When an injured cyclist brings a claim against the negligent driver/adverse insurance company, it is imperative that the cyclist’s attorney build their case, and restrict the insurance company’s case, by using what are called “special interrogatories.”
Special interrogatories are questions that the cyclist’s attorney can write pursuant to the California Civil Code that are then “served” (via mail or by a process server) on the other side. The other side then generally has either 30 or 35 days (depending on the circumstances) in which to answer those questions under oath, in writing.
Basic Special Interrogatories
These interrogatories can be used to find out what the other side know, for example:
- “Please state whether you have conducted any investigation relating to the bicycle/auto collision.”
- “If your answer was yes, please identify each person who participated in the investigation.”
- “Please set forth the insurance claim file number.”
The answers to these, and other questions, can provide useful information, such as the identity of witnesses and the insurance claim information. It can also prevent unfair/unpleasant surprises later on in the negotiation/settlement process.
Obtaining Evidence with Special Interrogatories
Special interrogatories can also be used to discover photographs and other pieces of evidence:
- “Please state whether you possess any photographs, motion pictures, or other visual representations relating to the bicycle/auto collision.”
- “”If your answer was yes, please set forth the subject matter of each photograph, motion picture, or other visual representation.”
Case-Specific Special Interrogatories
Of course, the interrogatories demonstrated so far can be useful in just about every bicycle -accident case. But a skilled attorney will draft interrogatories that are specific to the facts of the particular bicycle-accident case. For example:
- “Do you deny that after your vehicle collided with the bicycle, that [name of cyclist] was thrown off of his bicycle and landed on his right shoulder?”
- “If your answer was yes, please set forth each fact or piece of evidence that you rely upon in supporting your denial.”
In many cases, an injured cyclist will be transported to the hospital immediately, without an opportunity to obtain a copy of the police report. Special interrogatories can help:
- “Please state whether you made a report of the incident to any public official or agency.”
- “If your answer was yes, please identify the public official or agency that is the present custodian of the report.”
Rebutting Insurance Companies’ Tactics
In most bicycle-accident cases, the insurance company will attempt at some point (usually later in the process) to make a claim that the cyclists’ treatment was unnecessary/unrelated. It is important to find out whether the insurance company will do this, and what evidence they will provide in support of their claim:
- “Do you contend that any medical treatment [name of cyclist] received was unnecessary?”
- “Do you contend that any medical treatment that [name of cyclist] received was necessitated by a condition that existed prior to the bicycle/auto collision?”
- “Please set forth each fact and piece of evidence upon which you rely in making your contention.”
Discovering Everything that the Driver Did Wrong
A skilled bicycle-accident lawyer must analyze the case thoroughly and must be creative, in order to discover everything that the negligent driver did wrong and why the driver did what was wrong. In a given case, a driver may have been late for an important meeting, may have just come from drinking at a bar, may have been driving for 14 hours straight, may have been arguing with a passenger, etc. In order to maximize the chances that the cyclist’s claim will be a success, it is important to understand the driver’s circumstances before, during, and after the accident:
- “Please state the approximate time you woke up on the day of the collision.”
- “Please identify each business to which you traveled on the day of the incident.”
- “Please identify each occupant of your vehicle at the time of the incident.”
Preventing the Negligent Driver from Changing His/Her Story
In order to prevail in a case with a less-than-honest driver, it is essential that the bicycle-accident attorney force the driver to choose a story and stick to that story. Failure to do this can lead to terrible surprises should the case ever proceed to a jury trial, if the driver decides to lie to the jury, and is a convincing liar. Special interrogatories are one of the best ways to pin down the driver’s version of events, because of the driver later changes his/her story, the earlier answers can be shown to the judge and the jury:
- “Please set forth your estimate of the speed of your vehicle at the time of the incident.”
- “Please set forth each fact upon which you base your estimate of the speed of your vehicle at the time of the incident.”
- “Please set forth your estimate of the speed at which each of the other vehicles involved in the incident was traveling at the time of impact.”
- “Please set forth the amount of time that elapsed between the time you first noticed the other vehicle and the moment of impact.”
Every attorney who wants to maximize the chances of success should make use of special interrogatories. Without them, the negligent driver/insurance company might otherwise be free to conceal evidence, lie about the facts, and make unfair/surprise arguments later on in the process.
- Michael Stephenson, Esq.
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