An interrogatory is a series of written questions sent from one party to another in a civil lawsuit. Each party has the right to obtain information, documents, and other types of evidence as part of the formal discovery process. Discovery usually takes place before the trial starts and during the beginning phases of a trial.
State and federal guidelines limit the scope of interrogatories. A party may only ask a certain number of questions in an interrogatory, and sometimes the number of interrogatories is limited in a particular case.
In interrogatories, the purpose is to obtain information important for preparing for trial. They usually ask for information about the party to whom the interrogatories are sent or about facts or issues in the case. Although most interrogatories are written by the party who sends them, form questions are sometimes used in certain types of cases and certain jurisdictions.
There may be many interrogatories in one set, but courts usually limit the number of interrogatories that can be posed at one time. It is common to issue between 25 and 35 interrogatories per set, and multiple sets can be issued.
Courts have rules for the discovery process which will govern this. As a result, parties to a lawsuit are prevented from purposefully bombarding one another with pointless questions.
Depending on the jurisdiction, court rules will differ. In federal court, however, all cases are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Having an attorney familiar with the court rules in which you file your case can help you decide where to file.
Interrogatories must be answered fully and returned to the party who sent them. Interrogatories should be used by both sides in a case to inform themselves and build their cases. Frequently, they are accompanied by Requests for Production of Documents.
Because of this, the parties should always choose wisely when placing questions in an interrogatory. A party who receives an interrogatory is bound by procedural rules to respond.
How Much Information Is Required in a Personal Injury Interrogatory?
In a personal injury suit, interrogatories can require a party to produce a wide range of information related to the injury. These can include:
- General questions, such as:
- “What is your full name, address, and telephone number?”
- “Have you ever been involved in a lawsuit before?”
- “What is your age?”
- More specific questions related to the case such as:
- “Were you under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication during the car accident?”
- “Were you prescribed medication after the surgery?”
- “Did you have a history of neck pain before the car accident?”
- Documents can sometimes be requested through an interrogatory in some states. The victim may need to provide medical records, receipts, or work stubs (for example, if they are claiming lost wages).
Therefore, the information addressed in a personal injury interrogatory can range from very broad to very specific. It all depends on the nature of the case and the degree to which facts have already been gathered.
What Is a Request for Production of Documents?
The purpose of interrogatories in a lawsuit is to get information from the other party to the lawsuit, so it makes sense to request any documents relevant to the information you seek and ask for information. A set of interrogatories often accompanies a Request for Production of Documents.
Am I Required to Answer or Respond to an Interrogatory?
In general, yes. Most rules state that interrogatories must be replied to or answered. The answers to an interrogatory will be recorded and written under oath. Answers to an interrogatory must be as accurate and truthful as possible.
A party to a personal injury lawsuit can object to questions in an interrogatory in some circumstances. The party must, however, state a good reason for declining to respond (for example, the question is “inappropriate”).
A party can also object to a document request. An objection must include the reason for not producing the documents. Alternatively, they can invite the opposing party to examine them at a specified time and place if they do not wish to surrender the documents.
A party who has been served with an interrogatory can also ask the judge for an extension. It would give them more time to answer the questions, but ultimately, they must still answer them. Similarly, a judge will only grant an extension if the party has a valid reason, such as needing extra time to contact witnesses or obtain evidence. Simply requesting an extension to delay is not acceptable.
Is There a Time Limit on Answering a List of Interrogatories?
Yes. Interrogatories are required to be answered and returned within 30 days by federal courts. Other jurisdictions also follow this rule.
Respondents who fail to respond to interrogatories promptly may file a motion with the court to compel responses. Interrogatories are conducted outside of court as part of the discovery process. However, if one party fails to participate properly in the discovery process, the court can intervene. The judge will decide on the motion to compel responses and can penalize a party who fails to respond to interrogatories.
Can I Lie on the Interrogatories?
Lying in interrogatories is just as illegal as lying in court. Interrogatories are given with an affidavit, which means they are given under oath. Therefore, the party signing the affidavit swears that their answers to the interrogatories are true. The notary attests to the signature.
Similar to testifying in court, the answers are given under oath, and a party can be penalized for lying or “perjuring” themselves. Penalties can be civil or criminal.
What if the Interrogatories Are Not Related to the Lawsuit?
One or more interrogatories can be objected to. A party may object to interrogatories because they are too broad, request information that would be very difficult to obtain, or do not make sense.
Interrogatories must still follow the rules of evidence, which specify which types of information are admissible in court, so an objection can also be filed when an interrogatory asks for inadmissible evidence.
What Are the Consequences of Failing to Comply With an Interrogatory?
If you or the opposing party failed to respond to an interrogatory without good reason, you could face:
- Sanctions: A judge may issue a court order stating that the factual contents in an interrogatory will be considered as established and cannot be disputed during the trial. Such orders may take effect immediately upon non-compliance.
- A Motion to Compel: If a party refuses to answer an interrogatory, the opposing party may file a motion to compel, which is a court order issued by the judge requiring the party to answer the questions. If the party refuses to comply with the motion to compel, they may be held in contempt of court. A fine or even jail time may be imposed for contempt of court.
Therefore, it is in your best interests to respond to an interrogatory if one is presented to you. Your case will move along faster if you answer the questions, and you will avoid further legal consequences.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Personal Injury Interrogatories?
For a personal injury claim, a lawyer is often necessary for the discovery process. Several state and federal guidelines govern interrogatories. Suppose you have been involved in a personal injury claim. In that case, you may wish to consult with a personal injury lawyer to help you with interrogatories and other important aspects of the trial.