There are many different steps to the discovery process in civil lawsuits, interrogatories being one of the most important. Interrogatories are a formal set of questions drafted by one party and given to another to be answered under oath. Interrogatories help to obtain both sides of the story and clarify the facts of the case. The answers obtained through interrogatories will be used in litigation, if necessary.
See Rule 1.340 of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure
What Are Interrogatories?
Interrogatories are an imperative portion of the discovery process. Interrogatories are the formal request for answers to written questions. These questions must be answered completely and truthfully, and to the best of the party’s abilities, under oath. The victim’s/plaintiff’s lawyer will send out requests for interrogatories, and the defendant’s council probably will, too. Discovery generally does not happen all at once. Often, one side will wait to request interrogatories until receiving medical records or other types of discovery which will help in gathering more information about the case. Once that information is reviewed, the interrogatories can be drafted and served with more specific details, and therefore, will be more effective and provide more information about the issues at hand.
How To Answer Interrogatories
Interrogatories must be organized and numbered, with a blank area after each separately numbered interrogatory, allowing enough space for the question to be answered. If there is not enough space for the answer to the question, the party may attach their own additional paper containing the answers. The answering party must refer to the attached pages in the space given below each separately numbered question.
It is generally best to keep answers as short, simple, and direct as possible. You should not rely on separate discovery as answers. For example, you cannot respond by saying, “I don’t know, check the accident report”. Your answers need to stand alone on their own, without forcing the opposing party to sift through large documents. “Yes” or “no” answers will suffice if that response answers the question fully. This case deals with the sufficiency of different answers to interrogatories: State Road Dept. v. Florida East Coast Ry. Co., 212 So. 2d 315 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 1968).
You must be truthful and correct when stating specifics of the case. Interrogatories are not stressful and are relatively easy to answer, however, do not let the informality of the process lead you to overshare or misspeak. Interrogatories are still an extremely vital part of discovery and can either hurt or help your case depending on your performance.
Related: Personal Injury Response to Interrogatories
What Happens If I Don’t Answer Interrogatories?
If you are served with interrogatories, you are required to reply with the answers within 30 days of the interrogatories being served. Any objections by the party in receipt of the interrogatories must also be submitted within that 30-day period. But, a defendant may serve answers or objections within 45 days after service of the process and initial pleading on that defendant. However, the court may grant an allowance for either a longer or shorter time, depending on the request and the circumstances.
However, if a party chooses to not answer interrogatories, the opposing party will probably file a motion to compel, and if the interrogatories are still not answered, you could be held in contempt of the court.
You should either object to or answer the individual interrogatories, instead of avoiding them and possibly facing punishment. Advise with your lawyer before answering the questions, in order to figure out the best way to respond.
Related: How to Answer a Lawsuit in Florida
How To Object To Interrogatories
You cannot object to an interrogatory for reasons such as the answer involving opinion, the answer involves coming to a conclusion, or the answer will give information you have not yet shared with the opposing party. You also cannot respond with a “blanket objection” to the interrogatories. A “blanket objection” would be objecting to a large lump of the questions or even the entire set of interrogatories. You must object to each question one by one. Each objection has to be explained and specific to each question. However, you can object to interrogatories if a question is overbroad, annoying or embarrassing, irrelevant, privileged, an invasion of privacy, outside the scope of the case at hand, etc. A party is also not required to answer interrogatories that are “unduly burdensome” or would require a breach of confidentiality by being answered. It is also generally frowned upon to send and request detailed interrogatories where simple questions and answers would suffice.
If you decide to object to a question, you must include the reason for the objection. The reason for the objection must be explicitly stated and signed by the attorney making the objection.
If the party who requested the interrogatories still wants the question to be answered, they will have the responsibility of setting up a hearing. At the hearing, the objecting party will have to prove why their objection should be upheld. A “blanket objection” can be utilized by the court here, where a series of questions can be lumped together, instead of analyzed one by one, and identified as objectionable or not, as to expedite the hearing of the objections.
Check out this case about an overbroad, unreasonable request for interrogatories, where an objection should have been sustained: Mt. Sinai Medical Center, Inc. v. Perez-Torbay, 555 So. 2d 1300 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 1990)
When May Interrogatories Be Served On A Non-Party?
Interrogatories cannot be served on certain non-parties such as witnesses. Interrogatories are usually only answered by the plaintiff and defendant in the case. Under the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 1.340, any party may serve upon any other party written interrogatories to be answered 1) by the party the interrogatories are directed to or 2) if that party is a public or private corporation, a partnership or association, or a governmental agency, by any officer or agent, who must provide the information available to that party.
Take a look at this case dealing with different parties and interrogatories: Ohio Realty Inv. Co. v. Lawyers Title Ins. Corp. of Richmond, Va., 244 So. 2d 176 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist. 1971).
How Many Sets Of Interrogatories Can You Send?
In Florida, you may not send more than 30 interrogatories, including all subparts. Sometimes the court will allow a larger number for special circumstances. If you reach the 30-set limit, you have the option to request permission from the court to send more. It is always allowed to send less than the limit of 30. However, in family law, 10 interrogatories, including subparts, may also be sent to a party in addition to the standard 30 interrogatories contained in the Family Law Forms. A party must receive permission from the court to send more than 10 additional interrogatories.
In a Federal case, however, 25 interrogatories is the limit that you can send to the opposing party.
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Also see: Summary Judgment Hearings in Florida
Notice: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Florida law is always changing. Therefore, we strongly recommend talking with an experienced Florida lawyer to learn your rights.