Discovery Process in a Lawsuit

Discovery Process in a Lawsuit

Find out about discovery — the legal process used to collect evidence for a lawsuit.

Once a lawsuit starts, parties to the lawsuit or their lawyers begin collecting information associated with the lawsuit. This investigative process is fittingly called “discovery,” since it usually brings up facts and paperwork that were formerly unknown — to at least one party involved in the lawsuit anyway.

Basically, discovery is carried out outside the courtroom, having parties exchange written details and sitting through one on one questioning sessions (referred to as “depositions”). Nevertheless, when the parties can’t come to agreement on what needs be handed over through discovery, a judge might have to settle the dispute.

The type of information that one party can force somebody to reveal — is normally very broad, though there are some restrictions. A party may ask for facts concerning the case, for the identity of others that may know something concerning the case, for paperwork related to the case, and for inspection of tangible objects or property associated to the dispute. Discovery can be made use of to seek information not only from the other party involved in the lawsuit, but also from individuals and businesses that are not involved in the lawsuit.

What Is Able To Be Discovered

The fundamental rule of discovery is that a party may acquire any information that is related — even just a little bit — to any matter in the lawsuit, providing that information isn’t “privileged” or otherwise legally safeguarded (read “Discovery Limits,” below). The following are some of the things lawyers typically request in discovery:

  • whatever a witness or party observed, heard, or did related to the dispute
  • whatever anyone said at a specific time and place (for instance, at a business meeting associated to the dispute or following a vehicle collision that lead to a lawsuit)
  • the identity of anyone that might know something concerning the dispute or concerning the injuries or money losses one party or the other endured
  • detailed info on how a business is being run (for instance, a party may try to establish how a company that sold a hazardous product chooses what to sell, or how a business comes to employment-related decisions or retains its accounting records)
  • paperwork related to the dispute, and
  • the individual, academic, and professional background of a witness.

Limits On What Is Able To Be Discovered

Almost any tidbit related to the lawsuit is fair game in discovery, but this broad scope can lead to abuse. Lawyers might inquire about irrelevant or intimate details solely to harass or shame parties. Fortunately, legal restrictions and safeguards exist to prevent private matters from becoming public record.

Private conversations.

Certain relationships enjoy legal privilege, protecting private conversations even if relevant to a lawsuit. These relationships include:

  • spouse and spouse
  • lawyer and their client
  • doctor and their patient, and
  • A spiritual advisor, often a member of the clergy, offers guidance in private conversations, known as “priest-penitent,” to those seeking spiritual advice.

Private issues.

Recently courts have increasingly acknowledged that some aspects of personal life must remain private, inaccessible to even lawyers. But the right to privacy is a somewhat recent and still-developing legal idea.

The right to privacy varies by state, protecting individuals from disclosing unrelated, private information outside close relationships.

This might include matters like:

  • health or body matters
  • sexuality, sexual practices, or sexual liaisons
  • spiritual or religious beliefs, and
  • close family relationships.

Retaining discovery information from public record.

When a party must disclose information in a lawsuit, the court can confidentially manage it, protecting sensitive data with a protective order to prevent public exposure.

Discovery Procedures

There are 4 kinds of formal discovery devices that are oftentimes used in lawsuits. Including:

  • In a deposition, one party or their lawyer conducts one-on-one questioning of the other party or a witness under oath. Recorded answers in a deposition are admissible at trial. If the deponent contradicts them later, the deposition serves as evidence of inconsistency.
  • In a petition for presentation of evidence, one party requests physical evidence related to the dispute, such as documents, objects, or property.
  • Interrogatories are written questions one party sends to another, requiring sworn answers that can be used at trial.
  • In a petition for admission, one party asks the other, under oath, to confirm certain facts or validate specific documents.


  1. Paul Bergman, U. C. L. A. L. S. P. (2012, August 14). Formal discovery: Gathering evidence for your lawsuit. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from

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