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Essential Building Blocks Of The Civil Discovery Process

When parties are involved in a legal dispute they may wind up in a civil lawsuit. Once a case has been filed in the California court system, both parties have the opportunity to learn more about the details of the other side’s position. The California Code of Civil Procedure establishes how each side can unearth evidence that might be helpful at trial. This process is known as civil discovery.

Civil discovery allows each party to investigate the facts and evidence of a dispute before the case goes to trial. To ensure both sides have access to the same information, each party can request evidence from the opposing party or other relevant individuals through the discovery process.

Four Common Civil Discovery Methods

Under California rules, civil discovery allows parties to gather almost any unprivileged information which may reasonably lead to the discovery of relevant evidence needed to prepare for trial. Some information is protected from the discovery process, such as attorney-client privileged communications, trade secrets, spousal discussions, attorney work product, certain medical and psychiatric records, and juvenile criminal records, to name a few.

Trial attorneys predominantly use four civil discovery methods to locate and request the evidence they will need to present their case.

1. Interrogatories

This form of discovery involves a list of written questions that are served on the opposing party seeking detailed facts about the matter in dispute. An interrogatory may ask the other party to disclose any evidence they intend to use at trial, identify witnesses, whether they have hired any experts who may or may not testify at trial, what relevant documents exist to support either side of the argument, and much more.

Because interrogatories can be complex and detailed, many courts have limited the allowable number of questions, including sub-parts, so they do not become overburdensome on the parties.

2. Requests for Admission

A Request for Admission is a list of facts that one party wants the other party to admit. However, unlike interrogatories that use broader questions to search for information, a Request for Admission uses specifically worded requests, each based upon one fact or detail.

For example, a party may ask the other side to admit they were taking a prescription medication at the time of an accident. If the responding party admits this fact, the asking party does not have to prove this point during the trial. The responding party can admit, deny, or object to each request.

This form of discovery is extremely powerful because the responding party has a 30-day deadline to reply. If the deadline passes and the party has not responded, the court can impose monetary sanctions or enter an order that every request is deemed admitted and can be used in court without further proof.

3. Request for Production

This useful discovery tool allows one party to ask another party to produce documents or other tangible evidence related to the case. A Request for Production can include electronically stored information, documents, photographs, records and recordings, physical items, and other items that might be used at trial. These requests can be served on non-parties along with a subpoena that orders the production of evidence from these outside sources, such as medical providers, police departments, banks, insurance companies, and others.

4. Depositions

A deposition is live testimony taken under oath from a party or witness to the dispute. A deposition notice or subpoena is issued requiring the person who will be deposed (the deponent) to appear at a certain place and time to give their sworn statement. A court reporter records the entire conversation and all parties can be represented by legal counsel.

The attorneys must follow the rules of evidence, which include the opportunity to object to certain questions. Since a judge is not present during a deposition, if objections cannot be resolved by the attorneys, the transcript may be taken to court for the judge to decide the outcome. A parties’ deposition transcript may be used for all purposes in court during the trial. A witness’ deposition may be used to cross-examine that witness.

Protect Your Rights During Discovery

Most civil lawsuits involve some or all of these basic discovery methods. The stakes are high, the filing and response deadlines are critical, and without experienced legal representation, a lawsuit can be lost during the complicated discovery phase of trial preparation.

Attorneys Noreen Evans and Deirdre Kingsbury are savvy, experienced trial attorneys who confidently deal with all legal intricacies during discovery and when preparing a case for trial. Don’t risk losing your case because you don’t understand complex discovery rules. At Evans Kingsbury LLP, we are civil litigation lawyers with decades of trial and negotiation experience. Call us today at (707) 596-6090 or fill out our easy contact form to discuss your case.

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