Fact-finding is a type of legal process wherein a neutral, third party figure interviews witnesses and reviews documents to determine exactly what happened regarding the personal injury.  The purpose of the fact-finding phase is to establish which facts are true and not subject to contest from that point on.  Fact-finding occurs during “fact-finding hearings”.  

Fact-finding is commonly used in connection with Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods, which aim to resolve the legal dispute before trial.  In many cases, a pre-trial settlement may result simply after the fact-finding reveals what actually occurred in the personal injury.  If fact-finding is a part of the trial, it is usually governed by discovery rules and principles.   

Are the Results of Fact-Finding Binding During the Lawsuit?

Fact-finding is similar to arbitration, except that the conclusions reached in fact-finding aren’t legally binding as they are in arbitration.  Instead, the parties can usually decide what legal consequences will result from the establishment of the facts.  If no settlement or agreement can be reached after fact-finding, the parties will usually go to trial.  During the trial, the results of fact-finding will usually be incorporated into the trial.

Results reached in fact-finding are usually binding and can’t be challenged during the ensuing trial.  However, in some cases, the parties have the option of choosing whether or not the facts will be ultimate and binding during trial.  If the facts are considered binding, then the parties can usually only argue on issues of law, rather than issues of fact.

Who Conducts Fact-Finding?

Fact-finding is usually conducted by a neutral third-party person or body, who isn’t directly interested in the outcome of the decision.  This may be:

  • A judge
  • A hearing officer or hearing body
  • The jury (in a criminal case)
  • A neutral third-party mediator or representative appointed by the parties (as in ADR)

In some cases, the party conducting the fact-finding is usually called the “fact-finder” or “trier of fact”.  Each state may have differing rules regarding the procedural and legal guidelines for the trier of fact.  In some cases, special instructions may be issued to the trier of fact (such as to disregard certain aspects of the factual determinations). 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Fact-Finding in a Personal Injury Case?

The fact-finding process generally requires that the parties each be represented by their own lawyer.  During fact-finding, the parties will be asked many different questions in relation to the personal injury claim.  It’s best if you have a personal injury lawyer present if you are being requested to participate in fact-finding hearings.  Your attorney can also represent you if the case proceeds to trial in a court of law.