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Lawsuit Discovery – What it Means

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When a lawsuit is filed, the defendant has to respond appropriately by the deadline specified.  For lawsuits filed in County Court (claims of $5,000 to $15,000) or in Circuit Court (claims above $15,000), you generally have to respond within 20 days of being “served” with the lawsuit.  In Small Claims lawsuits (claims less than $5,000), you or your attorney have to appear in person on the date designated in the Summons / Notice to Appear.

After that initial response, both sides have an opportunity to engage in “discovery”.  This simply means that both sides can discover the information the other side has to support their legal position.  There are typically four ways to obtain information and evidence from the other side: interrogatories, requests for production, requests for admission and depositions.  You can also use a subpoena to obtain information and documents from persons or companies who are not parties to the lawsuit, but who have information that is relevant to your lawsuit.  Florida law allows a plaintiff to serve discovery with the lawsuit.  If you are a defendant, this means that you have to answer all those questions by the appropriate deadline or you run the risk of losing the case for not following the court rules.  Each of the methods of discovery is discussed below.

Interrogatories:  These are questions that must be answered under oath.  In debt collection lawsuits, they may ask you whether you made charges to the credit card, when and why you stopped paying on the alleged debt, whether you ever disputed any charges, and many other questions.  It is important to answer these properly, as they will affect not only the debt collector’s claims, but also your potential affirmative defenses.

Requests for Production:  These are requests for you to provide copies of documents to the other side.  For example, in credit card lawsuits, they may ask you for a copy of your credit card, your billing statements or your personal and confidential financial information.  Sometimes, clients think they have an obligation to go around to others and gather the information that they don’t have – even though the rules generally require you to only provide documents you already have in your possession, custody or control.  The rules do not require you to create any documents, such as summaries or any other documents.

Requests for Admission:  These are requests that you admit certain facts that are typically important to the claims and defenses in the lawsuit.  Most people do not realize that requests for admission contain a hidden trap: the requests are automatically deemed admitted if they are not answered within 30 days.  Under Florida law, the answers you provide to requests for admission are usually binding and conclusive.  As they say, whatever you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

Depositions:  These are examinations conducted oath and before a court reporter, with the other lawyer asking questions and you providing the answers; your lawyer can also ask you questions.  They are usually conducted in a conference room, but you are subject to perjury just as if you were testifying in a court room.  The reporter prepares a booklet of the questions and answers, called a transcript.  These are absolutely critical, and the other side would probably not be spending money to hire a court reporter to take your deposition unless they thought it would give them a way to win the lawsuit without a trial.  If you receive a notice requiring you to show up for a deposition, you definitely will want to hire an attorney who will be there with you, and who can help you prepare for the deposition.

It is critical that you be absolutely sure you understand each and every part of the questions – whether in writing or during a deposition – before you answer them.  Otherwise, you can lose important rights by misunderstanding the question or not answering it completely.  Often times, people call us after answering these questions, not realizing they may have had valid defenses that they did not mention, or that their answers can be taken out of context by an unscrupulous debt collector and dramatically affect the outcome of a case.  Additionally, they do not realize that you can object to inappropriate questions and that there are limits on how many interrogatories and requests for admission the other side can send you.

When you retain the Rudnitsky Law Firm, I will work on your case from beginning to end.  We will work together to honestly and completely answer any discovery requests that have been submitted to you.  I will also send discovery requests to the debt collector, for them answer important questions.  My discovery requests and detailed knowledge of the Court Rules have been instrumental in getting many debt collection lawsuits dismissed.

If you’ve been sued by a debt collector, you don’t have to go through it alone.  We understand it is a very stressful time for you, so we are here to help you.  If you have any questions or concerns, you are welcome to contact us anytime.