Interrogatories are written questions sent to an opponent in a civil case. The opponent must answer all the question within a period of time - usually thirty days - after receiving the interrogatories. Interrogatories are exchanged during the discovery phase of a lawsuit.
Lawyers must know the rules
Use of interrogatories in a federal case is governed by Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 33 permits only twenty-five interrogatories, so attorneys must watch the number of interrogatories propounded and be sure to stay within the limit.
Interrogatories should be clear and concise
The best advice for preparing interrogatories is to make them clear and concise. For example, in an employment lawsuit for age discrimination where plaintiff was passed over for a promotion as a Vice President, the plaintiff’s lawyer wants to know who else applied for the position plaintiff did not get, and how old all those applicants were. An effective interrogatory might read:
“Provide information about other applicants for the Vice President position, including each applicant’s age, education, and work history.”
The twenty-five-interrogatory limit includes “all discrete subparts” of a question. Therefore, lawyers must take care that the details requested in each interrogatory are all related to the key subject matter of the interrogatory. In the example above, the lawyer would argue that although the interrogatory asks for at least three pieces of information about an unknown number of applicants, the interrogatory contains only one discrete question: who else applied for the job?
Lawyers must follow up on answers
Answers to interrogatories are not filed with the court, and no one from the court will contact a party who misses a deadline for responding to interrogatories. Instead, it is up to the lawyer who serves the interrogatories to keep track of the date when they are due and to contact the other party if they are not received before the deadline. If a party refuses to answer interrogatories, it may be necessary to file a motion to compel discovery to get a judge to order the party to answer.
Lawyers must expect objections
The Federal Rules anticipate that the party being asked all these questions will find them objectionable. Rule 33(b)(4) specifies that any objection not stated in a timely fashion is considered to be waived. This rule results in parties making lengthy objections to interrogatories.
Interrogatories are an extremely effective and efficient way to gather information in a legal case. They are perhaps the least expensive discovery tool, because communication takes place by exchanging a series of written documents.