Can a Party Refuse to Answer Contention Interrogatories Based on a Work Product Claim?

January 16, 2002

At first blush, it might seem that the work product doctrine would protect from disclosure the identity of documents and facts supporting a party’s contentions. After all, compiling such data is at the heart of a party’s and its lawyer’s pre-trial work.

However, most courts do not allow a party to withhold answers to so-called “contention interrogatories” based on a work product claim. Although courts sometimes permit a party to delay answering such interrogatories, they reason that a party obviously intends to reveal the identity of documents and supporting facts at trial, and therefore cannot refuse to answer questions about them before trial. The reason decision in Robert W. Carver v Velodyne Acoustics, Inc., 202 F.R.D. 273 (W.D.Wash. 2001) takes this approach.

Lawyers should not count on the work product doctrine as a basis for refusing to respond to an adversary’s contention interrogatories.