The discovery process is an appropriate name for the period prior to when a trial begin when both sides to a lawsuit gather information that may pertain to the lawsuit. The discovery process can help both sides turn up facts and information that they may not have been aware of and which can help them build their respective cases. While some information is privileged during the discovery process, such as communication between a lawyer and client, doctor and patient, or husband and wife, and cannot be turned over during the discovery process, generally both sides have a great deal of freedom in uncovering new information during this pre-trial process. Here are just three things a lawyer will often start looking into during the discovery process.
During a deposition, an attorney will ask a person questions and both the answers and the questions themselves will be recorded by a court reporter. A deposition can feel a bit like taking the witness stand and in some cases an attorney will use a deposition to see how a witness behaves while being questioned. However, strictly speaking the deposition only pertains to the facts of the case, meaning the one being questioned is only supposed to answer what he or she knows rather than try to explain those answers. Many attorneys use the deposition to establish what the other party's version of events is and to discover new information from that party.
In just about every lawsuit, lawyers for either side will ask that the other side produce documents related to the lawsuit. The documents produced will largely depend on the matter being litigated. For example, in a medical malpractice lawsuit both sides will almost undoubtedly want to see medical records. If a lawsuit involves a small business, then attorneys are going to want to see financial documents related to that business. In some cases, including family law and personal injury cases, lawyers have even demanded that the other side produce emails and social media posts, although a judge may not always grant these requests, especially if they violate privacy laws.
Interrogatories are similar to depositions in the sense that they are designed to ask you questions pertaining to what you know about the case. However, unlike depositions, interrogatories are written questions. Essentially, an interrogatory is a list of questions about the case. These questions are used to establish what you know. The questions can range from being very specific, such as "What was the color of the vehicle that hit you?", to very broad, such as "What happened after you left the grocery store?" Interrogatories not only help attorneys establish what the facts of the case are, but it also gives them a chance to double check the veracity of what the other side considers to be the facts of the case.
The discovery process is a fundamental component of the civil justice system in the United States. This pre-trial process allows both sides to enter a trial with knowledge about the facts of the case, thus enabling them to build a strong case and to challenge the other side more effectively.