Elements of a lawsuit: Discovery

Some disputes cannot be resolved simply or easily. If you have decided to file a lawsuit to resolve a dispute, a complex legal process with many moving parts begins to unfold.

In this post, we’ll take a look at one of those moving parts – the process by which the two parties can come to understand each other’s evidence.

In a lawsuit, both the plaintiff (the person who filed the complaint) and the defendant (the person being sued) have the right to see and hear evidence and witnesses in a pre-trial process called discovery.

Preventing ambushes

Access to the other side’s evidence and witnesses in discovery prevents what the American Bar Association calls “trial by ambush” – a phenomenon popular in movies, novels and TV in which a surprise witness or evidence is sprung on the other party at trial.

Discovery also enables both parties to develop legal strategies and arguments and avoid delays in court. Information gathered in discovery can also, in some situations, enable the parties to resolve their differences in a settlement before a trial begins.

Details of discovery

There are three different forms of discovery:

  • Depositions: Sworn oral statements given under oath by witnesses in response to questions posed by attorneys. It’s important for a deponent (the person answering questions) to answer honestly. Because witnesses are under oath, false statements can have civil or criminal consequences.
  • Interrogatories: Either party can submit written questions to the other party, requiring that these interrogatories are answered in writing under oath.
  • Requests for documents: Obtaining a subpoena (court order) for the other party to produce records, computer files, documents, photographs or other tangible evidence for inspection.

We’ll look at other elements of lawsuits in upcoming posts to our Charlotte civil litigation law blog. Please check back.

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