An interrogatory is a question, usually given in a series of interrogatories. They are used during the discovery process, prior to trial. One party to a case sends their interrogatories to the opposing party, who must answer them.
The interrogatories are designed to elicit information necessary to preparing for trial, and are usually asking for information about the party to whom the interrogatories are sent, or for information about facts and issues related to to the case. Although interrogatories are usually written by the party who send them, form questions are sometimes used in certain types of cases and in certain jurisdictions.
There may be many interrogatories in one set, but courts usually limit the amount of interrogatories that can be posed at one time. A common number of interrogatories is is between 25 and 35 per set, and multiple sets of interrogatories may be issued.
Courts have rules for the discovery process which will govern this. This rule keep parties to a lawsuit from purposefully inundating each other with pointless questions designed to eat up time and rack up lawyers’ fees.
Court rules will vary by jurisdiction. However, all cases filed in federal court follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. An experienced attorney can help decide in which court to file your case, and will be familiar with the rules of that court.
Interrogatories, when received, must be answered fully and returned to the party who sent them. Both parties to a case should use interrogatories to inform themselves, and to build their cases for trial. They are often accompanied by Requests for Production of Documents.
- Is there a Time Limit on Answering a List of Interrogatories?
- Can I Lie on the Interrogatories?
- What If the Interrogatories are Not Related to the Lawsuit?
- What Types of Questions Are Asked on an Interrogatory List?
- What is a Request for Production of Documents?
- Should I Contact a Lawyer About Interrogatories?
Yes. Federal courts required interrogatories to be answered and returned within 30 days. Most other jurisdictions follow the 30-day rule, as well.
When there is a failure to respond to interrogatories in a timely manner, the party who sent them may file a motion with the court to compel responses. Interrogatories, being part of the discovery process, are conducted outside of the court. However, the court can become involved if one party to the discovery process is not participating properly. A judge will rule on the motion to compel responses, and can penalize a party for not answering interrogatories.
Lying is not permissible on interrogatories any more than lying in court is permissible. Interrogatories are given with an affidavit, meaning they are given under oath. Therefore, the party who signs the affidavit swears that their responses to the interrogatories are true. A notary attests to the party’s signature.
Since the responses are given under oath, just as with testifying in court, a party can be penalized for lying under oath, or “perjuring” themselves. Penalties can be civil or criminal in nature.
It is possible to object to one or more interrogatories. A party might object to interrogatories because they are too broad, ask for information that would be extremely burdensome to acquire, or simply don’t make sense.
Interrogatories must still follow rules of evidence, which govern the type of information that is and is not admissible in court, so an objection can also be filed to an interrogatory that asks for evidence that is inadmissible.
There are two types of questions asked as a part of a list of interrogatories:
- General questions; and
- Specific questions.
A set of interrogatories may begin with basic questions asking for basic information, such as a person’s legal name and current address. These questions are relatively easy to answer. However, specific questions will also be posed. These are much more involved questions asking for the facts of the situation which led to the lawsuit.
Since interrogatories are designed to get information from the other party to a lawsuit, it makes sense that, in addition to asking for information, you also ask for any documents which are related to the information you seek. A Request for Production of Document is often issued along with a set of interrogatories.
Interrogatories are likely to be complex and written in legal language that might be difficult for a non-lawyer to comprehend. They are written by lawyers, who intend for them to be read by the opposing party’s lawyer. Because of this, a local civil attorney can be invaluable if you are a party to a lawsuit that is currently in the discovery process.
Answering questions untruthfully, or otherwise incorrectly, can, as described above, have penalties for the recipient of the interrogatories. Aside from penalties, incorrect answers to interrogatories can also damage your case. It can be very important to work with an attorney when answering interrogatories, and throughout your case.