Know How Many Questions You Can Ask
Many jurisdictions limit the number of interrogatories a party may ask, so before you get started, know the maximum number of interrogatories you can submit. Attorneys often draft interrogatories with subparts to get around the rules—in some jurisdictions that practice is acceptable, and in others it is not. So even if you know the relevant law, you also need to know the common practice in your jurisdiction. If you are only allowed a limited number of interrogatories, prioritize and send the most important questions. You can ask additional questions during a deposition and gain information relevant to other questions through Requests for Production of Documents (RPDs), which I’ll talk about next week.
Ask the Right Types Questions
Many new lawyers don’t know what types of questions to ask, and some veteran lawyers draft poor interrogatories and don’t receive helpful responses. Discovery in most jurisdictions is quite broad, meaning, generally, you can ask for information that isn’t even admissible (such as hearsay) so long as the information you seek is “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” Of course, a party need not provide information protected by a privilege, such as the attorney-client or work product privilege.
It’s impossible to provide a list of interrogatories that universally apply, but, generally, you’ll want to ask for the following types of information:
-personal or corporate information of the opposing party
-personal information of witnesses/others with knowledge of events leading to lawsuit
-party’s version of events leading to the lawsuit
-factual bases for claims or defenses
-personal information of expert witnesses
-the names of other parties who are or might be liable or responsible for paying a judgment
In personal injury actions, you’ll also want to ask for the injured party’s:
-pre-accident medical history
-injuries, diagnoses, and treatment received as a result of the accident
No matter the type of case, you’ll want to clarify the relief the party is seeking. If monetary damages are claimed, you’ll need to ask for information on:
-the amount of claimed damages
-how those claimed damages have been calculated
Avoid Overly Broad Questions
Keep questions short and to the point to avoid objections. For example:
Please state your name, date of birth, current address, and address on the date of the accident (if different from your current address).
Have you retained an expert to testify at the trial of this matter? If so, please provide that person’s name, employer, address, and telephone number.
If you want to ask for a broad category of information, consider either limiting the request in time or limiting the breadth. A question such as “Has Michelin ever been the defendant in a products liability suit” is going to draw an objection—Michelin likely has been a defendant in hundreds, if not thousands of products liability suits.
If you ask that question, you may have to spend substantial time and money fighting over whether and to what extent Michelin must respond. In the event you do have to seek court intervention to get discovery responses, you’ll look better in the judge’s eyes if you’ve limited your request either in time or breadth, or both:
Has Michelin been named a defendant in a products liability suit filed in Texas in the last 10 years? (limited in time to 10 years and breadth to those cases filed in Texas)
Has Michelin been named a defendant in a products liability suit arising from an accident allegedly caused by a defect in a LTX M/S2 tire? (limited in breadth to a certain tire type)
Next week I’ll offer tips on drafting RPDs.