If you stop by our Charlotte Civil Litigation Law blog from time to time, you might recall a September post on the steps you must take to file a North Carolina personal injury lawsuit. In that post, we noted that you can file a suit in District Court for cases involving less than $25,000 or a lawsuit involving more than $25,000 in Superior Court – both of which can be found in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.
In North Carolina, the amount you are seeking in a lawsuit is generally not permitted to be stated in the lawsuit. The attorney must simply allege that the amount sought is less than or greater than $25,000. If you’ve filed your suit, including an outline of injuries and damages, and the defendant has responded by the deadline, it’s time for the discovery process to begin.
North Carolina’s discovery process
Discovery is the process by which litigants (the plaintiff and defendant) gather evidence to support their claims. In discovery, both sides get a good idea of what the other has in terms of evidence, knowledge which can lead to early settlements.
It should be noted that when you file a lawsuit, you give up a degree of privacy in discovery. An attorney for the other side can get access to medical records, bank statements and more. In North Carolina, litigants can obtain evidence that is reasonably believed to lead to evidence that’s admissible at trial.
Two forms of discovery
Discovery takes two forms in our state: written and oral (depositions). Written discovery involves the gathering of documents (including electronic documents such as text messages) that can be used as evidence. It also includes interrogatories, which are written questions that must be answered under oath and subpoenas – requests for documents sent to people who aren’t litigants.
Depositions, on the other hand, are sworn oral statements given by witnesses – usually taken after written discovery. (District court cases rarely include depositions, simply because the cases typically don’t justify the expense of depositions — $1,000 or more per day for a court reporter and transcriptions.)
It’s important here to note that attorneys cannot answer deposition questions on behalf of witnesses.
Alternative dispute resolution
North Carolina law requires all cases to go through an alternative dispute resolution process. In mediation, a neutral mediator hears the evidence and then tries to help the plaintiff and defendant resolve the dispute. Many cases settle at this point, but if there’s no resolution, the matter heads to trial.