Writ of Inquiry Law and Legal Definition

Writ of Inquiry is a writ issued in certain actions at law, ordering the sheriff to empanel a jury and act as a judge in a trial held to ascertain and assess the plaintiff's damages, who has won a default judgment on an unliquidated claim.

In Elsey v. International R. Co., 93 A.D. 115 (N.Y. App. Div. 1904), the court held that “The object of a writ of inquiry is primarily to aid the court in the assessment of damages. The writ is issued by it, or by a judge or justice thereof, and it may direct the inquisition to be returned to it evidently for its consideration. It is like the practice in an equity action to submit specific questions to the jury, but which are ultimately to be passed upon by the court with the enlightenment coming from the verdict. The writ is issued by the court and it appoints the sheriff as its representative or alter ego to execute its mandate and to preside if the judge does not act himself. The essence of the proceeding is that a jury is to assess the damages, but in what precise manner or how they are to be impaneled is not defined. It is in the nature of an inquest of office to inform the conscience of the court. The execution of the writ may, however, be had in court before a jury drawn from the regular panel and with the judge presiding instead of the sheriff.”