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Q:
How do I answer interrogatories?

A:

It’s a new week and the InjuryBoard group is again writing about commonly asked client questions. We have seven topics to cover, each lawyer is choosing one per week, and by the end of seven weeks we will each have covered all seven topics. I will also post them on the Lombardi Law Firm web blog, The Verdict. That way if you have questions or comments you’ll be able to contact me directly. Enough talk let’s get to the subject today, which is answering written questions in your lawsuit.

Interrogatories are written questions sent to you through your lawyer by the other attorney. They are questions that when you read it your brain goes, “Huh? What?” The questions are written in lawyer-speak. In law school we lawyer(s) are taught the importance of gobbledygook and over time we strive to perfect it. Hardly ever are interrogatories written in plain English and if you were a lawyer you’d know why, but you’re not so you won’t and I can’t tell you why because if I did you wouldn’t understand me. That was a mouthful.

Okay, if you promise to tell no one I’ll take a stab at explaining why. This is an entirely sexist example but for many of you it will work. If you were a woman and you had to write a question for your boyfriend or husband to understand and it was about buying you the latest fashion jeans at the mall, how simple could you write it? Or, if you are a man and had to write a simple description of how to catch a fish or mow the lawn, how wordy would the explanation get? Now you understand. In the end you’d just break it down to simple questions that you yourself would ask and then you’d do it yourself. And that’s why it’s easier for most lawyers (he or she) to just ask you a few simpler more straightforward questions and then write the answer for you. See I did it there with the “he or she”; I slipped it in to see if you were awake. After doing this for 30 years I’ve begun to talk at our house just like a lawyer. “Barbara, what did you mean by that?” And raising teenagers was even more fun, with questions in my repertoire like “That’s an interesting answer. Now can you answer my question?” Teenagers absolutely hate that question, because they were hoping the smoke screen was working.

In law nothing is simple because in reality the English language is extremely imprecise.

So let’s try to make this easy. Interrogatories are questions. That’s easy. The word interrogatory sounds like interrogation so think of it in those terms with the exception you aren’t tied down to a chair, there is no hot-bright light beating down on you and no one is putting cigarettes out on your forehead.

HOW NOT TO ANSWER QUESTIONS IN A LAWSUIT

Let me warm you up with one example of how not to answer the questions. I’m fond of telling Shannon that if you know what you don’t want it helps you narrow down the possibilities and that helps you know more about what you do want. So let’s look first at what you don’t want for an answer.

Huh? Let me hear that again only this time with Jimmy Kimmel explaining.

Thank you for explaining that Jimmy Kimmel, now it’s much clearer. The good news is in answering your lawsuit questions, you won’t be on TV. And it’s not likely Jimmy Kimmel cares about the issues in your case; so relax.

YOU HAVE TO SWEAR TO YOUR ANSWERS – REALLY, I SWEAR !

These interrogatory questions require answers you will swear to so make sure you think before answering. Of course some don’t require much thinking. Like the ones that ask for your name, age and dependents. Then there are others that have moderate levels of thinking, like tell us about your work and educational history. And then there are those that take a lot of thinking, like how did you get injured and why do you think the guy you sued is at fault? Of course your lawyer should help with answering the tougher questions. If they don’t help you, then fire them and get a new lawyer; one that actually works.

GROUPING QUESTIONS INTO BUCKETS

These questions have answers that go into four big answer buckets.

Bucket One: How did the accident happen? (This is the liability bucket.)

Bucket Two: How bad were you injured? (This is the damages bucket.)

Bucket Three: Tell us about yourself? (This is the, who are you bucket.)

Bucket Four: Have you ever done anything bad. (This is the help me make you look bad to the jury bucket.)

So how do you answer these questions?

1. Truthfully.

2. Accurately.

3. Completely, as is possible with available information.

4. And precisely.

Now truthfully means you tell it like it is, without drama and without being deceptive or cute. Accurately means you provide the amount of detail available to you. Completely means if all you have to do is read a tax return to get the information, and you have the tax return then you dig it out of the closet and provide the necessary information or you provide the tax return and say, “See the tax return attached.” Precisely means you need to read the question asked and answer that question; not the one you’d like them to ask but the one they did ask.

We can’t talk about answering questions without visiting Bushisms.

"I promise you I will listen to what has been said here, even though I wasn't here." --at the President's Economic Forum in Waco, Texas, Aug. 13, 2002

"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test." -Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001

"Tribal sovereignty means that; it's sovereign. I mean, you're a -- you've been given sovereignty, and you're viewed as a sovereign entity. And therefore the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities." --Washington, D.C., Aug. 6, 2004 (Watch video clip)

"I couldn't imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah." --at a White House menorah lighting ceremony, Washington, D.C., Dec. 10, 2001 (Listen to audio clip)

"You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror." --interview with CBS News' Katie Couric, Sept. 6, 2006

That last one is really about truthful deposition answers so keep it in mind for a later blog post.

THE ENEMY TO ANSWERING INTERROGOTORY ANSWERS

Your enemy is procrastination. Don’t delay in answering the lawyer questions. Sit right down on the day you receive them and begin to jot answers down on the paper. Don’t let the words confuse you. Read it and ask yourself, “What is the main point of this question?” Get as much done in one sitting as you can and then call your lawyer’s secretary to set up an appointment to go over your answers. The lawyer will help you finish adding to the answer to make it complete. Before you do the sit-down-with-your-lawyer you should review and add information several times over that first week. I realize the questions are hideously complex or confusing, but do your best. Don’t worry so much about all the verbiage; focus more on the import of the question. Most lawyers can’t ask a question straight up because there are so many times when they did and the other side didn’t give them information they claimed was outside the scope of the request. So instead of asking, “What medical bills did you get from your injuries in this accident?”, they will ask much more involved question with nine subparts and in a way that only a Judge could understand. Hey I do it too, we have to or else those dastardly defense lawyers will play the word game.

A BETTER DEFENSE LAWYER

If you want my opinion I think Marina Orlova, Hot-For-Words would have made a good defense lawyer. Her Russian accent would have been more enjoyable to listen to than most defense lawyers I come into contact with. I’ve never read the Nerd Word of the Day, anatidaephobia in interrogatories, and my guess is neither has your lawyer. But you could really shock them by writing into your answer that you give to your lawyer. If you wrote one big word into your answers it would make the lawyer’s job more enjoyable.

HELPFUL AND NOT-SO-HELFUL PHOBIAS FOR WRITING INTERROGATORY ANSWERS

Most people when reading interrogatories for the first time experience atelophobia. (Fear of imperfection.)

Many people when reading the interrogatory asking for the amount of damages suffered develop arithmophobia. (Fear of numbers.)

The first time you meet the adjuster you’ll likely suffer from autodysomophobia or blennophobia. (It’s the fear of one that has a vile odor or slime.)

It’s alright to have hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia when answering interrogatories. The shorter the words you use, the better. You don’t have to use long words; you don’t even have to appear smart. In fact the dumber you are the better; remember who it is you’ll be dealing with. Just be straight and honest, accurate and complete. Do not succumb to logophobia or kakorrhaphiophobia, because your lawyer will help you with the words you don’t understand this will assist you to avoid failure.

Having a healthy dose of mythophobia (fear of myth or stories or false statements) is helpful.

Next time I’ll talk about your frame of mind before the deposition, but until then read the works of Devon, Rick, Wayne, Mike, Pierce and I about all those common questions you have.

Amy Winehouse - Procrastination

Join these lawyers for more on commonly asked questions that clients ask.

Wayne Parsons, Devon Glass, Mike Bryant, Rick Shapiro and Pierce Egerton