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Understanding Civil Discovery

stacks of documents

In all civil cases, Georgia law provides several procedures to obtain information during the course of a case. These procedures are generally called “Discovery.” Discovery procedures include: posing written questions to be answered under oath (“Interrogatories”), requesting documents, records, or other items (“Requests for Production of Documents”), inspecting property or other items, and taking depositions. These procedures are all referred to as “discovery.”

Lawyers use discovery for many purposes:

  • obtain information,
  • get documents related to the issues in the case,
  • find out an opposing party’s position on certain issues,
  • learn about potential witnesses, and/or
  • uncover all evidence the opposing party may try to use at any hearing or trial.

There are two basic forms of discovery: written discovery and oral depositions. In written discovery, a lawyer drafts questions (Interrogatories) and document requests, and the other party must provide written, sworn answers and responsive documents within a period of time. While written discovery is often limited to the parties involved in the case, a lawyer can also send requests to third parties to obtain documents, including banks, corporations, credit card companies, doctors, hospitals, and individuals that are not parties in the case.

A discovery deposition is a method of obtaining sworn testimony in a case. In a deposition, a lawyer for one party has the opportunity to ask questions of an opposing party or witness in a case. The person giving the deposition is testifying under oath. The result of a deposition is a written record known as a transcript, which can be used by the lawyers when and if the case goes to trial.

The discovery procedures outlined above are the most common procedures used, but additional discovery methods do exist and are sometimes utilized. These can include Requests for Admissions, Requests for Inspection (of property or other items), Requests for Physical or Mental Evaluation, and Written Deposition Questions.