If your case goes to litigation, you must answer interrogatories within the first few months after the lawsuit is filed (others can be served later in the case). Interrogatories are written questions from opposing counsel — part of the discovery process — designed to give them basic information about you and your case. They must be answered in writing and under oath (notarized) and returned to opposing counsel within 30 days. While different lawyers have different methods, it is common for plaintiffs’ lawyers to mail their clients the defendant’s interrogatories with limited instructions on how to answer them. The plaintiffs often receive vague instructions to “answer as best you can” and return them to the lawyer. Here are some basic instructions to save you some time and anxiety when answering interrogatories.
The Four Basic Types of Interrogatories in a Personal Injury Case
The four basic types of initial interrogatories (aside from the obvious ones, such as “State the name and address of the person answering these interrogatories”) are: List questions, Yes/No, and if yes, questions, Narrative questions, and Lawyer questions. How you answer each question and how thorough your answer should depend on the type.
1) List Questions
List questions ask you to answer with a list. Some examples:
- Jobs you had in the past 10 years. For each job, list the name, address, dates you worked there, and pay.
- Other names you have used and when you used them
- Addresses where you lived for the past 10 years, dates you lived there, and spouse names if married
- Doctors and medical facilities that treated you for the injuries in this case. List the date and injury treated.
- Other doctors and facilities that treated you in the past 10 years. List the dates and conditions treated.
- People who know about issues in this lawsuit. List their names, addresses, and what they know.
Answer these fully. Leaving things out could limit your witnesses or evidence later.
For dates, list a range like “March 2010 – February 2011” instead of every date. These questions don’t need day-by-day detail.
If you can’t list everything, say you tried but can’t recall all details. Give the info you can remember.
2) Yes/No and if Yes Questions
These ask a yes/no question first. Only answer the second part if you said yes. Some examples:
- Do you wear glasses, contacts, or hearing aids? If yes, who prescribed them, when, and examiner name and address?
- Have you been convicted of a crime punishable by over 1 year in jail? If yes, list the crime, date, and place.
- Were you sick or disabled at the time of the incident in the complaint? If yes, describe the condition.
- Did you drink alcohol or take drugs before the incident? If yes, list what, when, and how much.
- Were you charged with any violation due to the incident? If yes, describe the charge, your plea, court, reports, and recorded testimony.
If no, just write “no.” Only answer the second part if you said yes.
3) Narrative Questions
These ask for a description in your own words. Some examples:
- Describe how the incident happened, including what you did to prevent it.
- Describe what each party did that was negligent.
- Describe your injuries, including body parts affected and permanent effects.
Answer briefly but completely. Don’t speculate or include extra details. Your deposition will cover details. Just give the basics.
4) “Lawyer” Questions
Your lawyer will answer questions about experts, evidence, settlements, and witnesses. Leave these blank for your lawyer.
What Happens After You Return Your Draft Interrogatory Answers to Your Lawyer?
As an initial matter, your draft interrogatory answers should be returned to your lawyer as quickly as possible. He or she will need time to revise them into final form and have you come in to sign them before sending them to the defense lawyer within the 30-day deadline. Please keep a copy of your draft answers to compare them to the final answers your lawyer prepared. When your lawyer calls you in to sign the final answers, take the time to read them thoroughly, comparing them to your draft answers. If there are any errors, make sure they are corrected. You are signing these under oath. If, after your interrogatory answers are provided to opposing counsel, you realize that you forgot to include something in your answers (or you made a mistake), tell your lawyer as soon as possible. It is easy for him or her to provide a supplemental answer correcting the error, and it is best done as soon as possible. It looks far better if you voluntarily disclose the error or omission than if the defendant discovers it independently. As a final piece of advice, never intentionally lie in your interrogatory answers. The court can impose sanctions if you are caught, including dismissing your lawsuit. Nothing can sink a case faster than lying. Accurately answering interrogatories is crucial in a car accident case. Most insurance companies will try to place some of the blame for the wreck on the plaintiff. If this occurs, the jury will determine the level of comparative negligence between the parties. Any lie will ruin the credibility of most of the important issues in your case.