What happens at trial if you fail to answer discovery?

In civil cases, discovery is the process in which both parties send questions that the other side is required to answer. The two types of discovery are interrogatories and admissions. Interrogatories are open-ended questions (e.g., “describe what happened in the accident”). Admissions are yes or no/admit or deny questions. What happens in a civil case when the opposing party fails to answer interrogatories and then seeks to testify at trial? The Dallas Court of Appeals recently addressed that issue in CORNEJO v. JONES.

In that case, Cornejo appealed the district court’s ruling allowing Jones to testify at trial despite his failure to respond to interrogatories. This case arose out of a traffic incident in which Cornejo alleges that Jones caused a multi-vehicle accident, thereby injuring Cornejo. At trial, both Cornejo’s testimony and the police description of the accident pointed to Jones being at fault in the accident due to his reckless driving. Jones contends that another vehicle struck him before the accident; therefore, he was not at fault. The issue at hand is whether or not Jones is allowed to testify at trial without giving Cornejo at least a “general description” of the collision at the heart of the lawsuit before the trial.

The court of appeals reviewed this case to see if the trial court abused its discretion by allowing Jones to testify. Jones argued that Cornejo should have sought and obtained a running objection to Jones’s testimony in order to bring the issue up again on appeal. But, the fact that Cornejo objected to Jones’s testimony before the trial is enough to create the equivalent of a running objection under Texas Rule of Evidence 103(a)(1).

Jones used two arguments to defend his in-court testimony. First, Jones argued that Texas Rule of Civil Procedure rule 193.6 allows a named party to testify regardless of any response to interrogatories. Second, Jones argues that any response to Cornejo’s questions would only restate facts that Jones already provided when he denied responsibility for the accident. The Court denied both of the arguments, stating that the language of rule 193.6 does not state or imply that named parties have no responsibility to respond to interrogatories. The Court also stated that “the need to respond [to interrogatories] is not a technicality.” Discovery rules help both parties determine their position before trial in order to streamline the judicial process.

Finally, the court stated that the lower court failed to consider any evidence regarding either exclusion to rule 193.6. The court of appeals determined that the trial court erred by overruling Cornejo’s objection to Jones’s testimony prior to trial. Because the only evidence not in favor of Cornejo derived from Jones’s testimony, any omission of Jones’s testimony was not harmless. Because the trial court failed to exclude this testimony under either exception to rule 193.6, and seeing as Jones’s testimony was the only evidence supporting a ruling against Cornejo, the Court of Appeals reversed the decisions and remanded it to the trial court.

The personal injury attorneys at Guest and Gray Law Firm in Forney have over 30 combined years of experience handling personal injury claims. We want to fight so that you can be compensated for all you have lost and suffered as a result of being the victim of a construction injury. Depending on the situation, we are prepared to negotiate a fair settlement to compensate you for your injuries. But if settlement negotiations do not produce an acceptable outcome, we are prepared to go to court and fight to get you everything you deserve. Call Guest and Gray Law Firm today to set up your free initial consultation so that we can begin to discuss your case and the options available to you.