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Litigation Corner: What’s an Interrogatory?

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Liza C. Moore
Foster Swift Agricultural Law Update
December 11, 2014

We’ve all seen plenty of procedural dramas on television where a suspect is led into a room to be “interrogated.” But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a television program explain what an “interrogatory” is in the civil (meaning not criminal) litigation process. “Interrogatories” are not an in-person “interrogation;” they are a way to learn information from the other side in writing. Both the state court and federal court rules that control what actions attorneys and parties can take in litigation allow for the service of interrogatories during the discovery period. Discovery is the time in litigation when parties “discover” the facts of the case by obtaining information, documents, and things from witnesses and the other parties. An interrogatory is a written question that a plaintiff can serve on a defendant, or vice versa. Often parties serve “sets” (meaning a document that has several numbered, written questions) of interrogatories on the other party. Once a plaintiff or defendant has received an interrogatory or set of interrogatories, the receiving party must answer or object to those interrogatories within the time allowed by the court rules. The actual party (not just the party’s attorney) must sign answers to interrogatories under oath. Answers and objections must be in writing. Failure to answer within the time allowed by the rules can result in waiver of important objections, a motion to compel being filed by the party that served the interrogatories, and possibly sanctions. Answers must be carefully written, since the party that served the interrogatories will be using the answers in the litigation. Attorneys will need to object to interrogatories that are improper, including those that are overly broad or unduly burdensome, or seek information protected by privilege. Interrogatories are just one of the tools that an attorney representing you in litigation would use to help your case.