As with any civil lawsuit, in a personal injury claim, the person bringing the lawsuit (the plaintiff) gets the case started by by filing a Complaint -- usually with the appropriate branch of the state's civil court system -- and serving the defendant (that's the person being sued) with a copy. The defendant then drafts an Answer to the Complaint. Once the Complaint and Answer have been filed with the court, the discovery period of the lawsuit begins, and that's where interrogatories come into play.
The Discovery Process and Interrogatories
During discovery, the plaintiff and defendant exchange information about the facts related to the allegations in the lawsuit, and any potential defenses to those allegations. One way they do this is by sending the opposing party interrogatories.
Interrogatories are a written set of questions related to the details of the case, issued from one party in a civil lawsuit, to be answered by another party. The receiving party must answer these interrogatories in writing and under oath. In some states, parties can request copies of relevant documents via interrogatories; in other states, a separate filing called Request for Production of Documents is used for this.
Objections to Interrogatories
Each party that’s involved in a personal injury case is required to send the opposing party responses to their interrogatories. However, the questions that are asked in interrogatories are not without limits. There are certain legal grounds under which a party can object to interrogatories. For example, an objection can be raised to a question that is seen as unclear, or to one that is seemingly not relevant to the case at hand.
Interrogatory Limits & Deadlines
In federal court, the number of interrogatories is limited to 25 per party. State laws regarding interrogatory limits vary.
In federal court cases, a party has 30 days to respond to interrogatories. Although each state has it’s own law regarding interrogatory deadlines, many states also allow parties 30 days to send interrogatory responses.
It may be possible to get an extension if there is a valid reason that responses cannot be sent within 30 days. If a party doesn’t produce interrogatory responses within the deadline without a valid reason, the party that issued the Interrogatories can file a Motion to Compel with the court handling the case. The court can then intervene in obtaining interrogatory responses.
Sample Interrogatory Questions
The questions asked in interrogatories vary depending on the specifics of the lawsuit. Some common topics for interrogatories in a personal injury case include:
general information, such as the parties' full names and contact information
the plaintiff’s medical history, including any pre-existing conditions and previous injuries
facts related to the incident that resulted in injury, and
the plaintiff’s previous and current drug and/or alcohol use.
Interrogatories are used to gather as much relevant information as possible. So, most interrogatory questions are usually not ones that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Interrogatory answers are usually at least one sentence long, and they can be much longer.
Although interrogatories may seem straightforward, it’s important that they be drafted and answered according to the laws of the appropriate court. It is equally as important that interrogatory answers are written appropriately. So, it’s best for an experienced personal injury attorney to handle drafting interrogatories and interrogatory responses.