a "meet and confer" session. If this meeting doesn't settle the discovery disagreement, you'll need to draft a joint stipulation. This document is submitted with your motion to compel as evidence of your attempt to negotiate. Remember, local court rules specify the procedure for the "meet and confer" and the contents of the joint stipulation.
- File the motion: If all other efforts fail, you must file a motion with the court. This filing should detail what discovery was requested, the insufficient responses received, and the attempts to resolve the issue. It’s imperative to follow the local court rules closely when filing your motion, as they govern the format, timing, and specific items to include. Incorrect filing can lead to penalties and the rejection of your motion.
- Court intervention: The court reviews the motion and, if it finds merit in the request, will issue an order compelling cooperation. This process may involve a hearing.
Get to know the ins and outs of small claims courts, understand the types of cases appropriate for small claims, and discover the advantages of pursuing your case in this simpler, more cost-effective legal venue.
Real-world example of a motion to compel
To illustrate the value of a motion to compel, consider a car accident in which the defendant’s phone records are crucial to prove that they were texting while driving. If the defendant fails to provide these records, a motion to compel would be the next step to enforce this requirement.
Another example is a slip and fall incident in a store where surveillance footage could establish the facts. If the store refuses to turn over the video, the injured party could file a motion to compel to obtain it.
Below is a sample motion to compel. Keep in mind that actual motions will vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction and the specifics of the case. This sample is intended for general illustrative purposes only and should not be used as a legal document without consulting an attorney to tailor it to the specific facts and laws concerning your case.
[Attorney’s Name] [Your Address] [City, State, Zip Code] [Telephone Number] [Email Address] [State Bar Number]
Attorney for [Plaintiff/Defendant], [Compelling Party’s Name]
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE [Name of District] DISTRICT OF [State]
[Plaintiff's Name], Plaintiff, v. [Defendant's Name], Defendant.
Case No.: [Case Number]
MOTION TO COMPEL DISCOVERY RESPONSES FROM DEFENDANT [DEFENDANT'S NAME]
Judge: [Judge's Full Name]
Hearing Date: [If applicable]
Pursuant to Rule [applicable rule] of the [State/Court] Rules of Civil Procedure, [Plaintiff/Defendant] Compelling Party’s Name] hereby moves the Court for an order compelling [Defendant/Plaintiff] [Other Party's Name] to provide responses to [specify the discovery request: interrogatories, requests for production, etc.] served on [Date]. Despite a good faith attempt to resolve the matter informally, [Other Party's Name] has failed to provide adequate responses within the time frame established by the rules. The discovery sought by [Compelling Party’s Name] is relevant and not privileged and is necessary for preparing for trial.
On [Date], [Compelling Party’s Name] served [Other Party's Name] with [type of discovery requests] seeking information relevant to [describe the claims or defenses in which discovery is sought]. The requests sought information regarding [briefly describe the subject matter of the requests]. As of the date of this motion, [Other Party's Name] has [not responded/ provided incomplete or evasive responses to] these requests.
This motion is necessitated by [Other Party's Name]'s refusal to provide discovery, which is relevant to the instant case. The information sought by [Compelling Party’s Name] is critical for the preparation of the case for trial and is specifically tailored to elicit discoverable information that is neither privileged nor overbroad.
[Here, you can provide a more detailed argument, including legal standards for compelling discovery and why the discovery requests are reasonable and relevant.]
[Compelling Party’s Name] respectfully requests that the Court grant this motion to compel and order [Other Party's Name] to provide full and complete responses to the outstanding discovery requests within a specified time frame. [Compelling Party’s Name] further requests that the Court award reasonable expenses incurred in making this motion, including attorney's fees, per Rule [applicable rule].
[Optional: A proposed order may also be included here for the court’s convenience.]
[Your signature] [Your typed name]
[Date of signing]
Is everything discoverable?
Just because you want the opposing party to hand over information, doesn’t mean the opposing party has to hand over information.
Discovery in legal cases is intended to uncover information that may be relevant to the legal matter at hand, with the exception of information that is protected by privilege.
Here are two essential inquiries to consider:
- What qualifies as relevant information?
- What falls under the scope of privileged communication?
Evidence is considered relevant if it could potentially lead to the unearthing of information permissible in court, not necessarily if it would be directly admissible. Take, for instance, a scenario where a plaintiff's tax records might not directly relate to a personal injury claim and are not directly admissible. However, if these records can lead to admissible evidence, they may be subject to discovery.
Certain information is protected from discovery due to recognized legal privileges:
- The attorney-client privilege safeguards confidential exchanges between clients and their lawyers, including discussions with legal staff, made during their professional interactions.
- The work-product privilege protects the materials an attorney prepares for a case, which may include personal thoughts, analysis, or research.
- The spousal privilege covers private communications between married partners.
- The physician-patient privilege exists to keep medical conversations between a doctor and patient confidential, although this can be forfeited if a patient pursues a personal injury claim relating to those discussions.
Discovery rules vary by state, with legislation and judicial decisions shaping what is considered privileged. While the privileges listed are widely recognized, you should verify with your state's specific legal provisions to understand the extent of privilege in your area.