Discovery in civil cases

Discovery allows you to get information and evidence from the other party or other persons you can use in your lawsuit.

What is discovery and why is it necessary?

If you are the plaintiff in a case, you have the burden to prove your case by stronger evidence than the other side. If you are a defendant in a case, you have to raise enough doubt about the strength of the plaintiff’s case to make the judge (or jury) decide your side is stronger.

Discovery is how you gather the evidence you will need to prove your case as plaintiff, or defeat the plaintiff’s case as a defendant. You use discovery to find out things like: 

  • What the other side plans to say about an issue in your case 

  • What facts or witnesses support their side 

  • What facts or witnesses support your side 

  • What information or documents could be used as evidence

If you are representing yourself in your case, consider hiring a lawyer to specifically help you with discovery. 

Request evidence and information from the other side

To get information from the other side and use it as part of your trial, you must follow court rules and ask for information and documents in writing, using a specific format. Some forms of discovery are relatively easy to do and involve using court forms with standard questions. Others are more difficult and benefit from getting assistance from a lawyer.

Another way you can get information from the other side is to have them give sworn testimony outside of court (before the trial) in a deposition. 

Taking a deposition is complicated and expensive. It requires knowledge of the law and rules of evidence. If you're interested in taking a deposition, seriously consider asking a lawyer for help. If you cannot or do not wish to hire an attorney, you can also visit your local law library and ask a librarian to recommend a how-to book on how to take a deposition. It can be a very costly mistake to conduct a deposition without adequate preparation.

There are other types of discovery as well, such as requests for physical (medical) or psychiatric examination. These can be complex and expensive. You can get more information about these types of discovery from a lawyer or law library.

Request evidence and testimony from individuals who are not involved in the lawsuit

As part of discovery, sometimes you need to have an individual (or company) who is not a party to the case produce documents or business records. To do this, you use a subpoena.

You may receive requests for discovery from the other side

As part of the lawsuit, the other side may send you request for information or evidence. If this happens, you have specific requirements and deadlines for responding.

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