This post is part of our ongoing series translating the lawyer-gibberish of Pennsylvania lawsuits into something understandable. For the definitions of the terms in bold check out the post that launched this series. A list of the posts in the series is at the end of this article.
The lawyers have exchanged documents setting out the claims and defenses. But before you get to trial, you get to gather evidence to support your case (and figure out what cards the other side has to play). This process is called “Discovery” and there are a few tools that can be used.
Asking Written Questions (Interrogatories and Request for Admissions)
One of the first tools your lawyer is likely to use are Interrogatories. These are written questions to the other side. The other party, helped by their lawyer, must answer the questions within 30 days (although extensions are commonly given for any type of discovery if its early in the case). Common Interrogatories include things like:
- what witnesses might have information about this case?
- do you have an expert witness?
- what are your damages?
Later in the case when you think there is no dispute about an issue, your lawyer might send a Request for Admission. This is like a yes or no Interrogatory where the other side must either admit a fact is true or deny it and provide evidence why. And be warned, if you do not answer a Request for Admission within 30 days you are admitting it as true…
Gathering Documents (Request for Production of Documents and Subpoenas)
Questions can be helpful but finding a smoking-gun email or text message can be even better. Parties can ask the other side for their documents using a Request for Production of Documents. These requests can be some of the most fought over because of the burden they can impose. (Imagine asking your employer for 3-5 years of your email messages). A 30-day response period also applies to a Request for Production. Common requests include:
- all emails and text messages with Mr. Smith between January 1 and July 1
- all invoices and receipts that prove the damages you claim
- copies of any agreements in dispute, like a lease or a loan document
What if you need documents from someone other than the opposing party? For that, you need a Subpoena. Your lawyer needs to warn the other side 20 days in advance you will send a Subpoena so the other party can object. If they do not, then you request a Subpoena from the courthouse and send it.
Asking Questions in Person (Depositions)
What about asking a witness questions directly under oath? And without their lawyer filtering the responses (as happens in Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents). This is available in a Deposition, but that’s a longer topic for next time…
Check out the rest of our series “Explaining PA Lawsuits Using Plain Language”:
- Key Terms – the definitions you need to know
- Let’s Get It Started – before we get to court
- Pleading (Not the 5th) – the basics of stating the claims
- Who’s On First? –collecting evidence
- It’s Your Turn to Talk – what you need to know about depositions
- As a Matter of Law… – motions that could end your case before trial
- The Final Countdown – trial and post-trial procedures
Brandon Harter is litigator and technology guru at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from William & Mary Law School and advises clients on issues of Civil Litigation & Dispute Resolution, Municipal Law, and chairs the firm’s Tech Law Group.