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Personal Musings

What Is a Discovery In a Lawsuit?

If you file a lawsuit, such as a personal injury lawsuit, there are different aspects of your case that have to be completed. The entire process from start-to-finish can be months or years, and there are a lot of moving parts and deadlines to keep up with, which is why it’s almost always best to hire a lawyer to represent you in a lawsuit.

In the example of a personal injury lawsuit, you will usually begin with your initial meeting with your lawyer, where you’ll go over details of the accident. Then, you’ll move into settlement talks. 

If you don’t get the settlement you believe you deserve, that’s when you actually file a lawsuit, and you have to do something called conducting a discovery. This is also known as the discovery process. 

The discovery process is detailed below. 

Discovery Overview

A discovery is something that takes place outside the courtroom, and it’s a time when documents and information and facts can be brought to light that weren’t known previously to one party or the other. It’s a way to gather information relating to a lawsuit, and discoveries can take place through the exchange of written information or depositions. 

A deposition is a face-to-face session that involves questioning. 

If one side doesn’t want to turn over certain information or documents as part of the discovery process, a judge may step in. 

The types of information that can be revealed in discovery can be extensive. It can include case facts, identities of other people who might have information related to the case, documents pertaining to the case, and property or physical objects that are linked to the case. 

In addition to using the discovery process to get information from the other party involved in the lawsuit, it can also be a way to get information or documents from businesses or people who aren’t actually involved in the lawsuit. 

The overarching idea of discovery is that there’s no ambush on either side during a trial. Neither side should be learning about evidence or witnesses during the trial itself. They should already know all of the evidence that will be presented. 

What’s Included in a Discovery?

This was touched on a bit already, but there are generally some broad components of a discovery. 

These include medical files, tax records, answers to questions, video or audio recordings, and electronically stored information. 

With the discovery process, the court usually sets a time limit as far as how long information can be gathered, but there may be an agreement between both parties to extend it if necessary. 

Even more specific things that can be discovered are:

  • What a witness said or saw, or even did or heard relating to the dispute at-hand
  • Whatever’s said at a certain time or in a certain place. In the case of a car accident, this could mean anything said at the scene of the accident. 
  • Identities of people who could know about injuries or the loss of money suffered by either party in the lawsuit. 
  • Information about how a business is operated. 
  • Any documents that relate to the dispute.
  • Professional, educational and personal backgrounds of witnesses. 

Are There Limits on What Can be Discovered?

There aren’t many limits on what can be discovered, but during the actual trial itself, that doesn’t mean everything can be used. 

For the most part, if there’s even a limited potential connection to the lawsuit, that information can be part of the discovery. 

The issue can become that lawyers use this free-for-all to their advantage. They may try to pull information that’s just embarrassing, for example. 

That’s why there are a few limits. 

For example, confidential conversations are privileged. This means that conversations between a married couple, a doctor, and a patient or a lawyer and client, for example, can’t be part of the discovery in most cases. 

Sometimes there are limits on what can be described as private matters. This might mean information relating to sexuality or sexual partners or religious beliefs. 

Depositions vs. Interrogatories 

Finally, there is a difference between depositions and interrogatories, both of which can be part of the discovery process.

A deposition occurs as a face-to-face questioning session between one party in the case or a witness, and the other party’s lawyer. 

During deposition, the person who’s being questioned is under oath, and then the answers they give during that time are used at the trial. 

Interrogatories are written questions that one party submits to the other, and these are answered under oath.