What are interrogatories?
Interrogatories are written questions sent to another party in the case, typically an opposing party to be answered under oath. They are one of the major discovery tools and, are often one of the first used after a personal injury suit is commenced. Interrogatories can be a fast and relatively inexpensive way to for each side to begin obtaining information about the other side’s case. For example, in a car accident case, the auto accident attorney for the injured party may send interrogatories to the attorney for the insurance company and/or responsible driver.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33 describes the basic procedure for using interrogatories in United States District Courts. Rules governing the use of interrogatories in state courts vary. Some are patterned, to a greater or lesser extent, after or follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Court rules typically limit the number of interrogatories each side can send to another party. Common limits are 25 or 30 interrogatories, including subparts. Generally, these questions must be answered within 30 days. Parties being served with interrogatories, typically can, and sometimes do, request an extension of this 30 day limit. Interrogatories are usually sent back and forth from one party to another, and typically do not need to be filed with the court.
Some courts allow interrogatories and other written discovery to be served (sent to the other side) at the very beginning of a case along with the petition, complaint or other initial pleading. They can be very useful in car accident claim and other types of personal injury cases.
What kinds questions are asked in interrogatories?
Questions asked in interrogatories may range from the very specific to broader questions. However, the party sending interrogatories must be careful not to ask questions that are too broad because an interrogatory can be objected to on this basis, with the party being asked the question refusing to provide the information requested.
Interrogatories often served by the car accident attorney representing the insurance company or at-fault driver in a car or truck accident case might include questions about personal information like your present and any past names used, current and prior addresses, birth date, whether you are married and other basic information. Interrogatories designed to uncover information about how your auto accident occurred like witness names and the existence of documentary evidence like photographs, videos, or witness statements will likely be requested.
Your injuries and damages are core issues in the typical car crash case. Therefore, the defense attorney will typically send interrogatories designed to obtain information about these issues. Some typical areas asked about include: your version of how the wreck occurred, a detailed explanation of injuries you claim were caused by the car crash, a list of all medical treatment you received for your injuries,, the costs for this treatment and the identity of the medical providers who treated you, whether you are making a claim for lost wages in if so, the amount claimed.
The defendant’s auto accident attorney may also ask personal questions about your medical history, physical health and prior medical treatment. One of the reasons for this is to try to uncover previous injuries or medical problems affecting the parts of the body for which you are claiming injury and establish a basis for defending the case by claiming that your injuries were “pre-existing”. The defendant’s car accident lawyer also often ask about whether you have made prior injury claims, been involved in other lawsuits and other matters.
Your automobile accident lawyer can also send interrogatories to the attorney for the insurance company or driver responsible for causing your car accident. Some of the information your attorney might request in interrogatories from the at-fault driver may be somewhat similar to what they are asking from you. For example car accident attorneys representing injured people commonly request information about the identity of and other personal information regarding the responsible driver and the defendant’s version of how the collision occurred. Information about information obtained in the insurance company’s investigation of the case, like the identity of witnesses, witness statements, photographs of physical damage to the vehicles and the accident scene are also areas commonly asked about. Questions about the responsible driver’s prior history of crashes, traffic tickets and criminal history are other areas often inquired about. This is just a partial list of subjects which interrogatories in a car crash case may be used to request information about.
Can you object to interrogatories?
In a word, yes. Objections to interrogatories are very common. Some typical objections are that the interrogatory is requests information that is not likely to lead to finding evidence which could be admitted at the trial of the case, that the request is burdensome in that it seeks information that would be very time consuming or is otherwise burdensome to provide or requests information which would be considered “attorney work product”. Statements that the attorney obtained from potential witnesses in the case and legal memoranda which the attorney prepared analyzing issues in the case or discussing case strategy are examples of information which, which would be protected as “work product”. An objections to an interrogatory requesting this type of information would be entirely proper. These are just a few examples of the typical objections to interrogatory questions.
What if one side makes improper objections, provides incomplete or false information?
Unfortunately, interrogatory objections all too common. Sorting out whether an objection to an interrogatory is proper or improper typically starts with communication between the lawyers involved. If the attorneys are unable to resolve the issues involved, they may involve the judge handling the case and seek informal guidance or court orders to resolve the issue.
When incomplete information is provided in an interrogatory answer the side providing the answer may be obligated to “supplement” their answer.
The party answering the interrogatories is required to provide sworn answers answers, which means that they must answer truthfully and may be subject to criminal prosecution for perjury or similar offenses if they answer falsely. False interrogatory answers may in some cases also be used to attack the credibility of the party when testifying at trial.