Anatomy of a Case

Discovery Tools

Interrogatories

Interrogatories are some of the most basic tools used to find out information from another party. State and federal law usually set the number of interrogatories that can be asked and for which answers are required. In asking these questions, the party usually would like to ask questions that will obtain responses that show who and on what evidence the person responding will be relying at trial. This is what is intended. Each party has a right, under our legal system, to know who will testify about what at trial and to be asked about this evidence or testimony during this pre-trial stage. Parties are also permitted to uncover biases or other reasons a witness might be favoring one party.

For example, if a witness says the plaintiff did not run a red light, and the plaintiff was a young woman and the witness a similarly aged man, the Defendant is entitled to know if the witness is testifying to the truth or if he is saying that because he wants to pursue a date. This would be a bias or motive that may be excluded as evidence from a trial.

Critically important in any discovery process are the time limits. Usually, if a party ignores the deadlines imposed by legal procedural rules, they will suffer many problems, including limitations on evidence at trial, sanctions, or even in rare cases, dismissal of the whole lawsuit. Your attorney is often not trying to "pester" a client when they send them 25 pages of text and tell them they have a week to provide detailed answers to every question. Instead, they are just trying to work within the time limits of a case.

Concern Area: It is important for clients to understand that their attorneys are often required by a Judge, regardless of cost to the client, to perform services, such as answering more questions, preparing a response to a Motion filed by the other side, or attending a court hearing to argue a point of law. Many times your attorney has no more control over this than you do, and they become the "scapegoat" for higher than necessary legal cost arguments. It is also necessary to understand that many defendants will use every legal maneuver possible to delay paying a Plaintiff, even when they know they are required to do so. This is why 97% of the legal cases filed end up settling before trial. Unfortunately, it may take several years and thousands of dollars of expense. Be prepared for this in any lawsuit.

Sometimes, in an effort to obtain as much information as possible, interrogatories can be broad in scope. Compare these examples:

  • "Please provide a description of the last car accident in which you were involved."
  • "Please provide every fact from every accident that you have ever been involved with, concerning the cause and effect of each."

You can see that if there were three accidents, under the first method of question, the party would use three questions of his/her interrogatory limit. Under the second, however, all information about every car accident the party ever had must be provided, and only one interrogatory was used. What is important to realize is that abuses can occur in the asking of questions, and in the answering of these questions, and as such, and often through no fault of you or your attorney, you might be forced to present yourself in court for several discovery motions and hearings. These of course, result in additional expenditures of time which result in higher legal bills.

If your attorney felt like the question was too broad under the law, your attorney could file a motion and go to court seeking a Hearing and asking the judge to limit the question(s). However, many judgments are made by attorneys during discovery that tend to work themselves out, even if it seems like an attorney is "trying to please the other side." Usually, they are making a calculated decision to place your case in the best light before the judge and to let the other side be admonished for "bad" behavior or conduct.

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