Personal Injury Interrogatories in California
Personal injury interrogatories in California are written questions that parties to a civil dispute are allowed to send to the other side to request certain information. Under California law, there are basically two types of interrogatories:Types of Interrogatories in California
(1) Specially Prepared Interrogatories
These are questions drafted by the attorney and can ask for any information required to be disclosed. They have to be separately stated and not “lumped together” and they have to ask questions that are “reasonably likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” These discovery requests are governed by California Rules of Civil Procedure 2030, et.seq. and, “may relate to whether another party is making a certain contention, or to the facts, witnesses, and writings on which a contention is based. . ..” In “Unlimited Jurisdiction” (i.e. a case where the party’s claimed damages likely exceed $25,000) there is an initial limit of 35 interrogatories that may be asked, however, with a simple “declaration” specifying the need for more (which is routinely done), more questions can be asked. In “Limited Jurisdiction” cases (i.e. where the amount in controversy is less than $25,000) there is a limit of 35 TOTAL (combined with other discovery requests) but, a party can ask the judge to allow more upon showing of good cause.
(2) Form Interrogatories
These are questions that have been pre-approved by the Judicial Council of California, which is an administrative arm of the California Court system in charge of developing legal procedures by which the court system and litigants operate. These elicit information regarding the background of the parties (e.g. name, address, prior addresses, employment history) and information regarding the claims of the parties and any defenses. For example, in an auto accident claim, they ask the following:
- The name, ADDRESS, and telephone number of each owner or person who had possession of any involved vehicle.
- Identity of people who had control of the vehicle or gave consent to drive.
- The address where the trip began and the intended destination and route taken.
- Whether there were any malfunctions or defects in any part of the automobile that may have contributed to the incident.
- Whether the wreck occurred at an intersection and, if so, the color and functioning of the traffic lights before, during and after the incident.
- The speed, direction and location of the persons involved.
- The identity of all drivers, passengers and witnesses to the mishap.
Both the party making the claim (the “plaintiff”) and the party defending the claim (the “defendant”) may serve interrogatories on the other side requesting information. Both sides have a duty to provide full and complete information to the questions asked but, they may also raise legal objections to all or part of a question and refuse to answer that question or part thereof.
First, the party must attempt to “meet and confer” to resolve the issues. This means that there must be a meaningful attempt by phone calls, letters, emails, etc. to narrow the issues and attempt to obtain an answer to the question. If the parties still don’t agree about whether the law compels an answer or an objection is valid, they may then file a “Motion to Compel” further responses and have a judge decide whether additional answers must be made.
Interrogatories are often used as a preliminary device to obtain basic information for which follow up discovery can be conducted. For example, interrogatories often ask for the identification (name, address, and phone number) of third party witnesses to the auto accident or other incident that caused the bodily harm or death. This information can then be used to serve that person or persons with a subpoena that would require them to appear for a formal deposition where the witness could be asked specific details about what they saw or heard prior to during or following the incident. This would be in a formal setting where a court reporter could record the questions and answers.