In the practice of law, interrogatories are the most commonly method used in discovery, or in the effort to obtain information from an opposing party to a lawsuit. Interrogatories are written questions posed to the opposing party, for which a response is required, under conditions specified by the jurisdiction’s rules of court procedure. The individual who receives interrogatories in connection with a legal matter in which he is involved, must respond within a specified period of time, and under penalty of perjury. To explore this concept, consider the following interrogatories definition.
Definition of Interrogatories
- Formal or written questions that require an answer, by direction of the court.
1525-1535 Late Latin interrogātōrius
How Interrogatories are Used
In an effort to ensure legal proceedings are fair to all parties involved, each party is afforded the right to obtain information and evidence that is possessed by the other parties. This gathering of information is called the “discovery process,” and is the first tool used to gather such information is a set of interrogatories. These are pointed questions that are served as a set to the opposing party, all of which must be answered to the best of that party’s ability, within a specified time limit, usually 20-30 days.
If left to the devices of individual parties and attorneys, the posing of interrogatories could easily become quite burdensome. For this reason, many jurisdictions and areas of law provide a set of pre-approved “form interrogatories,” that may be served on a party to a legal action. Form interrogatories, pre-printed and obtained from the court, pose the questions most commonly asked in a particular type of legal dispute, such as the identity of all parties involved, their contact information, and specific information regarding the incident.
Each party may then ask “special interrogatories,” also referred to as “supplemental interrogatories,” to gain additional information needed to prepare their case. Rules of court limit the number of special interrogatories that may be posed without gaining approval of the court. Again, this rule is to prevent any party to a lawsuit from burying the other party in a mountain of paperwork just to make things difficult.
While the exact number of special interrogatories allowed varies by jurisdiction, the limit is commonly set at 25. In a complex case, a party may apply to the court for permission to ask additional interrogatories of an opposing party. He would be required to provide a compelling reason the information sought is very important to the case, and that the additionally interrogatories are likely to lead to admissible evidence.
How to Answer Interrogatories
Answers to interrogatories tend to be better thought-out than verbal answers to questions posed in deposition. This is because the party’s attorney may help him answer both special and form interrogatories. The first step in answering any discovery request is to determine exactly when the answers must be provided. Next, the answering party should check the total number of special interrogatories, if any, that have been posed, to be sure the number is below the statutory allowance. When answering interrogatories, it is important the party understand that he is answering under oath, and his answers are subject to penalties of perjury if he is untruthful, or intentionally misleading.
Each question should be answered clearly and concisely, without going into too much additional detail that is not requested by the interrogatory. The answers must be provided, in writing, on or before the last day of the allowed time period. In the event a party feels any interrogatory (single question) is vague, too difficult to understand, or burdensome in some way, he can “object” to that interrogatory. To do this, the word “Objection” should be printed in place of an answer, with a brief explanation of why the party cannot, or does not want to, answer the question.
The party posing the interrogatories will have an opportunity to re-ask, re-phrase, or otherwise clear up any questions to which an objection was claimed. The answering party then has a short period of time to provide answers to the newly phrased questions.
John Quint is suing ABC Bookstore for an incident in which he slipped on a small slip of paper, and fell. John’s attorney serves Special Interrogatories on the book store’s owner, number 9 of which asks:
Q: Has the bookstore ever had a cleaning company that has agreed to indemnify, defend, or insure the bookstore against personal insurance lawsuits filed due to slip-and-fall incidents?
Because this question is very broad and vague, asking if the bookstore has “ever had a cleaning company that has agreed . . .” the bookstore may object to the question, rather than try to answer it:
A: Objection. This Interrogatory is unduly burdensome and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
Parties to a legal action are not allowed free reign to dig for personal information that has nothing to do with the lawsuit. Interrogatories must be crafted to seek information that could be used as evidence admissible in court.
How to Write Special Interrogatories
Although interrogatories and other discovery documents are not filed with the court, they must be prepared in the same format as other court documents, referred to as “pleadings,” with the case title, case number, and identity of all parties to the legal action.
In creating a list of special interrogatories, it is important to first determine what information is needed from the opposing party. Questions should then be posed in a manner that requires a detailed response, rather than a “yes” or “no” answer.
For example, posing the question, “Does ABC Bookstore employ cleaning and/or janitorial staff?” encourages a simple one-word answer. Rephrasing the question as, “State whether or not ABC Bookstore employs cleaning and/or janitorial staff, and if so, describe each such employee’s position in detail.” This requires the answering party to provide more information that is likely to be useful at trial.
Each jurisdiction provides pre-printed form interrogatories, which are often available on the court’s website. Sample interrogatories for a wide variety of case types are available online as well. Written special interrogatories begin with a set of instructions regarding how the questions should be answered. Following those instructions, the interrogatories are numbered, with room provided to respond to each question.
- Please identify the person responding to these Interrogatories on behalf of the Defendant, and identify each person who has provided information in answering these Interrogatories.
- Please identify the owner of ABC Bookstore, and the building in which it is housed.
- Please identify any person, not already named as a party to this lawsuit, who you assert caused, or contributed to, the incident, including any contractor, subcontractor, or others.
- Identify each person of whom you are aware that:
- Witnessed the incident; and/or who
- Heard any statements made about the incident by any individual at the scene of the incident.
- Identify each employee who witnessed, or has personal knowledge of the incident, or who witnessed events surrounding the incident.
- For each employee identified, provide his or her job title, and the job function that was being performed by that employee at the time of the incident.
- Identify each individual, whether employee or other, interviewed by ABC Bookstore and/or its representatives, concerning the incident. For each identified person, state:
- The date and time of the interview
- The substance of the interview
- Please state what you believe happened when Plaintiff fell inside the premises of ABC Bookstore, located at 1500 State Street, Anytown, Arizona, on March 12, 2015. In your answer, include the premise upon which you base your belief.
- At the time of Plaintiff’s injury, do you contend that any person or entity, other than you and your employees and agents, was responsible for maintenance and cleaning of the premises on which Plaintiff alleges he was injured? If so, state each and every fact on which you base your contention, and identify each and every document that supports the contention.
- Identify all individuals you intend to call as expert witnesses at trial on this case, and for each such expert witness, identify:
- The subject on which he or she is expected to testify
- The substance of the facts and opinions to which each expert is expected to testify
- The basis upon which he or she qualifies as an expert on the subject matter to which he or she is expected to testify.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
- Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
- Discovery – The pre-trial efforts of each party to obtain information and evidence.
- Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
- Perjury – The willful telling of an untruth, or giving of false testimony, after having taken an oath.
- Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.