How the Discovery Process Works in Business Litigation
Jan. 23, 2020
Discovery is an essential aspect to every legal proceeding, yet many people don’t have a good grasp on what it entails. By learning more about this part of a legal proceeding, you can better understand how it will affect your business litigation. While this is just one part of a proceeding, it can impact the course of the legal action and, for that reason, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the nature of the discovery process.
What is the Discovery Process?
Discovery works a little differently in business law than it does in criminal cases, so it’s important to focus on the rules of civil law for these purposes. As business litigation is handled by the civil court system, the rules for discovery here are similar to those in other types of civil proceedings, such as personal injury lawsuits. As a method of discovering facts about the case at question, discovery is one of the most important parts of the legal process and is initiated early in the pre-trial phase. Each side in a litigation must discover the facts about the case, before they can determine how to proceed.The goal is to make sure each side in the case is aware of the same facts, so there can be a fair trial. If one side has an unfair advantage in litigation, the scales become skewed. For this reason, it’s important for those employed by the businesses involved to understand their responsibilities. They may be asked by the court to provide testimony or documents and they should be made aware of how to respond to such requests.
In answering what is the discovery process, it’s necessary to understand why this phase is so important, as well as what it entails. The sharing of information does more than just ensure a fair trial. It gives each side access to information they might not otherwise have, which means the decision to go to trial may be affected. In discovering the facts of the legal issue in question, one side may find that their case isn’t as strong as they thought. When this happens, the attorney for that side may recommend that his or her client seek an out of court settlement. This is why most cases don’t get as far as the trial.
The discovery process also helps in circumstances where a witness may not be able to appear in court, or in circumstances preventing evidence from being available to be introduced at trial. Even where this type of testimony and physical evidence isn’t admissible, at least each side can be made aware of its existence. Simply having this knowledge may change the way each side presents its case, which can ultimately impact the outcome of a trial.
One aspect of discovery is compelling witnesses to come in to answer questions and make statements. This is called a deposition and is as important to the legal proceeding as the introduction of evidence. When someone gives a deposition, they are bound by oath and are required to give honest and complete answers, just as they would, while testifying in the actual trial. Similarly, lying in a deposition carries the same penalties as lying on the stand in a trial. Whatever punishments your state has for perjury will apply, even though the deposition was not given in a trial.
How Exactly is Discovery Pursued?
To begin, the process, like the actual trial, is managed by a judge. He’s present to ensure the process moves forward efficiently and to settle any disputes that may arise. Sometimes, one side may refuse to turn over documents or reveal the name of a witness, where that evidence or testimony would be concern is a confidentiality or proprietary violation. In that situation, it would be up to the judge to make a ruling on whether the information would still have to be submitted for discovery.
In this process, each side submits a request for documents from the other side or a deposition from witnesses to be used by the opposition. Each side can also submit interrogatories, which are questions that the opposition is expected to answer truthfully. The process is governed by strict deadlines and restrictions for producing the information.
In the discovery phase, all information provided is considered to be given under oath. This applies to interrogatories and physical evidence, as well as to testimony that’s given in person in a deposition. This means altering physical evidence or lying in an interrogatory also violates perjury laws.
Additionally, the case can’t go to trial, until the discovery process has been completed. This can take several months, partly because witnesses may not be immediately available. They may be out of the country or tied up in other legal matters that would prevent them from appearing to give depositions or answer interrogatories. It can also take time to gather the requested documents and other physical evidence.
The discovery phase of a case is just as important as the actual trial, so it’s important to comply with deadlines and requests from the opposition. Additionally, be sure to always be truthful, so you can avoid further legal trouble arising from perjury trials. Even if you’re not involved in the business litigation as a plaintiff or defendant, it can be wise to hire an attorney. An experienced legal advocate can advise you on how to respond to discovery requests, so you don’t become embroiled in legal problems of your own. An attorney can help you protect yourself and your business.