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What Does “Interrogatories” Mean During Discovery?

What does “interrogatories” mean? Most people would likely default to the meaning of “interrogations.” However, these are two completely different words. Interrogation is intense one-on-one questioning, whereas interrogatories are written questions during discovery. In this article, you will learn about interrogatories and how to handle them in a personal injury lawsuit.

What Are Interrogatories?

Interrogatories are a collection of written questions you can send to the opposing party in a lawsuit. The other party must then respond in writing while under oath.

The number of interrogatory questions you can send is typically limited to 30 to 45 at a time. This is done by the court to prevent unnecessary harassment like sending hundreds of irrelevant questions.

Each side has the right to send interrogatories. This means the victim (the plaintiff) can ask questions of the at-fault party (the defendant) and vice versa.
Interrogatories are a tool available in every state and are typically one of the first efforts made in the discovery process.

The Discovery Process

When you file a lawsuit, the first step is to file a complaint with the court. The court then notifies the defendant of your complaint, who has to file an answer. The discovery process, also known as the discovery stage, occurs after the defendant formally answers your complaint.

Within a civil case, this period is dedicated to exchanging information. The goal is to “discover” information that can weaken the opposing side’s claims and strengthen your own.

Both sides can request documents and other forms of information. Depositions and interrogatories are common during this phase. Depositions involve using sworn, out-of-court testimonials from witnesses (including the plaintiff and defendant) in court. On the other hand, interrogatories are sent back and forth between the opposing parties. Unlike other legal documents, interrogatories do not need to be filed with the court.

The discovery process typically lasts until the court trial.

Sample Interrogatory Questions To Expect

Interrogatory questions tend to be open-ended and get personal. The courts allow a broad range of inquiries so that you might see questions similar to the following:

  • How did the accident happen?
  • Do you know of any witnesses to the accident?
  • What injuries did you sustain in the accident?
  • List all the medical treatments you have received for the accident.
  • List all the medical treatments you have received in the past ten years.
  • Do you have a history of substance abuse or depression?
  • List every medication you were taking at the time of the accident.
  • How much are you claiming in lost wages?
  • Do you have a history of quitting or being fired from previous jobs?
  • List all the jobs you have held since the age of 18.
  • Have you ever filed for workers’ compensation? Unemployment? Disability? Bankruptcy?

The defendant is allowed to probe into your personal information to validate the claim. They are looking for information that minimizes their responsibility and the settlement they owe in most cases.

Keep in mind that you have a similarly broad range of topics you can ask the defendant. For example, if you were the victim of a car accident, you could ask questions like:

  • List all the traffic violations you have sustained since the age of 18.
  • List all the car accidents you have ever been involved in.
  • Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony?
  • State all your activities for the 24 hours leading up to the accident.
  • List every medication you were taking at the time of the accident.
  • Did you consume any drugs or alcohol in the 24 hours leading up to the accident? If so, where did you obtain it?

Do I Have To Answer Interrogatories?

No matter how uncomfortable you may be with answering certain questions, you have to answer interrogatories truthfully. However, do not make the mistake of assuming you can bend the truth or purposefully withhold details just because you are not in court.

You must swear you told the truth and sign off on the final version of your responses. If it is later discovered you gave false information, you can be subject to criminal and civil penalties for perjury (i.e., lying under oath).

The opposing party can also use your answers to cast doubt on your credibility during the trial. If that happens, the judge may have trouble believing your side of the story, impacting your chances of winning the case.

How Long Do I Have To Respond?

In California, you have 30 days to respond to an interrogatory. If you do not respond within this time, the opposing side can file a motion to compel with the court. The court may require them to first consult with you about your failure to respond before officially filing a motion to compel.

After the motion is filed, the court will determine whether your reasons for not responding are valid. If they are deemed invalid, you can be held in contempt of court. If a new deadline is assigned, and you fail to meet it again, the judge can also impose a monetary fine or even dismiss your case.

What If I Object?

When responding to interrogatories, you have the right to object to them. Your objections are subject to the 30-day time limit. If you object to specific questions, you are not required to answer them until the judge decides whether your objections are valid. Any other questions must be answered within the normal time limit.

You can object to an interrogatory for various reasons. Some examples are:

  • The interrogatory is overbroad, meaning it does not reasonably define the scope or describe the items asked for.
  • The interrogatory is unduly burdensome; it would require an unreasonable and disproportionate amount of time or money to fulfill the request.
  • The interrogatory asks for inadmissible evidence.

Protect Your Rights

Interrogatories can be difficult to deal with on your own. You need to know the right questions to ask, identify unreasonable requests from the other party, and answer truthfully without undermining your claim.

Fortunately, the help of an experienced personal injury law firm can help you navigate the process. At the Law Offices of John J. Perlstein, we have over 25 years of experience in handling various personal injury claims and are always ready to help you with yours. Call us at (213) 252-1070 or contact us online for a free consultation today.

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