What Is Discovery In North Carolina Civil Litigation?

By David Hood
Partnership Chair

Filing a lawsuit opens the door to a process known as discovery. Put simply, discovery is the means by which parties formally request and exchange information between them. The purpose of discovery is to ensure that both sides are on level footing when it comes to knowing the facts of the case. No matter the type of civil litigation matter, you cannot underestimate how essential discovery is to your case. But you need an attorney who is well-versed in the process and will protect your interests. Patrick, Harper & Dixon, LLP is ready to serve you today.

Litigants rarely begin their cases knowing everything there is to know about the case. An injured customer, for example, may not know who owns the business where he slipped and fell (and who may therefore be held liable). Nor will he know the safety record of the company and whether its owners took steps to keep the premises safe. To obtain the evidence you need to build your case – or to defend against the plaintiff’s assertions – you need to avail yourself of the discovery process.

There is a popular impression of court proceedings, gleaned mostly from popular culture, of one side springing something on the other in the courtroom. In reality, this infrequently happens because discovery ensures that relevant information is exchanged between the parties by the time they reach trial. Additionally, discovery encourages settlement of cases by compelling both sides to put all their cards on the table and weigh the risk of settling versus court. Settlement saves litigants time and money and frees up court resources for more contentious matters.

Methods of Discovery

There are several distinct methods of discovery available to North Carolina plaintiffs and defendants. They include:

Interrogatories. These are written questions which the receiving party must answer in writing, under oath. State law limits interrogatories to no more than 50. Interrogatories help uncover basic facts about the case and direct parties to where they can uncover additional evidence.

Depositions. A deposition involves examining a party or witness out of court and under oath. The answers given can be reduced to writing in the form of a transcript, and may be used later in court. One key purpose of using a deposition is to know what a witness will say at trial.

Requests for admission. These are simply statements which the recipient will typically either affirm as true or deny as false. The intent is to determine which issues are in contention and which ones are not, so the parties don’t waste time and energy establishing facts which they already both agree on.

Requests for production. A request for production is a formal request for someone to turn over tangible evidence, like a document, for inspection. In most cases, a party will simply turn over copies to the other side for them to keep and use.

Both plaintiffs and defendants can use discovery methods. If you are involved in litigation, you must consider using discovery to aid your case. But you should also expect to receive discovery requests from the opposing party. There are detailed rules for how discovery must be conducted, and potential sanctions for violating those rules.

At the same time, not all discovery requests are valid. Generally, they must be carefully tailored to lead to the production of relevant evidence. In other words, a litigant cannot abuse discovery to learn irrelevant information about the other party. That means there are instances in which a party who has received requests can object to them or ask the court to restrict the type of information he or she must produce to the opposing side.

Discovery requests often yield significant volumes of documents, many of which contain information that isn’t useful. An attorney can assist with the process of reviewing, sorting, and sifting through the discovery to extract records that can help your case. This can save time, money, and hassle by culling the relevant facts from the document production.

Contact Patrck Harper & Dixon Today

For these reasons and more, you can’t afford to not have skilled legal counsel in your corner. The civil litigation attorneys of Patrick, Harper & Dixon, LLP have extensive experience with the discovery process. We know how to use it to advance our clients’ cases and improve their chances of success at trial or in settlement negotiations. Give us a call today to find out more.

About the Author
David W. Hood, Partnership Chair of the Firm, is a trial attorney in a wide-ranging civil practice with over 200 jury trials to his credit. His concentrations include Business Disputes, Construction Law, Personal Injury and Collections. He is also a certified mediator, helping to settle cases pending in both state and federal court. He recently finished his term as President of the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys, the organization for lawyers representing business interests in civil litigation. Mr. Hood has spoken to lawyers and industry groups on such topics as evidence rules, contractor liens on real estate and contract funds, underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage, litigation ethics, and real estate claims.