What is discovery?
Lawsuits are often long, drawn out affairs riddled with legal jargon, progressive phases, and continuous prodding that seems foreign to all but attorneys and courts. For any individual, it can be overwhelming trying to not only understand the process itself and the responsibility it imposes, but also realizing the true importance of each phase of a lawsuit. This includes the daunting, but extremely important discovery phase, which provides both sides the opportunity to build evidence to support their arguments at trial. In addition to bolstering cases, efficient, productive discovery can also save a client money in the long run.
In a nutshell, discovery often consists of written questions in the form of Interrogatories, Requests for Production of Documents, and Requests for Admission. Discovery also typically consists of deposing one or both parties and any witnesses that may have relevant information and/or testify at trial. Both types of discovery are often utilized, but in varying degrees.
What are some of the types of written discovery that I may see in a lawsuit?
Under the general category of written discovery, there are different types that may be sent by either or both parties. Types of written discovery include but are not limited to Interrogatories, Requests for Production of Documents, and Requests for Admission. Each of these written discovery items are significantly different from the others, but equal in their importance.
Interrogatories are written questions that require an individual and/or entity to respond in its own words to provide the information requested. This helps to explain and/or expound upon information provided in a Complaint and/or Answer. Although it may seem repetitive at times, this helps to fully clarify any information already provided and can result in additional pieces of information that can be vital. The answers to interrogatories could also result in the identification of additional witnesses, a new party, and/or new claims that were not previously asserted or identified. Although your attorney may know the general answer to an interrogatory, it is not their words the other party seeks, but the client’s. The attorney’s job is to object when applicable and ensure the client responds to each appropriately.
Requests for Production are written requests that require an individual and/or entity to provide documents and/or items, such as recordings, paperwork, text messages, etc., relevant to the case. The importance of hard copy, documentary evidence cannot be overstated. The receipt of documents is crucial in proving and/or refuting the claims of the opposing party. Without proof in the form of documentary evidence, it can often become a battle of he said/she said, with nothing to verify who is correct. Tangible evidence can therefore be crucial.
Requests for Admission are written requests that require an individual and/or entity to unequivocally admit or deny specific information or facts relevant to the lawsuit. This helps to narrow the disputed information and/or facts to the key points. It is crucial that each request be read very carefully when responding as even the slightest deviation from the truth, even if the general statement is correct, will require a denial and, if missed, could result in different issues later on in the case.
What is a deposition?
A deposition is the most recognizable and understood form of discovery. It is simply one party interviewing another party or any witnesses regarding the facts of the case. A variety of questions are asked and key documents are presented to the individual being questioned. This further assists in clarifying, solidifying, and expounding upon the facts set forth at the time the case was initiated and the information and/or documents obtained via written discovery. It is a useful way of determining what the witnesses will say at trial and, should the witness deviate while on the stand during trial, to undermine the witness’ credibility. Therefore, as with written discovery, depositions can also have a significant impact on a case.
If I do not want to or do not feel comfortable being deposed and/or answering written discovery, can I refuse?
Lawsuits are often times uncomfortable for both parties, especially during discovery. Although there are times when a party may desperately want to avoid responding, this is not always possible. There are means by which a party, through his/her/its attorney, may object to certain interrogatories and/or requests. However, this does not guarantee that you do not have to respond at a later point. Although there are some circumstances under which a party can avoid the deposition of a certain individual, the parties to the lawsuit cannot typically avoid being deposed as it is their recollections of the events that form the basis of the lawsuit. Thus, if you are a party to a lawsuit, you will likely not be able to refuse a deposition or written discovery, but can object when appropriate.
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