Personal Injury

Interrogatories in a Car Accident Case

Reviewed by David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
How interrogatories work in a car accident lawsuit, and the kinds of questions you can expect to be asked.

If you've been involved in an auto accident, and you've decided to pursue a claim for your car accident injuries and other losses, there's a chance that at some point you'll need to take the matter to court by filing a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver. If so, soon after the initial complaint (the document that starts the case) and the other driver's "answer" are filed with the court, the discovery stage begins. During discovery, the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) and the defendant (the person being sued) exchange information regarding the facts of the accident, the plaintiff's injuries, and other aspects of the case. Along with depositions, one of the main ways this is done is through interrogatories. (Learn more about the discovery phase of a personal injury case.)

Interrogatories are written sets of questions (although they’re not always phrased as questions) that one party in a lawsuit sends to the other. The responding party must answer the questions in writing and under oath, within a certain time frame. (Note: If you settle your car accident case with the car insurance company, and you never file a lawsuit, interrogatories won't be utilized. Learn more about the difference between insurance claims and lawsuits.)

What Kind of Information is Exchanged in Car Accident Interrogatories?

In a car accident case, it’s likely that the parties have differing accounts of how the crash occurred. So car accident interrogatories will usually center around specific factors -- distracted driving, speed, drug/alcohol use -- that might have contributed to the crash. In that way, interrogatories will allow each party to hear the other side’s story in order to best prepare their own case, especially when it comes to proving fault for the car accident.

Let's look at some sample questions to get a better idea of what to expect.

Interrogatories sent from the plaintiff to the defendant, or vice versa, in a car accident lawsuit might include:

  • Describe, in your own words, how the accident occurred.

  • Provide the year, make, and model, and current registrant of the vehicle you were driving at the time of the accident.

  • Provide the company, address, and policy number for any automobile insurance policy of the vehicle involved in the accident.

  • How fast were you going at the time of the accident?

  • Within the past 10 years, have you been involved in any other automobile accidents (as the driver)? If so, please provide the date, nature of the accident, and any related legal outcome.

  • Provide the names and addresses of any known witnesses to the accident.

  • At the time of the accident, were you taking any medications? If so provide the name of the medication, dosage, and last dose taken prior to the accident.

  • List every traffic violation you’ve had in the past 10 years.

  • In the 24 hours prior to the accident, had you consumed any alcohol? If so, please list the type, amount, and time consumed.

  • State the exact location where the accident occurred.

  • Where were you coming from, and traveling to, when the accident occurred?

  • Please list any photographs, sketches, reports, or diagrams regarding the accident that you have knowledge of, including their current location.

The defendant will likely also include interrogatories about the plaintiff’s injuries and relevant medical treatment, as well as any potential pre-existing injuries to the same areas of the body. (Learn more about how medical treatment affects the value of a personal injury settlement.)

Interrogatory Limits, Response Times, and Objections

You can't send an unlimited number of interrogatories to the other side. Usually, each side is limited to around 25 interrogatory questions -- that's the rule in most civil cases in Texas, for example, unless the court approves more.

The time for sending your response to interrogatories also varies from state to state. In New York, you have 20 days to respond if you were served by mail, while in California you usually have 35 days.

If a party believes that an interrogatory isn’t relevant to the case, or is too vague, there are legal grounds under which they can object. If the two sides can’t come to an agreement on a certain interrogatory (or a proper response to it), or if a party doesn’t respond within the given time (without a valid reason,) the court will intervene and make a ruling.

Learn more about interrogatories in a personal injury case.

If you've been involved in a car accident within the last three years, please consider taking our car accident survey so that we can include your experience in Martindale-Nolo's 2018 Car Accident Survey. Your participation will help inform others about their situation and options before dealing with their car accident.

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