Interrogatories are probably the most basic form of discovery, although some would argue that is actually the mandated disclosures, and they are the source for determining what evidence exists and what you can expect in trial.
What are Interrogatories?
In essence, Interrogatories are written questions that are sent to the other party. Assuming that the questions are thought out and phrased correctly, they will ask for and require the other party to provide information identifying witnesses, documents, insurance coverage, defenses, and many other pieces of information that are absolutely required to properly prepare for the lawsuit and for trial.
While each state has their own rules or laws on interrogatories, they are all similar to the Federal rule, which can be found at Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33:
Rule 33 – Interrogatories to Parties
(a) In General.
(1) Number. Unless otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court, a party may serve on any other party no more than 25 written interrogatories, including all discrete sub-parts. Leave to serve additional interrogatories may be granted to the extent consistent with Rule 26(b)(2).
(2) Scope. An interrogatory may relate to any matter that may be inquired into under Rule 26(b). An interrogatory is not objectionable merely because it asks for an opinion or contention that relates to fact or the application of law to fact, but the court may order that the interrogatory need not be answered until designated discovery is complete, or until a pretrial conference or some other time.
(b) Answers and Objections.
(1) Responding Party. The interrogatories must be answered:
(A) by the party to whom they are directed; or
(B) if that party is a public or private corporation, a partnership, an association, or a governmental agency, by any officer or agent, who must furnish the information available to the party.
(2) Time to Respond. The responding party must serve its answers and any objections within 30 days after being served with the interrogatories. A shorter or longer time may be stipulated to under Rule 29 or be ordered by the court.
(3) Answering Each Interrogatory. Each interrogatory must, to the extent it is not objected to, be answered separately and fully in writing under oath.
(4) Objections. The grounds for objecting to an interrogatory must be stated with specificity. Any ground not stated in a timely objection is waived unless the court, for good cause, excuses the failure.
(5) Signature. The person who makes the answers must sign them, and the attorney who objects must sign any objections.
(c) Use. An answer to an interrogatory may be used to the extent allowed by the Federal Rules of Evidence.
(d) Option to Produce Business Records. If the answer to an interrogatory may be determined by examining, auditing, compiling, abstracting, or summarizing a party's business records (including electronically stored information), and if the burden of deriving or ascertaining the answer will be substantially the same for either party, the responding party may answer by:
(1) specifying the records that must be reviewed, in sufficient detail to enable the interrogating party to locate and identify them as readily as the responding party could; and
(2) giving the interrogating party a reasonable opportunity to examine and audit the records and to make copies, compilations, abstracts, or summaries.
How Many Interrogatories Can Be Sent?
That depends on the specific rule. In most cases, it is two sets of thirty including sub parts. However, some states, Texas for instance, varies the amount depending on the complexity of the case.
When Should Interrogatories Be Sent?
Most good trial lawyers send interrogatories as soon as possible. If they are the plaintiff (the one suing) then it is not unusual for them to attach Interrogatories and Requests for Production to the initial petition and have them served at the same time.
When Do Interrogatories Have to Be Answered?
The rule will also set that out, although generally it is within thirty (30) days after they are served. However, there is an ongoing duty to supplement the answers if they become incorrect or incomplete due to a change in circumstances or new knowledge.
While interrogatories are simple in concept, they are incredibly important to any lawsuit and any party representing themselves (aka appearing pro se or pro per) would be doing themselves a great disservice if they didn't use this great discovery tool.
The proper use of Interrogatories as well as examples, specific objections, and strategies for their use are covered in detail in our book, The Guerrilla Guide to Written Discovery available in instantly downloadable formats.