Legal Definition of Discovery: Everything You Need to Know
The formal procedures used by parties to a lawsuit to obtain information before a trial is called discovery.2 min read
Part of the pre-trial litigation process during which each party requests relevant information and documents from the other side in an attempt to "discover" pertinent facts. Generally, discovery devices include depositions, interogatories, requests for admissions, document production requests and requests for inspection.
The Types of Discovery Devices
The formal procedures used by parties to a lawsuit to obtain information before a trial is called discovery. Discovery helps a party find out the other side's version of the facts, what witnesses know, and other evidence. Rules dictating the allowable methods of discovery have been set up by Congress (for federal courts) and by state legislatures (for state courts). Common discovery devices include:
- Deposition--a proceeding in which a witness or party is asked to answer questions orally under oath before a court reporter.
- Interrogatories--written questions sent by one party to the other party for the latter to answer in writing under oath.
- Request for admission--a request to a party that he admit certain facts. One party sends the other a request for admission so that basic issues the parties agree upon can be resolved and not have to be proven if the parties go to trial.
- Request for physical examination--a request to a party that he be examined by a doctor if his health is at issue.
- Request for production of documents--a request to a party to hand over certain defined documents. In family law cases, parties often request from each other bank statements, pay stubs and other documents showing earnings, assets and debts.
- Request for inspection--a request by a party to look at tangible items (other than writings) in the possession or control of the other party. Items to be inspected include houses, cars, appliances and virtually any other physical item.
- Subpoena--an order telling a witness to appear in court or at a deposition. A subpoena is issued by the court, and if the witness fails to comply, he can be held in contempt of court.
- Subpoena ducestecum--an order telling a witness to turn over certain documents to a specific party or to bring them to a scheduled deposition. A subpoena ducestecum is issued by the court, and if the witness fails to comply, he can be held in contempt.
The scope of information obtainable through discovery is quite broad and not limited to what can be used in a trial. Federal courts and most state courts allow a party to discover any information 'reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.' Because of this broad standard, parties often disagree about what information must be exchanged and what may be kept confidential. These disputes are resolved through court rulings on discovery motions.
Discovery and New Countries
Intern. Law. The act of finding an unknown country.
The nations of Europe adopted the principle, that the discovery of any part of America gave title to the government by whose subjects, or by whose authority it was made, against all European governments. This title was to be consummated by possession.
Discovery and Patent Law
Rights. The patent laws of the United States use this word as synonymous with invention or improvement.