What Are Interrogatories In a Personal Injury Case?

As part of the "discovery" process in a personal injury case, the two sides typically exchange written questions and answers.

Interrogatories are written questions that one party to a lawsuit sends to another, and the responding party submits written answers under oath. If a lawsuit is filed in a personal injury case, chances are interrogatories will come into play. In this article, we'll answer a few common questions related to interrogatories in injury cases.

When Are Interrogatories Sent?

Interrogatories are a part of the "discovery" stage of a civil case. After a lawsuit is filed and the defendant answers the complaint, the parties engage in discovery. (Get details on the steps in a personal injury lawsuit.)

During discovery, the parties request and exchange information and documents. Interrogatories and depositions form the bulk 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" (which just means "send to") the other parties. For federal civil courts, one party may send 25 interrogatories to any other party (so if you're suing two defendants, you can send 25 to each in federal court). The 25-interrogatory limit applies to all parts and sub-parts of a single question (so 1a, 1b, and 1c count as three interrogatories).

For civil lawsuits in state court, the allowable number of interrogatories varies, so check your state's civil procedure rules or ask your personal injury lawyer. If you reach the limit, you have the option of requesting court permission to send more interrogatories.

How Long Do I Have to Respond to Interrogatories?

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. Some states require that interrogatory responses be signed in the presence of a notary public.

How Should Interrogatories Be Written in Injury Cases?

Interrogatories aren't usually written in typical question form, using a question mark, i.e. "Do you employ security staff?" Instead, wording such as: "State whether you employ security staff, and if so, describe their positions in detail" is often used. This leaves room for a more open-ended response, rather than a simple "yes" or "no".

In most states, "form" interrogatories can be utilized in a civil lawsuit, but this isn't usually a great strategy in personal injury cases, which can be very fact-specific. It's generally a better tactic to draft interrogatories that are geared toward the specific information you want to learn.

In a case involving a slip and fall at a store, for example, your interrogatories should relate to the circumstances of your 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 might not have employed enough employees to watch out for and clean up spills.

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 would probably target as much information as possible.

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, which could reduce the store's slip and fall liability.

Objections to Interrogatories

You and your attorney can object to interrogatories for a number of reasons. The interrogatory may be confusing, ask for inadmissible evidence, be overbroad, or ask for information that would take too long to compile. Keep in mind that under federal rules, parties are supposed to raise an objection but respond to any portion of the interrogatory that it is not objectionable.

Compelling Responses to Interrogatories

When a party does not respond to interrogatories within the time limit, or when there are arguably inappropriate objections, you can file a motion to compel responses to the interrogatories. It's a good idea (and the court may require you to) first confer with the person failing to provide responses and 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 party 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 that relate to the case will accompany interrogatories. A request for production is subject to 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 you can serve.

For details on how interrogatories will work in your case, and what to expect, talk to your personal injury lawyer.

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