What is Discovery in the Context of a Lawsuit?
You have a claim pending. The case is proceeding through litigation. As you discuss your claim with your attorney, your attorney informs you that your case is about to enter the discovery phase. As you have never heard of that term before in the context of your lawsuit, you think to yourself, “what is discovery and how can it impact my case?” That is certainly a valid thought and it is important that you understand what discovery is and how is can impact your claim.
Discovery is a broad term that is used to describe the phase of your claim where the parties in the lawsuit “discover” the information the other side has to support and/or refute a claim. Discovery occurs essentially in every case. The reason discovery may be necessary is the fact that sometimes you may not have all the information/evidence you need to support your claim. Discovery allows you to request the information you need from the other side, amongst other things. Discovery, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, is liberal in nature. Thus, discovery “[u]nder the rules’ liberal discovery approach, plaintiffs who strongly suspect they were wronged can file a lawsuit, even if they do not have solid evidence. During discovery, they can force the defendant to give them evidence that they can use to build their case.”
There are a number of discovery tools that can be utilized by a party to discover the necessary information to establish their claim. For instance, there is written discovery, which can consist of interrogatories, requests for production of documents and requests for admission. Interrogatories are “a list of questions one party sends to another as part of the discovery process.” Requests for Production of Documents, are requests sent by one party to another party in the lawsuit requesting that the other party provide certain documents. A request for admission “is a discovery device that allows one party to request that another party admit or deny the truth of a statement under oath.” As such, utilizing these written discovery methods effectively can be helpful in establishing your case.
In addition to written discovery, depositions are another discovery tool often used in litigation. A deposition “is a witness’s sworn out-of-court testimony.” In other words, it is a time for an attorney to question a witness regarding a variety of issues relevant to your claim. As depositions are a discovery device, most depositions are quite broad in scope.
Also, a party may try to not disclose or produce the information you have requested. If the discovery dispute cannot be resolved between the parties without Court intervention, a motion to compel can be filed. Generally, a motion to compel is a legal document requesting that the other side be ordered to produce the information requested. As you can likely suspect, motions to compel can be highly contested and heavily argued.
Discovery can encompass a lot more than what was described above. Bear in mind, discovery is a common procedure in lawsuits and occurs in almost every lawsuit. The above information should provide you with a good understanding of what discovery is and how the results of discovery can potentially impact your matter.