Interrogatories in Car Accident Cases

In most car accident lawsuits, the parties will be asked to answer basic questions in writing.

In a personal injury lawsuit, interrogatories are written questions that one party sends to another party, asking for information about issues in the case. Answers to the questions must be in writing, under oath, and be served within a specified time, usually 30 days. Your state's rules of procedure (and case law) specify such things as the number of questions that can be asked, how and when you must object to certain questions, how long you have to respond, and how the answers can be used in the case. Read on to learn more.

Your Interrogatories to the Defendant

You can and should send Interrogatories to the defendant (the driver you're suing in a car accident lawsuit). Sometimes these are sent right along with the initial Complaint that starts the lawsuit. Here are some things to ask:

  • Fully identify yourself.
  • State in detail your version of how the accident happened.
  • Identify any witnesses to the accident.
  • Identify any reports or witness statements that you know about.
  • Reveal any documents that you will rely on at trial.
  • Identify any expert witnesses that you will call.
  • Describe your condition before the accident. (Did you have any physical impairments? Had you been drinking?)
  • Describe the condition of your vehicle before the accident. (Did it have any defects which could have contributed to the accident?)
  • State your contentions on relevant issues, such as whether you were negligent.
  • The amount of car insurance coverage that you have (if this question is allowed in your state).

Tip: Your court may have forms with approved questions that you can use.

The Defendant's Interrogatories to You

Along with the defendant's Answer to your Complaint, the defense lawyer will routinely send Interrogatories (along with a request that you produce documents). These are usually the form questions that the defense lawyer always sends in car accident cases. The defendant's questions will probably ask you to:

  • Fully identify yourself.
  • State your version of how the accident happened.
  • Identify any witnesses to the accident.
  • Identify any reports or witness statements that you know about.
  • Identify any expert witnesses that you will call.
  • List and describe your injuries.
  • List the health care providers that you have seen for treatment of your accident-related injuries.
  • Provide information about your pre-accident health.
  • List the financial losses that you claim, including medical bills and lost income.
  • If you claim a loss of income, describe your employment and earnings histories.
  • Identify any documents you may rely on at trial, including photos.

If you have a lawyer representing you, your lawyer will assist you in answering the defendant's questions. If you are representing yourself, be sure to prepare your answers carefully, since incorrect answers can seriously damage your case.

One other wrinkle you should know about: In many states, you have an obligation to supplement your answers if the facts change. For example, if you require additional medical treatment and you incur more medical bills after you send your answers to the defendant's questions, you must supplement your answers. If you don't, you may not be able to use the new evidence at trial. Therefore, be sure to supplement your Answers to Interrogatories before trial if you have any new facts to add.

Objections to Interrogatories

The rules of your court cover how and when you must object to Interrogatories. It may be sufficient to simply state a written objection, or you may have to file a motion asking the court to enter something called a "Protective Order" which protects you against having to answer the question.

A word of caution: You may feel entitled to object to certain questions that seem akin to prying, when in fact those questions are perfectly appropriate. Understand that when you file a lawsuit, you give up some of your privacy. A defendant can ask you about things which are relevant or "are reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of relevant and admissible evidence" (or some similar standard). Therefore, you will probably have to answer some questions that you don't think relate directly to the case.

However, you don’t give up all privacy rights simply by filing a lawsuit. Questions about things that are clearly irrelevant can be resisted. If you don't want to answer a question for a good legal reason, state an objection, seek a Protective Order or do whatever is necessary to avoid answering. For example, it may be over-reaching to ask about your medical history 10 or more years before the accident, or to ask about parts of your medical history that are unrelated to the injuries that you received in the car accident.

Don't be surprised by defense objections to your questions. Defense lawyers, particularly at large firms, love to try to frustrate you by objecting to questions that are clearly appropriate. If this happens, don't give in. Hang tough, argue your case and the court will support you if you have a valid objection.

Pros and Cons of Interrogatories

The major advantage of Interrogatories is that they are cheap. Other than the cost of your paper, a few extra stamps, and the time it takes to prepare them, they cost nothing. The big disadvantage is that they rarely yield any detailed information. Defense counsel draft the defendant's responses to only provide basic information.

To get more details, you will have to use other discovery procedures, such as document requests and depositions. (Learn about Depositions in Car Accident Cases.) Overall, Interrogatories are valuable for obtaining non-controversial background information, learning the identity of witnesses and documents and learning the basic contentions of your opponent. Use them.

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