Personal Injury Interrogatories
When seeking compensation for a personal injury, you have several legal options and personal injury interrogatories. One pathway you can choose is filing a claim with the insurance company. In other cases, you may choose to file a lawsuit. You may file a lawsuit when the insurance company denies your claim or is unreasonable in settlement negotiations. Contact a personal injury lawyer to see how you can get started.
Discovery Is a Critical Part of Your Personal Injury Case
Perhaps the most time-consuming and involved part of the lawsuit process is discovery. During this part of your case, you and the defendant exchange information in your possession.
You may need specific evidence that you do not have. You may also need specific questions answered to help establish facts in your case. While this process may seem tedious and mundane, it may be even more critical than the trial itself. You may be firing shots in the dark at trial without effective discovery.
At the same time, the defendant is trying to use the discovery process to undermine your case and bolster their own defense. They are trying to probe for weaknesses that they can attack at trial.
You have the legal ability and right to send certain inquiries and questions to the defendant that they must respond to or address. Although they may object to the questions or requests, any refusal to respond may go through the courts for a judge’s ruling.
The Four Different Types of Discovery
Here are some types of requests that you may send to the other side during the discovery process:
- Requests for admissions – The plaintiff may be trying to establish specific facts in their case. They may ask a series of yes and no questions that I ask the defendant to admit or deny certain facts.
- Requests for documents – The defendant may have documents in their possession that are relevant to your case and that you may need to help prove your allegations. Some examples include maintenance records in a slip-and-fall case and driver records in a truck accident case. Again, provided that your request is relevant and not overbroad, the defendant may need to comply and send you the documents.
- Depositions – you, the defendant, or other witnesses may receive requests to show up in person for up to seven hours and answer questions from attorneys for both parties in the case. The attorneys are trying to establish specific facts to lay a basis for testimony during the trial.
- Interrogatories – Each side may send questions to the other during the discovery process. These questions must relate solely to the facts of the case, and neither party can use them to draw legal conclusions. See the discussion below.
How Interrogatories Work in Your Personal Injury Case
If your personal injury case reaches the discovery phase, you can expect interrogatories to come into play. Your questions will be an attempt to learn information from the other party. Just as you have the right to ask these questions of the defendant, they also have the right to ask you.
The defendant often likes to use interrogatories to get plaintiffs on the record and potentially set up certain defenses. Therefore, you must be very careful when you are answering these questions. Never try to give any answers without the help of an experienced personal injury attorney who knows how to be on the lookout for specific traps. You can be confident that the insurance defense firm knows how to craft interrogatory questions to help their own case at trial.
Interrogatories can be a dangerous area for the plaintiff in the case. It is possible to say something at this stage that can damage your case if you reach trial.
How Opposing Counsel May Try to Trip You Up With Interrogatories
Opposing counsel may craft broad, open-ended questions to get you talking. Their goal is for you to potentially make statements they can use against you at trial if you say something different. The trick is to answer only the question asked without giving up any additional information. If it feels to you like interrogatory questions are a tool that can lead you into trouble, you are entirely correct.
The two most dangerous areas where interrogatories can venture are questions about the accident and the injury. One common strategy for the defendant is to blame you for the accident. They may be trying to maneuver you into a position where they can claim that you were at fault for your own injuries.
The defendant will want to know what you will allege about the accident at trial. Their interrogatories aim at getting a preview of your legal case. They may want to know who saw the accident, giving them an idea of who you will use as witnesses at trial.
Common Area for Interrogatories
The defendant will also ask precise questions about your injuries.
They will want to know:
- Where you suffered an injury
- What damages you have suffered as a result of the injuries
- Whether you have sought medical treatment
- Any pain and suffering
- The steps you have taken to follow medical recommendations
The questions will usually not be in a yes or no format. Instead, they will begin with statements such as “please state.” This alone can trip people up, as they might offer more information than necessary, which can surprisingly hurt their case in some situations.
Opposing Counsel May Ask You Tough and Difficult Questions
When you have filed a lawsuit, you should expect to get some very personal questions. You will have to answer these, as they are part of the case. It is standard procedure in discovery to go into detail about you and your injuries. You should count on being asked difficult and often unpleasant questions during your interrogatories. For example, if you contend that you suffered certain damages, you will be asked specific questions about them. You may even get questions about sexual function and intercourse if you claim loss of consortium damages.
If you are wondering, “can they ask that?” The answer is usually yes. Even if the interrogatory questions anger you or make you feel they have violated your privacy, you must still provide an answer.
Objections to Interrogatory Questions
Your personal injury attorney may find grounds to object to the interrogatory question, but a judge may decide whether you need to answer. If you fail to object to the interrogatory, you will lose the right to appeal in the future.
Sometimes, the insurance company may overstep their bounds with what they are asking. You must either object to the interrogatory questions or answer them. If you do not object, you will need to answer.
Here are some common grounds for objection to interrogatory questions:
- The question was overbroad
- The interrogatory is unduly burdensome or oppressive
- The question assumes a fact that is not in the evidence
- The interrogatory question was argumentative
- The question asked is irrelevant to the matter at hand
You only have 30 days to respond to interrogatory questions. However, you should not attempt to rush your responses. You must take as much time as necessary to craft very detailed responses. Otherwise, you may make a mistake that can haunt you.
The insurance company is seeking information to help them make their own case. Expect them to cherry-pick from your interrogatory responses, so it is vital to be as careful as possible when answering these questions. At the same time, the defendant will also want to look at the case you plan on making against them in court. If the defendant’s attorney has done their job correctly, there should be nothing at trial that should surprise them.
Responding to Interrogatory Questions
Your interrogatory responses are in written format. The defendant has your answers in their hands, and they can use them against you at trial. If you have testified in a manner inconsistent with your interrogatory responses, the defendant can try to impeach your testimony. Your previous responses may damage your credibility. Your answers to interrogatories may be evidence at trial (as long as they comply with the Rules of Evidence).
Finally, you should be careful about not providing answers to questions. If certain interrogatories go unanswered, it may be grounds for granting summary judgment to the defendant. Unanswered interrogatories that ask another party to indicate what it contends may lead to specific facts being “established” and not in dispute. Then, the court may proceed to issue a ruling on the law.
You Can Also Use Interrogatories to the Defendant to Your Advantage
Similarly, you should also take great care when drafting interrogatories to send to the defendant. Again, an experienced attorney knows the correct form and format to ask questions. Make sure you stick closely to the language you have already used in the complaint.
Your interrogatories will aim at proving precise points. For example, suppose you have suffered an injury in a slip and fall accident. In that case, your interrogatories may focus on proving that the defendant should have known about the dangerous condition and did nothing. You may ask questions about staffing and practices for inspecting the store. You are trying to get the defendant to admit to critical facts that can help you prove liability in your case. There is a definite skill and talent in drafting effective interrogatories for a personal injury case.
Discovery Allows Each Party to Evaluate Their Case
You will generally have a good idea coming out of discovery of where you stand in your case. By this point, it should be apparent what evidence you have in your possession that you can use at trial. The insurance company also knows its own relative position at this point. If you succeed at eliciting evidence that can bolster your claim, the insurance company may begin to panic.
Often, the discovery process results will determine whether the two parties move to trial or end up settling their case. The insurance company often realizes that you may have a strong case. Therefore, they may get more aggressive about trying to settle. If they were making you paltry settlement offers before discovery, they may see fit to now raise your offer. The last thing that an insurance company wants to do is face a jury with a weak case. A jury will likely order the insurance company to pay more than they might have to pay you if they settled your case.
Interrogatories and depositions are just a preview of some of the scrutiny you may face at trial. If you proceed to a hearing, you can expect a cross-examination from the insurance company’s lawyer and even more prodding questions. Your attorney is here to help protect you, and they will advise you about legal strategy. If you have struggled during discovery, your attorney will work with you to help make you a better witness at trial.
An Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Will Help You Through Discovery
Regardless, the discovery process is not one the average person has the knowledge or skill to handle on their own. Discovery is often a battle between two sides, with definite winners and losers. An experienced personal injury lawyer knows how to effectively obtain evidence from the other side that puts you in a stronger position. In addition, they also will know how to help you craft responses to the interrogatories in a manner that may not put you in a legal hole.
You can sink your case if you wait until discovery to hire a personal injury lawyer. You might lose the opportunity to obtain critical evidence that you need to prove your claims. Thus, you should hire an attorney as soon as possible after the accident.
Many people put off hiring a lawyer until later in the process, but hiring legal help from the start sets the stage for a successful case. That said, if you are into the process and just now looking for a lawyer, you should not hesitate to hire one. Even if it’s later in the process, legal representation can make the difference between a successful case and leaving money on the table. Contact us at G & K to receive your consultation.