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Discovery Nixes A Million Dollar Lawsuit; the Role of Discovery

A Rochester, New York man sued the police seeking $1 million for injuries he claimed to have suffered during an unprovoked attack following his arrest.  The man withdrew the claim when his lawyer reviewed a video provided by the defendant during discovery (the exchange of information between parties to a lawsuit that occurs following service of the pleadings and before trial) that established the plaintiff had not been injured.


Plaintiff Samuel Ortiz was arrested and handcuffed by police on September 7, 2017.  The complaint alleged that he was then “intentionally and purposefully brutally attacked and beaten by Rochester police officers.”  Ortiz claims he suffered facial and head wounds, and “sustained cuts, lacerations, bruises, swelling and pain over his entire body.”  The complaint further states that Ortiz required follow-up medical visits and “suffered permanent disfigurement, scarring, embarrassment and humiliation.” 


Following the arrest he was taken to a police interview room and was left alone for awhile.  During this time, a camera was taping Ortiz’ actions.  The video did not disclose any attack by police or injury to Ortiz.  Instead, it showed him in the interview room becoming bored and so doing some push-ups.  Clearly not the actions of a badly injured man.


When confronted with the video, Ortiz and his lawyer no doubt had a very serious talk during which the lawyer explained to plaintiff the concept of burden of proof  which is the duty of a party in a lawsuit to prove a disputed fact, and the fatal blow to their case represented by the video.


Our law imposes on lawyers a responsibility to investigate, prior to commencing a lawsuit, a client’s allegations to assess whether the case is well-founded.  Ethical rules bar a lawyer from starting a case unless reasonable inquiry has revealed that good faith arguments in support of the client’s position exist.  A lawyer should not rely on a client’s representations alone but rather should pursue readily available opportunities to make factual inquiries. 


Failure to carefully assess a case may expose a lawyer to professional discipline, potential fines for bringing a frivolous lawsuit, and civil liability for abuse of process (the tort of using a lawsuit for an unlawful purpose such as harassment) or malicious prosecution (the tort of commencing a lawsuit with insufficient proof of the claim) .  Defendant’s lawyer in this case may face some of these sanctions.


The case is a good example of the purpose of discovery – to enable each side to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of both parties’ positions, and then use that information to influence how to proceed with the case – whether to continue it, settle it, r otherwise terminate it. 



What other types of information might be disclosed during Discovery that could impact how a litigant proceeds in a lawsuit?


Why is Discovery a critical part of a lawsuit?