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Chicago Trial Attorney: Personal Injury and Business Litigation: The Power of Subpoenas

The fact finding process in civil cases is known as “discovery” — that is, where you can ask the other side to turn over any document or other piece of evidence/information in their possession that might have some bearing on your case (provided that you ask for it in fairly descriptive terms).

Many litigants make the mistake of stopping their focus after obtaining discovery — once they’ve gathered everything they have from the other side, that’s the end of their inquiry. Success or failure in any given case, however, largely depends on the winning side’s ability to think outside the box, so to speak.

When it comes to discovery, then, technically speaking, you are not limited to asking the other side to turn over evidence — you just have to know how to ask. For a very basic example, let’s say you are involved in an auto accident in a supermarket parking lot. Both sides claim that the other driver was at fault, but after discovery, there is really no hard evidence other than each driver’s word, essentially making the case a “he said, she said” situation that, quite frankly, can often go either way at trial. Now, let’s add to the example that this parking lot, as large stores often do, has a surveillance camera in its parking lot that captured the whole accident on tape. In most cases similar to this example, the supermarket would not be a party to the lawsuit and as such, you would not be able to simply send a discovery request to turn over the surveillance tape, as you would, say, a copy of any pictures of the scene of the accident that the defendant may have taken. But this does not mean that you cannot get the surveillance tape that may make or break your case — again, you just have to know how to ask for it.

A plaintiff (through their attorney) can issue subpoenas for documents and other information (even testimony) that require non-parties to turn over evidence, documents and information, provided that the subpoena meets certain technical requirements. For starters, the requested information has to be reasonably clear — if you’re looking for the surveillance tape, then you must say so. You also have to pay a fee to the person/business you’re seeking information from, usually starting at around $25.

Further, the power of such subpoenas — if all of the steps are followed properly — are real consequences for failing to comply: the person/business may even be brought into court to explain to the Judge why they shouldn’t have to turn over the evidence, or else they may face some hefty fines and even perhaps be held in contempt of court! That’s very powerful!

The point to be had is that the difference between winning and losing is often the party’s willingness to go above and beyond and take full advantage of all the litigation tools at your disposal.

You can contact us here 24/7/365 if you have any questions and to learn how we may be able to help you analyze your particular situation–maybe subpoenas will be the only way to get the evidence you need to prove your case. Most importantly, you will find that we listen, take your phone calls and e-mails (and even text messages!). We would be honored to help you with your matters – large or small.


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