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Personal Injury Claim Basics: What Is An Interrogatory And Why Did You Get One?

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In a personal injury case, evidence is everything. The evidence gathered in your case can ultimately determine not only how you proceed, but whether or not you end up with a settlement that's even remotely fair.

Part of the evidence-gathering process that takes place in contested personal injury claims is the interrogatory. Learn more about its function and what to expect so that you understand how to handle one.

What Is an Interrogatory?

Interrogatories are nothing more than written questions, sent by either side of a personal injury case to the other. Whichever side receives the interrogatory is legally obligated to fill it out and return it. If they don't they can face sanctions from the court -- including a summary judgment against them.

An interrogatory is part of the fact-gathering process that goes on in a personal injury claim as it progresses toward a trial. Receiving an interrogatory doesn't necessarily mean, however, that you can't settle the claim without a trial. In fact, interrogatories and other fact-gathering steps often resolve open questions about the situation surrounding an accident and injury. That can ultimately help lead to a compromise and settlement.

What Types of Questions Are Asked?

You can expect questions that ask for information that would be the same no matter what accident happened -- including personal information like your full name, your marital status, and other facts about yourself -- and questions that are specific to the case. Those questions might include the names of any witnesses and whether or not you have photos of the accident scene. 

What Is the Defense Looking for in an Interrogatory?

One of the big things you can expect an interrogatory to delve into is your medical history. You'll probably be asked who your physicians are, what treatments you've received, and what your health is generally like. The insurance company is, quite naturally, looking for any pre-existing conditions that they can blame for your condition. 

For example, if you suffered a slip-and-fall injury that ended up requiring surgery on your knee to repair a torn ligament, the defense's insurance company might use an interrogatory to ask you about prior knee injuries and any treatment. Their hope is to uncover some evidence that you had the injury prior to the fall you took.

What Else Should You Know?

It's important to discuss your answers to an interrogatory with your personal injury attorney. You cannot refuse to complete it without destroying your ability to make a claim and you cannot lie on one. 

However, you are not required to volunteer any information that isn't asked. Sometimes a question on an interrogatory is phrased in a confusing way or is too broad -- essentially "fishing" for anything it might uncover. In those cases, your attorney can object to the question.

For more information about how to handle questions from an insurance company's attorney after an accident, consider consulting a personal injury law firm today.