Discovery is the legal process that allows each party to a lawsuit to ask the other parties for information that is related to the case. During discovery, both parties are required to show the other side evidence they plan to use during trial.
The discovery process is meant to encourage parties to settle their disputes before trial, help each side prepare their cases based on fair access to information, and prevent unfair surprise in court. Courts have stated that the ultimate purpose of discovery is to seek the truth, so that disputes may be decided by what the facts reveal, not by what facts are concealed.
To further this end, parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter not privileged (attorney-client, doctor-patient, etc.) that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any books, documents, or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons having knowledge of any discoverable matter.
Types of Discovery
Generally four types of formal discovery tools are frequently used in lawsuits. They are depositions, requests for admission, requests for production, and interrogatories. In addition, some states and the federal courts use initial disclosures or requests for disclosure.
Disclosures permit a party to obtain certain standard pre-approved basic information from another party. The responding party must provide the information requested, and cannot object or claim a privilege to shield the information from discovery.
In a deposition, a party’s lawyer conducts live questioning of the other party or a witness to the dispute. The person being questioned must answer under oath, and the answers are transcribed by a court reporter for later use at trial. Sometimes, the deposition is also videotaped. If the deponent cannot testify at trial, the questions and answers might be read to the jury as evidence. If the deponent does testify and gives different answers at trial from those he gave during the deposition, the questions and answers can be used to show the jury that the witness changed his story.
In a request for production, one party asks the other for physical evidence, generally documents, related to the accident or occurrence. Requests for production are usually used to gather pertinent documents, such as contracts, employment files, billing records, medical records, or financial information. However, these requests can also be used to inspect physical objects or property.
Interrogatories are written questions one party sends to the other to be answered under oath. The answers can be used at trial in the same way as deposition answers — to challenge a party who changes his or her story later.
In a request for admission, one party asks the other party to admit or deny that certain facts are true or certain documents are genuine. These requests are generally used to narrow the issues for trial.
What to Expect When Answering Discovery
Many times a client provides his or her lawyer with a mountain of documents, many of which have no relevance to the case. Other clients produce only a fraction of their documents, notwithstanding counsel’s request to make full disclosure. This usually occurs as a result of oversight, or the client not being prepared to spend the time or effort to complete a thorough search. Failure to make full production at the outset invariably results in increased costs and delays down the road. Moreover, if a party fails to respond to another party’s request or fails to adequately respond, the requesting party may file a motion to compel responses and go before the judge. This could result in monetary fines and other sanctions.
In general, a party has thirty days to respond to any of these requests. The lawyer usually sends the requests to the client upon receipt, and asks him or her to do their best to answer it on their own. This often provides the lawyer with information that may not have been provided if the lawyer guides the client through the process first. Then the lawyer will work together with the client to come up with the final product.
Discovery is Crucial to Every Lawsuit
Discovery is a very important part of the litigation process. In order to win the lawsuit, a party must have more than speculation or opinion to prove or disprove the allegations in the lawsuit. The most compelling and credible evidence is physical evidence that supports the party’s allegations. In addition to physical evidence, testimony from witnesses can help corroborate the party’s allegations.
Through the discovery process, the attorney can ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of his client’s case and adjust the legal strategies and tactics to make his client’s case stronger. Furthermore, knowing the strength of the opposing party’s evidence is vital in deciding if it is in the client’s best interest to settle the case prior to trial or proceed to trial.
We will hold your hand closely during the discovery process. If you want to discuss your case with a Newport Beach injury attorney at Russell & Lazarus APC, call (949) 851-0222. We can help.