What Are Interrogatories in a Personal Injury Case?

A personal injury case requires that the legal teams of the plaintiff and defendant share any and all evidence and documentation related to the case in a process called discovery. This is one of the most time-consuming phases of a personal injury case as it often requires copying and transportation of relevant documents between the parties, various question and answer sessions, and meetings between the two parties.

Discovery is a strenuous process as both sides of the case will need to ensure they have access to all relevant documents and take time to properly review them for reference in settlement negotiations or at trial. One of the most important parts of the discovery process is the interrogatory phase.

What Is an Interrogatory?

Interrogatories are written questions devised by one side of a case and delivered to the other for written responses. An interrogatory could be a direct question with a specific answer, a simple yes or no question, or a general request for a specific type of information. Attorneys who devise interrogatory questions generally avoid asking in the form of direct questions. For example, an attorney would not ask “do you hire delivery drivers at your company?” Instead, the attorney would ask in the form of a statement, such as: “State the names and employment dates of your delivery drivers and describe their activities within your company.”

Framing questions in this manner allows for more open-ended responses, potentially revealing information that would not be discernable with a simple yes or no question or direct question. An interrogatory will also commonly include a request for associated documentation. For example, the party serving the interrogatory may ask, “State the number of employees at your company and provide descriptions of their job duties. Please submit copies of your internal hiring records with your response to prove the date of hire for each employee.”

An interrogatory does not require filing with the court. Instead, the documents produced during interrogatories typically travel back and forth between the parties involved in a case. Procedure also limits how many interrogatories may take place during a lawsuit. For a federal case, the limit is 25. The limits for civil cases vary by state law. However, no limits pertain to the number of requests for information or documentation for either party.

Serving Interrogatories and Common Issues

It is vital for anyone involved in a civil case to remember that both sides may file interrogatories. The defendant’s attorney may send interrogatories to the plaintiff’s legal team in an attempt to discover exculpatory information or any other information that reduces the defendant’s liability. For example, if a plaintiff claimed a negligent store owner is responsible for a back injury caused by a wet floor, the store owner’s attorney may ask the plaintiff to state whether he or she has visited a doctor for back-related problems in the last five years. This is an attempt to prove the plaintiff had a preexisting back issue, potentially reducing the store owner’s liability.

Either party may object to an interrogatory in certain situations. If one party requests inadmissible evidence, asks inappropriate questions, or is overbroad in the asking of a question, the recipient may return the interrogatory for revision or a more precise request. A recipient may also object to an interrogatory if it would require an inordinate amount of time to compile the requested information.

It is also possible to compel a response to an unanswered interrogatory. If one party serves an interrogatory to the other and the recipient fails to respond within the allotted time, the serving party may file a motion to compel a response with the court. Unless any reasonable objections exist, a judge may find the refusing party’s objection groundless and hold that party in contempt of court.