How does Discovery work in a Civil Lawsuit?

Discovery is the formal process in a lawsuit where both parties exchange information about the evidence and witnesses that will be presented during trial. According to the American Bar Association, this phase of the trial has been implemented in order to avoid a “trial by ambush.” Meaning that one party would be caught off guard by evidence presented in court by the other party, and then wouldn’t have the adequate amount of time needed to respond to such evidence.

Methods of Discovery

  • Interrogatories — Written questions one party sends to the other and they need to be answered in writing under oath. These answers can be used in court to show the jury if a witness changes their answers during the trial.
  • Depositions — In person questioning of the party involved or witnesses. Statements are given under oath and the questioning is conducted by either party or either party’s attorney. As with interrogatories, the statements may be used as a reference in court when or if the people that testify change their answers. Also, a deposition can be read out loud as evidence to the jury if the deponent (person who was questioned) cannot be present during the trial.
  • Requests for Production of Evidence (RFP) — This is the most common method for attaining documents. One party will ask the other for physical evidence they have that is related to the case. The documents needed must be clearly stated in the request. Examples of documents include, but are not limited to electronic files, employment files, real estate documents, contracts, and billing records. Requests to inspect property or physical objects can also be submitted.
  • Requests for Admission (RFA) — Used to save time, a written statement is sent from one party to the other, in which a request is made to admit under oath to certain facts being true and certain documents being genuine. This saves time in that facts, which both parties believe to be true, do not have to be established at trial.

Information Allowed to be Discovered

  • What witnesses saw or heard
  • Background information on witnesses including personal, education, and professional experience
  • Words exchanged at a specific time and place, such as a business meeting
  • Identities of people who may have information on the dispute
  • Information on the ins and outs of how a business involved with the case is run
  • Documents in relation to the case

Limitations on Discovery

Almost any information that is slightly related to the case is allowed to be discovered, but there are limits set in order to prevent abuse.

Laws are in place protecting information exchanged within the following relationships:

  • Husband and wife
  • Doctor and patient
  • Client and attorney
  • Religious advisor and advisee

Personal information that is not connected to the case is protected, such as:

  • Sexuality, sexual partners, sexual practices
  • Health and body issues
  • Immediate family relationships
  • Spiritual or religious beliefs

There are limits on how much information can be attained on a third party person, who is not involved in the dispute. People included are:

  • Witnesses
  • Co-workers
  • Family members

Protective orders can be placed by a judge to keep sensitive materials out of public record. Some of those materials include:

  • Financial information
  • Confidential information belonging to a business
  • Personal medication

The phases of a civil lawsuit, especially Discovery, can be extremely important to your case but also complicated and difficult to complete on your own. An experienced attorney at Arash Law is ready and able to help and guide you through the process. For a free consultation, contact us today so we may give you sound legal advice and guidance.