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What are interrogatories and how are they used?

Interrogatories are a discovery tool that the parties can use to have specific questions about a case answered before trial. Interrogatories are lists of questions sent to the other party that s/he must respond to in writing. You can use interrogatories to find out facts about a case but they cannot be used for questions that draw a legal conclusion. For example, in a case about a car accident, you could ask, “Was the vehicle in the crash registered in your name?” but you could not ask, “Were you at fault for the accident?” In a custody case, you could ask, “How many doctors’ appointments have you attended?” but you could not ask, “Is it in the child’s best interests to live with me?”

You may receive interrogatories with questions that call for legal conclusions or that you believe are irrelevant. You can read about how to properly respond in How do I respond to interrogatories?

Can I send interrogatories to the other party?

Depending on the type of court case you are involved in, you might be able to send questions to the other side in the form of interrogatories. As we mention earlier, not all cases qualify for discovery and you might have to request that the judge allow discovery in your case. You will usually send out your interrogatory questions with your initial discovery demands. In complex cases, the judge might hold a scheduling conference to map out a timeframe for discovery.

To create your interrogatories, you will create a list of questions, label them “interrogatories” and include a letter that “demands” that the other side answer them. If the other side does not answer your interrogatories, you may be able to ask the judge to make the other side answer the questions by filing a motion to compel discovery.

How do I respond to interrogatories?

You have to respond to interrogatories in writing to the best of your ability. If you do not answer an interrogatory question, and then the other side learns that you did in fact know the answer, it could have a negative impact on your case at trial. The other side could imply that you are trying to hide information that is harmful to your case and ask that an inference or assumption is made at trial based on this.

However, you can object to interrogatories that call for legal conclusions. You can also object to questions if they are not at all related to the court case. To object, you need to write out the reasons for the objection instead of answering the question. These objections must be valid and you should note them in your response along with the questions that you are answering. If the other side does not think that your objection is valid, s/he may be able to file a motion to compel, which basically asks the judge to force you to answer the interrogatories. The judge will then decide whether the question in the interrogatories must be answered or not.

Let’s take the examples mentioned in What are interrogatories and how do they work? and look at how you might respond or object to each one:

Q; Was the vehicle in the crash registered in your name?

A: Yes, on the date of the alleged traffic accident, the vehicle was registered in the name of the defendant, Jane Doe.

Q: Were you at fault for the accident?

A: Defendant respectfully objects to this interrogatory question because it calls for Defendant to reach a legal conclusion.