If you have had to file a lawsuit in order to wake up the insurance company for the wreck caused by their insured, you will at some point be required to answer “Interrogatories” sent to you and your attorney by the insurance defense lawyer to you. Interrogatories are simply questions you are required to answer under oath, to “interrogate” you about certain issues regarding your case.
The scope of these questions can be broad and surprising to you. A defense attorney is allowed to ask written questions that might possibly lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. That definition is pretty broad. I always explain to my clients that questions at this stage are like a large broad funnel...all kinds of trash can be dumped into it, but only the relevant material would actually make it through at trial. But for now, almost anything goes. Judges usually are very liberal in allowing material in at the stage, so your best course of action is to buckle down and be smart about it and get it done as quickly as possible in order to move your case forward.
Most of the questions in interrogatories asked have little to no bearing on your case. Other questions will be answered by our team, such as the amount of your medical bills, and a list of your current medical providers. Three questions, however, you must always answer and do so with precise accuracy or they could wind up biting you later. Without further ado, here we go:
List All Witnesses with Knowledge Of The Facts In Your Case
In my opinion, this is THE most important question to get right. For not-so-obvious reasons, this question is crucial, and here is why. If you do not list each and every person with knowledge of your case, there is a good chance that you will never be able to call crucial fact and harms witnesses to testify on your behalf should the case go to trial.
So who exactly are these people? These are not only any witnesses to your wreck, which are usually obvious and on the police report, but people with knowledge of how the injuries from your car wreck have affected your life and your family’s life. These people include the obvious… your spouse, children, parents and other family. But the most important and crucial before and after witnesses are the people that are not so obvious… your boss, co-workers, pastor, fellow church members, people who you used to work out with at the gym. It can be people that you casually run into in the normal course of your life. I once called to court a client’s accountant after the client had a significant brain injury to testify on his behalf… “Michael used to give me stock tips; now he cannot count his own change.” The testimony lasted less than 5 minutes. Sometimes less is more and that testimony spoke volumes.
Think about who your potential audience is. A juror is likely to find a family member less credible than your boss, co-worker, best friend, a neighbor who had to help mow your grass. I had a juror after a trial once tell me that family member witnesses were not as credible because they “have a personal stake in the game.” I have heard other jurors say that they “expect family to lie for family.” I need family as well as non-family members to share your character traits with the jury. I ask my clients to list at least 5 people outside of family that know them. Really know them… warts and all. These are people that will not only share how the wreck has changed your life, but also share the story of your honesty, your work ethic, your frugality, your faith, and your generosity towards your fellow man and community. These are the core issues that must be addressed to give the jury a glimpse into the person you are to show them you are worthy of their time, their attention, and their verdict.
If you do not list these important people now in your interrogatories, you may never get an opportunity to do so later, and therefore they cannot be called. We can “supplement” these answers after they are originally answered, but the longer you wait, the bigger the defense will move to exclude them. Put a lot of thought into this and give me at least 5 people. The more the better. We don’t have to call everyone we list, but we certainly cannot call to trial anyone not on the list.
99.9 % of the time, this is no issue. However, the crucial importance of this must make the top 3 list due to the severity your credibility will take if there is any mistake made here. As long as you are honest, it usually cannot be used against you.
In trials, credibility is everything. If you do not reveal your entire criminal history, the defense will certainly point it out. It is what it is. Get it out early and be honest about it. It is not relevant to your current case, but the ramifications of trying to hide something embarrassing could devastate your case.
List All Prior Injuries You Have Had Before This Wreck
This one sounds easy, but people regularly miss the mark here. This is crucial to get right.
Insurance companies have long colluded with one another to share your information with other insurance companies so they can track all claims people like you have ever made. When I was an insurance adjuster back in the early 90’s it was called the “Index System.” All they needed was your social security number and off they went.
You have to understand why this question is important in order to put it in context. The term “prior injury” is quite broad to include just about any prior pains for which you have ever treated with a medical provider. Insurance defense attorneys want to try to link any prior pain before the wreck to the current pain you have experienced since the wreck. They want to cast the wreck as a mere “coincidence” that really has nothing to do with the wreck caused by their insured. It may sound preposterous, but the defense attorneys do a good job of confusing the jury, questioning everything, and not proving a darn thing. Jury research shows that a juror that is confused or uncertain, they will not find for a plaintiff, or at least reduce the verdict significantly.
So put some thought into answering these questions. Think of the obvious ones… ER visits and hospital stays. Also try and remember all primary care visits, chiropractor visits, and think of all the reasons you told the doctors as to why you went to see them. Some of these issues may be long forgotten. The insurance company’s defense lawyer has already done everything in their power to get their grubby paws on your previous medical records to try and impeach your credibility.
I hope this helps you get safely past this portion of your discovery safely, swiftly, and confidently.