The discovery process is the fact-finding and information-sharing portion of a legal case. Attorneys may use discovery tools such as depositions, requests for production, interrogatories, and subpoenas to gather relevant information from the opposing side and then use this information to strengthen their case.
Each party in a lawsuit or legal case has a right to know what evidence will be presented by the other side. During discovery, parties are given a chance to ask for relevant information and evidence such as financial documents, medical records, the identities of eyewitnesses, and any expert testimony that will be presented.
Discovery Tools That May Be Used in Your Case
The type of discovery tools that may be used in your case will depend on the nature of your legal issue, how forthcoming the other party is with information, and several other factors. Lawyers have many different discovery tools to compel the other side to present information.
Requests for Production of Documents
During pre-trial preparation, a lawyer may use a request for production of documents to legally compel the other side to hand over certain information. For example, in a car accident case, an attorney may use a request for production of documents to request auto insurance paperwork or medical records.
Interrogatories are written questions that an attorney in a legal case sends to the opposing party. The other party answers the questions under oath. For example, an interrogatory may ask a driver what color the traffic light was when he or she entered the intersection.
During a deposition, each party and their respective attorneys sit down for a formal face-to-face discussion. The conversation is recorded, and the answers provided are often used during the trial.
Admissions of Fact
An admission of fact is a statement one party sends to the other party. The recipient is asked to either confirm or deny the statement provided. This helps the parties narrow down which facts they disagree on and which facts they agree on.
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Evidence Gathered During Discovery is Often Used During Trial
The evidence and information each party gathers during the discovery process help them prepare their case and get ready to respond to the other side’s arguments. Evidence from discovery is often presented during the trial but may also be used during mediation or arbitration.
Statements made during depositions or through other discovery methods are often referred to later in the case. This prevents people from changing their stories during trial.
For example, suppose a driver involved in a car crash attended a deposition in which he claimed that he did not see the other vehicle prior to the impact. However, during the trial, he says he saw the vehicle weaving in and out of lanes just before the crash. A skilled attorney would notice this inconsistency and point it out.
Information That May Be Shared During Discovery
Almost any type of information relevant to the case is fair game during discovery. Each state has its own laws regarding discovery rules. For example, according to CC Art. 1425, parties must disclose the identities of anyone presenting evidence at trial and comply with other discovery rules.
Discovery tools may be used to find information regarding:
- A party’s explanation of how and why an incident took place
- What was said during a conversation between two or more people
- A witness’s identity, including their professional and educational background
- The identity of any expert witnesses, such as medical experts that will be testifying in the case
- Photographs and video footage relevant to the case
- Insurance policies
- Medical records
- Property damage estimates
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Certain Information is Protected from Discovery
Certain types of information are off-limits during discovery. For example, any conversations protected by attorney-client privilege are not required to be disclosed during discovery. Conversations between spouses are also protected. Parties also cannot require the disclosure of proprietary business information such as trade secrets.
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Penalties for Failing to Disclose Information During Discovery
In any legal case, both sides must share any information they have gathered about the case. They are also obligated to respond to any questions or requests during discovery. Failure to disclose information and evidence can lead to serious consequences, including sanctions.
The Federal Rules for Civil Procedure state that a party may even be held in contempt of court if they fail to answer a question or otherwise follow discovery rules.
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Discovery is a crucial component of civil and criminal legal actions during which each party gathers information and evidence to use in their case. If you or a loved one were injured because of another party’s negligence, you may be able to file a personal injury claim and recover damages. Our attorneys can walk you through each step of the legal process, including discovery, to build a compelling case for compensation.
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