DISCOVERY 101: An Overview of the California Discovery Process
Okay, so you have been sued. What happens next? Hopefully you have answered within thirty days of service and the case is proceeding towards trial. However, unlike TV, cases don’t go straight from complaints to trial. It is what happens in between the complaint and trial that will be either helpful or detrimental to your case. The time in between is called discovery. Discovery comes in multiple forms and is basically meant to do just what it sounds like – discover the facts of the case.
Discovery falls into two categories – written and oral. Written discovery includes demands for production of documents, requests for admission, form interrogatories, and special interrogatories. Interrogatories are basically a fancy legal term for questions. Oral discovery is depositions. Depositions are basically a question and answer session where an attorney will ask you questions under oath relating to the case. Some depositions last days, others under an hour. The length of time depends on the attorney and the case.
There are two types of interrogatories, form interrogatories and special interrogatories. Form interrogatories are general questions that are used in nearly every case. There are different form interrogatories that can be used in different cases. For example there are general form interrogatories that can apply to every case for general background questions. There are also form interrogatories for employment law cases that ask questions that arise in employment disputes. Special interrogatories are questions that are prepared by an attorney that ask specific questions about the case. For example if the case is a car accident you may ask through special interrogatories questions relating to ownership of the vehicle or specific damages that are alleged.
Requests for admission
Requests for admission are the most underutilized tool in the discovery process. Requests for admission are extremely helpful in both small and large cases. Requests for admission allow you to solidify facts about your case before trial. For example, in the automobile accident case you may need to establish things like ownership of the vehicle and who was driving. This can be accomplished through simple requests for admission that asks “Admit you owned the car involved in the accident".
Demands for production of documents
Demands for production of documents are exactly how they sound, an attorney demands that you produce documents. Demand for production of documents along with form interrogatories are common types of discovery. Often the demand for production of documents may be critical in cases where the dispute centers around contracts and other written documents. Once the contract and supporting documents are produced this could give the parties a reason to settle.
Discovery is important to a lawsuit. This is where both parties find facts and evidence that will be used at the time of trial. The most important thing for a party is to always respond to discovery that is sent to you. Discovery responses are generally due thirty days from the date served. Most people do not realize that when they fail to respond to discovery, they are opening themselves up to monetary sanctions for failing to respond, as well as the possibility of having their case dismissed for failure to provide responses. Most people have difficulty with the discovery process when they are unrepresented. A verification is always required when you are responding to discovery. A verification is a form that says your responses are accurate under penalty of perjury. Failure to provide a verification with discovery responses renders the responses meaningless. There are multiple legal aid societies and services that can help you at minimal cost to assist you.