What Are Interrogatories?
In the course of a personal injury lawsuit -- such as a one stemming from a car accident -- after a complaint and answer are filed with the court, the discovery stage begins. During discovery, the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) and the defendant (the person being sued) exchange information regarding the facts of the accident, the plaintiff's injuries, and other aspects of the case. Along with depositions, one of the main ways that this is done is by the use of interrogatories.
Interrogatories are a written set of questions (although they’re not always phrased as questions) that one party in a lawsuit sends to the other. The other party must respond to the questions in writing and under oath, within a certain time frame.
What Kind of Information is Exchanged?
In a car accident case, it’s likely that the parties have differing accounts of how the crash occurred. So car accident interrogatories will usually center around specific factors -- distracted driving, speed, drug/alcohol use -- that might have contributed to the crash. In that way, interrogatories will allow each party to hear the other side’s story in order to best prepare their own case.
Let's look at some examples to get a better idea of what to expect.
Interrogatories sent from the plaintiff to the defendant, or vice versa, in a car accident lawsuit might include:
State, in your own words, how the accident occurred.
Provide the year, make, and model, and current registrant of the vehicle you were driving at the time of the accident.
Provide the company, address, and policy number for any automobile insurance policy of the vehicle involved in the accident.
How fast were you going at the time of the accident?
Within the past 10 years, have you been involved in any other automobile accidents (as the driver)? If so, please provide the date, nature of the accident, and any related legal outcome.
Provide the names and addresses of any known witnesses to the accident.
At the time of the accident, were you taking any medications? If so provide the name of the medication, dosage, and last dose taken prior to the accident.
List every traffic violation you’ve had in the past 10 years.
In the 24 hours prior to the accident, had you consumed any alcohol? If so, please list the type, amount, and time consumed.
State the exact location where the accident occurred.
Where were you coming from, and traveling to, when the accident occurred?
Please list any photographs, sketches, reports, or diagrams regarding the accident that you have knowledge of, including their current location.
The defendant will likely also include interrogatories about the plaintiff’s injuries and relevant medical treatment, as well as any potential pre-existing injuries to the same areas of the body.
Interrogatory Limits, Response Times, and Objections
You can't send an unlimited number of interrogatories to the other side. Usually, each side is limited to around 25 interrogatory questions -- that's the rule in most civil cases in Texas, for example, unless the court approves more.
The time for sending your response to interrogatories also varies from state to state. In New York, you have 20 days to respond if you were served by mail, while in California you usually have 35 days.
If a party believes that an interrogatory isn’t relevant to the case, or is too vague, there are legal grounds under which they can object. If the two sides can’t come to an agreement on a certain interrogatory (or a proper response to it), or if a party doesn’t respond within the given time (without a valid reason,) the court will intervene.
Learn more about the basics of interrogatories in a personal injury case.