“Discovery” is the name given to the process of obtaining information in a lawsuit. Once a lawsuit is filed, any party to a lawsuit may obtain discovery from the other party or even non-parties by various means such as depositions, requests for production of documents, physical and mental examinations, requests for admissions and by subpoena.
In a deposition a witness is asked questions under oath. A deposition usually takes place in a lawyer’s office. A court reporter is present, taking shorthand notes. Later, these notes are transcribed into a deposition transcript, which has every question and every answer written-down. In an average case both parties (the plaintiff and the defendant) are deposed. Non-parties, such as witnesses to the accident, are occasionally are deposed.
A request for production of documents seeks documents that may be relevant or lead to the discovery of relevant evidence. In a personal injury case such documents may include medical records, bills, police reports, auto repair estimates, photographs of damage to cars or of injuries, insurance policies, prior lawsuits and more.
The party alleged to have caused the accident (the defendant) may request that the injured party (the plaintiff) submit to a physical and/or mental examination (which mental injuries have been alleged) by a doctor of the defendant’s choosing.
Request for admissions are another form of discovery. For instance, the plaintiff may ask in writing for the defendant to admit that plaintiff’s medical bills were incurred as a result of the accident. Defendant must either admit or deny this. If denied, and the plaintiff has to call an expert at trial to prove what defendant has denied (that medical bills were incurred because of the accident), then plaintiff can later ask the court to order the defendant to pay for the cost of that expert.
Parties may request discovery regarding any matter, as long as it is not privileged, as long as the request is “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” Notice that the evidence sought to be discovered need not be relevant itself—it is enough if it is likely to lead to the discovery of relevant evidence. This means that what is discoverable is much broader than what is admissible at trial.