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How A New California Disclosure Law Will Impact Bicycle Accident Cases

A bevy of rules inside the courtroom and throughout the legal process can affect the way a bicycle accident case unfolds, so it’s to be expected that a new state law aiming to streamline and address dispute in the discovery process will prove to be relevant when it takes effect on January 1, 2024.

Senate Bill 235, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, updates the current discovery process in a number of ways. 

Law proponents say the update will “reduce discovery abuse by requiring certain initial disclosures to be mandatory.” The law also changes the current suggested sanction to a mandatory $1,000 minimum to lawyers that “fail to timely respond to a documents request, intent to cause unnecessary delay, and fail to meet and confer to resolve any dispute regarding the request.”

“Unfortunately, the discovery process is often abused by parties, and especially those with more resources – irrespective of the merits of the matter,” claims bill primary sponsor Sen. Thomas Umberg. “These abuses lead to disputes that have become increasingly common, expensive, and time consuming. Currently, California law does not condemn strongly enough that abuse of the discovery process will not be tolerated.”

In 2019, Umberg passed the current law in an attempt to address discovery disputes, but says it “didn’t send a strong enough message.”

How SB235 Changes Discovery

In preparing for trial, both sides of a case engage in a process called “discovery.” Each side exchanges information about evidence and witnesses that may be presented at trial. This is to prevent both sides from being blind-sided by the other. 

A common way to collect information is through a deposition, which can occur in all types of cases, including bicycle accidents. Subpoenas, physical examinations, and document validation are also common methods of discovery. 

Under current California law, discovery disclosures are to take place within 45 days of a court’s order. The new law changes this to within 60 days of a demand by any party to the action.

Following Jan. 1, 2024 the initial disclosures must include:

  • Names, addresses, and contact information for all people that may have discoverable information. 
  • Relevant insurance policies that may be used to “to satisfy, in whole or in part, a judgment entered in the action or to indemnify or reimburse for payments made to satisfy the judgment.”

It’s important to note that a party isn’t excused from making its initial disclosures “because it has not fully investigated the case, because it challenges the sufficiency of another party’s disclosures, or because another party has not made its disclosures.”

These new rules aren’t required for parties who are not represented by counsel, actions brought in small claims court, actions under the Family Code or Probate Code, or an action in which a party has been granted preference pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 36.

This all means that lawyers will have to present and share information more quickly and have more questions they are obligated to answer right away than they have in the past, resulting in also having to form positions sooner. Lawyers will also play a reduced role in steering the process with the new directives.

What This Means For Bicycle Accident Victims

For a Bay Area Bicycle Law client new to the legal process, it might not be totally obvious what changes are taking place, but they could alter what they can expect and when. 

The new rules mean that, for all cases, each side will have to disclose some information sooner than they have in the past. For bicycle cases, this will include information such as relevant insurance, which hasn’t been a mandatory disclosure in the past and only was shared when requested.

The new rules also bring witnesses into the mix much sooner than in the past. While there are some upsides to this, it also means that keeping some parties out of the mix – like a child who witnesses damages – is no longer acceptable. With the previous rules, parties may not bring up such a witness unless asked about them.