What’s The Discovery Phase Of A Lawsuit?
The discovery phase begins once a lawsuit has been filed. Discovery is a process where both parties exchange information about all the relevant facts of the case as well as the witnesses and evidence that each side will present at trial. This is meant to keep a minimal amount of “surprises” from occurring during a suit. The discovery process prevents one side from being unaware of the other side’s evidence/witnesses and being unable to answer the opposing side’s claims with evidence of their own. There are three different forms of discovery: written discovery, document production, and depositions.
Written discovery consists of interrogatories and requests for admission, and both can be powerful tools for an attorney. Interrogatories are written questions that must be responded to in writing under oath, and they typically inquire about your version of any relevant facts and claims. Interrogatory questions can be broad or specific, with examples ranging from “What were you doing on July 22, 2022?” to “Was the defendant wearing a grey T-shirt on July 22, 2022?”. Requests for admission are also an important tool used to obtain written discovery, as they ask a party to admit or deny certain facts about a case. If a request for admission is answered late, falsely, or not answered at all, the other party can be penalized for it.
Document production is pretty simple. Both parties have the right to see any document that could possibly relate to a case. However, for certain types of cases that involve large quantities of documents, like medical malpractice suits, courts have begun to allow access to computer files as a part of the discovery process. Courts have even allowed the reconstruction of deleted files (think e-mails), but that process is usually not practiced unless absolutely necessary.
Depositions are also an important part of the discovery process. A deposition is an in-person question and answer session attended by both parties, and a transcript is kept by the court reporter in attendance. The deponent (person being deposed) appears at a specific place at a specific time to give testimony under oath. Attorneys have the chance to ask the deponent questions pertaining to the case, allowing them to develop strategies and responses to their opponents’ arguments. A deposition can range in length from an hour or a week, depending on the quantity and type of questions that the other party asks. Depositions allow each side to learn about the witnesses and testimony that the other party will present in court, further contributing to the goal of the discovery process.
Other forms of discovery include having the opposing side take a physical examination, asking that a document be submitted for examination to see if it is real, and subpoenas, which are court orders that require the other party to provide books, records, etc. for inspection. If someone fails to follow a subpoena, they can be held for contempt of court, which can be punishable with monetary sanctions or jail time (the latter usually doesn’t happen).
Discovery can be a confusing and stressful process. If you’re considering filing a suit and have any concerns about how the discovery process works, get in contact with an experienced attorney as soon as possible!