Discovery in civil cases: what you need to know

Whenever you are a party to a civil case in state or federal court, certain rules apply to the conduct of the litigation. In state court, the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure govern, and in Federal Court, it’s the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that apply. There are differences between these two sets of rules, but there are also a lot of similarities. For one, both sets of rules provide for pretrial discovery, which is a process by which the parties to a lawsuit get to learn about the underlying facts (and the strengths and weaknesses) of the other side’s case. The whole purpose of the discovery process is to avoid surprises at trial and this is accomplished through the mutual exchange of documents and information relevant to the case.

Discovery is often the most time-consuming and expensive part of a lawsuit because it requires the parties to find documents, interview witnesses and produce evidence to the other side, in addition to reviewing discovery materials produced by the opponent. During discovery, the litigants will also usually participate in depositions, where witnesses provide testimony under oath about their knowledge of underlying facts, and exchange interrogatories and requests for production. Interrogatories are written questions, which must be answered in writing, under oath, and requests for production are written requests for certain documents.

If you are a plaintiff or a defendant in a civil suit, no matter how simple or complex, you need to be prepared to provide as much information as possible about your case. You are under an obligation to exchange information and documents with the other side, and withholding or destroying relevant evidence can have serious consequences. The courts have the power to impose a number of sanctions for discovery abuses. You can help your case by getting organized on the front end, and the attorneys at Harrison White, P.C. can help you identify the types of documents and information that you will be required to produce during the discovery process and that will be critical in your particular case.

Marghretta H. Shisko, Partner 

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