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WRITTEN DISCOVERY IN A CIVIL CASE:
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Generally, there are three stages of civil litigation:  (1) the pleadings stage; (2) the discovery stage; and (3) the trial stage.  The purpose of this article is to provide some insight and assistance concerning stage number 2, the discovery stage of litigation.

After the plaintiff files the Complaint and the defendant files an Answer to the Complaint, the parties enter into the discovery stage of litigation.  During this stage, depositions of the parties and other witnesses take place and written discovery is exchanged by the parties.  Under the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure 33 and 34, a party may serve upon another party discovery documents called Interrogatories and Production Requests.  Interrogatories are written questions which must be answered and are intended to gather information from the other party concerning the subject matter of the case.  Production requests are intended to obtain documents from the other party that are relevant to the case.

Interrogatories and Production Requests are utilized by the plaintiff and defendant in virtually all civil cases.  So when your attorney informs you that he/she received Interrogatories and Production Requests to which a response is required, do not be alarmed or assume something is going wrong with your case.  Interrogatories and Production Requests are simply tools that are used by attorneys as part of the litigation process.

When working with your attorney to respond to Interrogatories and Production Requests, several simple rules should be followed:

(1)  Provide prompt responses for your attorney.  Do not think that you can take as long as you wish to respond to the request for information and documents.  Rule 33 and 34 provide that responses shall be provided thirty (30) days after your attorney receives them.  Failure to provide a response can unnecessarily complicate your case and needlessly frustrate your attorney and possibly the judge (something you certainly do not want to do).

(2)  Provide a complete response for your attorney.  Your attorney has the necessary skill to decide what information and documentation is relevant to the case.  You should not decide that certain documents are “not important” and do not need to be turned over to your attorney.  Such a situation often leads to the opposing party learning that such documents exist because the documents are referenced in other documents.  In addition, during a deposition, an individual may inform the opposing party of the existence of such documents.  Again this can lead to an embarrassing situation for you and your attorney, and a potential problem with the judge.

(3)  Delayed/incomplete responses also delay the litigation process.  Individuals can become frustrated with the length of the litigation.  The extended time of litigation can be the result of parties failing to properly assist their attorney in providing complete and prompt responses.  Of course the extension of time to complete written discovery also leads to additional costs and attorney’s fees.

(4)  Information should only be provided to your attorney.  You should only provide information to your attorney.  You should not provide any information or documentation directly to the opposing party, opposing counsel or the Court during the course of litigation, unless instructed to do so by your attorney.

Prompt, complete responses to Interrogatories and Production Requests can lead to a more efficient case for you and your attorney and possibly a quicker resolution of your case with less attorney fees incurred and costs expended by you.

Note that this post is only a brief summary of the discovery process.  This article does not constitute legal advice nor does it establish an attorney/client relationship.  Should you have any questions regarding this article, please contact R. Lawrence Steele or Steven J. Scott at Hodges and Davis, P.C.

Hodges and Davis, P.C. - July 2015