A bad response to a request for admissions can kill a good claim or defense. After the pleadings are closed, when the complaint and answer have been filed, everybody gets down to business trying to gather the other side’s evidence. Interrogatories (“Provide the name and address of your insurance carrier”), document requests (“Please produce the minutes of the March board meeting”), and requests for admissions (“Admit that you own the car that hit mine”) are used to gather early facts. Depositions of important witnesses may come later, but if a request for admissions isn’t handled properly, you may never get that far.
The purpose of discovery is to get the undisputed facts out of the way so the trial can focus on what needs proving. For instance, there’s no need for a car dealer to prove you were at the dealership on a certain date if you admit you bought a car there. One of the reasons discovery takes so long is that parties routinely ignore the other side’s requests until forced to respond.
Do Not Ignore A Request for Admissions
But unlike other forms of discovery, a request for admissions cannot be so easily ignored. When you neither admit nor deny the statements, nor object to the request, they are automatically admitted. If you fail to deny a statement like this — “Please admit you took a loan from the bank and failed to pay it back” — you’ve killed your defense to the bank’s claim.
It’s one of those procedural tricks lawyers love to use against pro se’ers on the other side. When you fail to respond in 45 days, the lawyer goes in for the kill with a summary judgment motion that quotes your unintentionally admitted admissions.
I’ve fallen for this myself. The judge in my case was largely unsympathetic when I complained about being tricked. After all, the rules of civil procedure for every state have been online for years. Of course, you’d have to know to look for this little tidbit, or read the whole code.
Not A Piece of Advice
IANAL [I am not a lawyer], but the best thing to do in my experience is to object to a request for admissions until you know what you want to admit. Common objections are that the statements sought to be admitted are irrelevant, that they pertain to privileged communications, that they are argumentative or presumptuous, or they’re vague or compound. You can also object that you lack any personal knowledge about them, or that the number of requests is harassing or unduly burdensome. Certainly you want to tell the truth when you do respond, but you’ll want to understand the implications of your admissions and develop a strategy around them before responding.
Be very careful not to deny statements you know to be true, even if you’re cute about the wording. You could end up paying attorney fees when the judge doesn’t get your humor.