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Rick Shapiro
Rick Shapiro
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Demystifying Injury Litigation for Clients: What Are Interrogatories?

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When I tell a client that we have received interrogatories on their case their level of anxiety skyrockets if they have not been involved in civil personal injury litigation before. And why do they call these questions interrogatories anyway? Leave it to lawyers to have a six syllable word titled "interrogatories" instead of just calling them “questions." We could save four syllables and drop the arcane legal phrase "interrogatories" entirely. In any case, a set of interrogatories includes a series of questions where one party in a civil lawsuit can require that another party answer the questions under oath.

All About Interrogatories

Okay, Steve Lombardi explained in his post (see end of article) how not to answer interrogatories: don’t make up stuff, and don’t answer in a Bushism and mangle the English language. Devon Glass, played it straight in his post listed below. I am giving the straight scoop about how your answers must be honest and your attorney must know the gory details and decide what exactly must be disclosed.

Many states have a 30 day time limit for responding and some states like Virginia have a 21 day response time frame in state court. Every state has a set of civil procedure rules that govern these questions and many other aspects of discovering information from another party. There is a whole body of evidence law and discovery law in each state which interprets what types of questions can be asked but it is sufficient to say that most questions that have some possible relevance to the lawsuit can be inquired into.

PLAINTIFF’S ANSWERS TO DEFENDANTS INTERROGATORIES AND

RESPONSE TO REQUEST FOR PRODUCTION OF DOCUMENTS

NOW COMES, the Plaintiff, by counsel, for her answers to Defendant’s Interrogatories and responses to Request for Production of Documents, states as follows:

Can the other party ask about legal advice or discussions between you and your attorney?

Absolutely not. This is an example of protections of the the attorney-client privilege and normally an attorney will answer with an objection asserting the attorney-client privilege. It would be up to the judge in the case to overrule this type of privilege. There are a number of other special privileges that protect information. Typically, when a party sends a set of interrogatories to our client, we send the pleading on to our client and explain to them that they should answer all of the questions that deal with factual matters such as how the accident happened, what parts of the body were injured, a list of all medical providers treated with and those types of questions. We will tell the client that if a question involves a legal issue that is unclear, that we will assist the client with that answer and get the client’s approval to a final complete set of answers to interrogatories before it is filed. Answers to interrogatories must be normally be notarized, and if a client resides in a different city the final set of answers will be notarized, and mailed back to our office.

What is the significance of interrogatories in a lawsuit?

One point is that the other party lawyer can stand up in court and show a jury the interrogatories/question and a client’s answer so long as the attorney notifies the court that it intends to make this information known to a jury. Also, interrogatories, because under oath are essentially testimony of a party. When a party gives an answer under oath it is essentially stating a client position on that point and it is hard to change that testimony in the future. Naturally, circumstances can change– such as a physical condition can grow worse, and if the condition or situation changes, it is appropriate to file a supplemental answer notifying the other party of the additional or supplemental information. In some cases, we may file 10 to 15 times supplemental answers on behalf of a client, updating information.

Especially because interrogatories may be read to a jury, any attorney must be careful and review all answers with a client before they are placed under oath. I’ve had the experience of several clients not fully disclosing information about a prior injury or a prior condition that they didn’t think was relevant– and did not want to tell me about– so they did not feel it needed to be listed. Once I have reviewed all of the information with the client, I’ve convinced the client that under the law they must provide the information even though they don’t believe it is relevant. The test in virtually every state and federal court is that if the information may in any way lead the opposite party to some relevant point in the case, it must be disclosed. It is clearly good legal advice to a client to always disclose what could possibly be required because simply giving the answer under oath in an interrogatory, in no way means that the information could be utilized at trial with a jury. In other words, there is a lot of information in injury litigation that must be disclosed, but there is a much tighter requirement about what evidence is admissible to a jury and a judge will exclude all kinds of things that might have been disclosed in the interrogatory answers, but are later ruled not admissible at trial. A perfect example would be disclosing that a client was in a prior car accident 15 years ago and suffered personal injuries. If the current case involves a right elbow injury, and the prior injury was a left foot injury, the prior foot injury must be disclosed, but would normally not be admissible at trial as long as we can show it has no relevance to the nature of the current personal injuries in the current car accident that is in litigation.

The purpose of this great series of articles by my Injuryboard injury attorney colleagues is to give injury clients basic information if they are involved in a lawsuit for the first time, and to explain mysteries of the civil injury litigation process:

I was in an automobile accident. What should I do? Ten Tips For Hawaii Drivers, Wayne Parsons on September 14, 2009 – 3:59 AM EST.

What would a caveman bring to meet with the lawyer?, Steve Lombardi , September 15, 2009 11:00 AM

Solving Legal Problems, Being a Client, Back to the Basics, Steve Lombardi , September 15, 2009 8:48 AM

Car Accident Injury Client: What Makes the Case Good or Bad? (The Collision & Medical Care) , Rick Shapiro September 16, 2009 9:38 AM

Being a Client: More Tips To Help Improve Your Case If You’ve Been In An Car Accident , Devon Glass , September 17, 2009 8:39 AM

Presumed Guilty: How to Avoid Having Insult Added to Injury When You’ve Been Hurt in a Car Crash, Pierce Egerton , September 18, 2009 4:28 PM

What To Do After An Accident When The Adjuster Is There First, Mike Bryant | September 19, 2009 6:26 PM

What Questions Is The Lawyer Going To Ask Me At The Initial Interview For My Injury Or Death Case?, Wayne Parsons | 20 September 2009 12:01

What makes a case good or bad?, Steve Lombardi, 21 September 2009 12:57 PM

What To Do After An Accident When The Adjuster Has A Tape Recorder, Mike Bryant , September 23, 2009 10:01 PM

Do I have a good or a bad case?, Devon Glass, September 24, 2009

What are interrogatories and how do I answer them?, Steve Lombardi, September 29, 2009

Interrogatories: A Written Deposition Devon Glass | Lansing, MI

About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper Lewis & Appleton is a law firm which focuses on injury and accident law and our attorneys have handled thousands of car accident cases. Check out our case results to see for yourself. In addition, check out our FREE special reports on distracted driving and The Best Guide to Car Accident Injuries in Virginia. Our primary office in based in Virginia Beach, Virginia (VA). Our injury attorneys also host an extensive injury law video library on Youtube . Furthermore, our lawyers proudly edit the Virginia Beach Injuryboard and Norfolk Injuryboard as a pro bono public information service.

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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    Very good point about the difference in what they can ask about here and what can actually get in at trial. I often point out how we use that in the questions we ask, so the client understands that the looser rules really are important to what we find out.

  2. Steve Lombardi says:
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    Rick: You’ve covered the subject hitting on several things no one else covered. It surprises me how many parts of these tasks we do day-in and day-out, that we just automatically do; not thinking much about them. This article will help some litigants with questions about interrogatories. Well done. Steve