Medical Malpractice Interrogatories
These written questions-and-answers are an important "discovery" tool.
Interrogatories are written questions that lawyers send to other parties after a medical malpractice lawsuit has been filed -- from the injured patient to the defendant health care provider, and vice versa.
Interrogatories are part of what is called pretrial "discovery," the process where each side in a lawsuit attempts to learn about the other side’s claims and arguments. In most states, attorneys are allowed to send each other 25 or 30 written questions for their clients to answer under oath.
Typical Interrogatory Questions for the Plaintiff in a Medical Malpractice Case
Plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases are usually asked interrogatory questions about:
- their family, educational, and employment background
- their criminal background, if any
- the medical condition that led up to the medical treatment in question in the medical malpractice case
- all of the plaintiff’s medical treatment relating to the medical condition at issue in the lawsuit
- all of the plaintiff’s conversations and communications with the defendants
- the medical problems that the plaintiff contends were caused by the defendant's alleged medical negligence
- all of the plaintiff’s prior medical problems and prior treatment for the condition in question in the case
- any prior injuries, accidents, workers’ compensation claims, or lawsuits
- their financial losses and other damages
- the witnesses, including expert witnesses, that they intend to call at trial, and
- their legal claims in the case.
The plaintiff’s medical treatment before, during, and after the incident in question is an important part of the interrogatories. In a medical malpractice case, the defense attorneys want to be sure that they know the name of every health care practitioner that the plaintiff treated with for the incident that gave rise to the lawsuit. They want to obtain all of the medical records for all of the medical treatment that the plaintiff has ever had with respect to the condition in question.
Preparing Answers to Interrogatories
Your lawyer will typically send you the interrogatories with instructions to answer the questions as best you can. Although the interrogatories are addressed to you, some of these questions are actually for your lawyer to answer. For example, the lawyer is the one who will prepare the answers to the questions asking for the plaintiff’s medical expert witnesses and precise legal claims in the lawsuit. Your lawyer and his/her staff should also assist you in identifying the names of your past and present health care practitioners. It is so important to make sure that you disclose all of your treatment that you and your lawyers will want to work together to make sure that you don’t miss any names.
Your lawyer will then revise and edit your answers, with your input and assistance. Answering the interrogatories is a joint effort between lawyer and client. The answers are a formal legal document that binds you to a position in your lawsuit. It is therefore critical for you and your lawyer to work together to make sure that you get the answers right.
Supplementing Answers to Interrogatories
Most states' court rules require that all litigants supplement their answers to interrogatories when they become aware of new information that makes their prior answers incorrect or incomplete. For example, if, when you answered the interrogatories, you could not remember the name of one of your doctors, you must supplement your answers if you subsequently remember the doctor’s name.
You can supplement and amend your legal theories in your answers to interrogatories (up to a certain point), but you should not change your position with respect to factual issues, since that could destroy your credibility. For example, if you originally answered that the defendant never told you about the complications that might arise from the medical treatment in question in the lawsuit, it would not look good to amend your answers to reflect that the defendant did explain the potential medical complications. Such a change would seriously impact your credibility, and you would most likely lose at trial because of the conflicting answers to the interrogatories.
However, if your original legal theory was that the defendant was negligent for failing to review your prior medical history before the surgery, but, after your lawyer takes the defendant’s deposition, you learn that the defendant used the wrong type of instrument during the surgery, you can certainly supplement your answers to the interrogatories to add a new theory of liability that the defendant performed the surgery incorrectly.
How are Interrogatories Used at Trial?
Your answers to interrogatories bind you in the lawsuit, from both a legal and a factual standpoint. If, for example, you testify at trial that you were out of work for two years as a result of the malpractice, but your answers to interrogatories stated that you were only out of work for one year as a result of the malpractice, then you can expect that the defense attorney will harshly cross examine you about this discrepancy. That is why it is critical for you and your lawyer to work together to make sure that your answers to the interrogatories are as accurate and complete as they possibly can be.
Both you and your lawyer should proofread the answers to make sure that there are no typos. A $500,000 lost earnings claim can easily turn into a $50,000 lost earnings claim in the answers to interrogatories, and now you and your lawyer will have a difficult time trying to explain to the jury why it should give you a pass on having made a key mistake on a critical legal document.