What are Interrogatories in a Personal Injury Case?
Interrogatories are written questions or requests for information that one party to a lawsuit submits to the other party. In this article, we'll answer a few common questions related to interrogatories in injury cases.
When Do Interrogatories Come Into Play?
Interrogatories are a part of the "discovery" process in a lawsuit. After a lawsuit is filed and the defendant answers the complaint, the parties engage in discovery. During discovery, the parties request and exchange information and key facts. Interrogatories, as well as depositions, form the majority of the discovery process. Unlike many legal documents, interrogatories do not need to be filed with the court. They're sent back and forth from one party to another.
How Many Interrogatories Must Be Answered?
There is a limit on the number of interrogatories that each person in a lawsuit can propound on (send to) the other parties. For federal courts, there is a limit of 25. However, for state cases, the allowed number of interrogatories varies, so check your state's civil procedure rules. If you reach the limit, you have the option of requesting court permission to send more interrogatories.
How Long Do I Have to Respond?
The federal rules require that a party must respond to interrogatories within 30 days. Most states follow the 30-day rule as well.
The federal rules, as well as state rules, require that the person answering the interrogatories sign and make an oath affirming the truthfulness of the answers. Most states require that the interrogatory answers be signed in the presence of a notary public.
How Should Interrogatories Be Written in Injury Cases?
Interrogatories should not be written in typical question form. An interrogatory should not be written using a question mark: "Do you employ security staff?" Instead, use wording such as: "State whether you employ security staff, and if so, describe their positions in detail." This leaves room for a more open-ended response, rather than a yes or no.
It is not advisable to use standard interrogatories for each injury case. Interrogatories must be drafted based on the specific information you wish to gain.
In a slip-and-fall case at a store, for example, your interrogatories should relate to the cause of the injury and the negligence of the defendant. For example, an appropriate interrogatory may be: "Describe in detail the number of employees and each employee's job duties on the date of the incident in this case." This interrogatory seeks to prove that the store did not employ enough employees to clean up spilled substances and seeks to identity the employee that might have been responsible for cleaning up the spill.
Can the Defendant Send Interrogatories to the Plaintiff?
Yes. If you are a defendant in an injury case, you can also draft interrogatories and serve them on the plaintiff. The same interrogatories rules and guidelines apply to a defendant.
In the slip-and-fall case above, the store can serve interrogatories on the injured customer. Again, the interrogatories should be specific and should be drafted so that as much information as possible can be gained.
For example, “State in detail whether you have visited a medical doctor, chiropractor, or any other medical or healthcare professional in relation to back pain or back problems in the last four (4) years."
Here, the store is seeking to determine whether the injured person had pre-existing back problems. If there was a pre-existing back problem, the store’s liability may be reduced.
Objections to Interrogatories
You can object to interrogatories for various reasons. The interrogatory may be confusing, ask for inadmissible evidence, be overbroad, or ask for information that would take too long to compile.
Compelling Responses to Interrogatories
Where a person does not respond to interrogatories within the time limit or where there are arguably inappropriate objections, you can file a motion to compel responses to the interrogatories. It is advisable to first confer with the person failing to provide responses to the interrogatories and attempt to informally ask them to respond before filing a motion to compel.
After a motion to compel is filed with the court, the judge will determine whether the objections are valid. If the objections are determined to be invalid and the objections are not corrected, the person can be held in contempt of court.
Requests for Production of Documents Along with Interrogatories
In many injury cases, a request for production of documents will accompany interrogatories. A request for production asks for documents that relate to the case. A request for production has many of the same time limits and objection rules discussed above. However, unlike the 25-question limitation on interrogatories, there is generally not a limit on the number of requests for production of documents that you can serve. For most cases, it is advisable to serve both interrogatories and a request for production of documents.