Why Are They Asking That? 

December 9, 2019
Why Are They Asking That

In civil litigation such as injury cases, we routinely receive written questions called Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents from the insurance counsel defending the at-fault driver.

Every time we receive a set of these documents, commonly called written discovery, I have to explain to my clients why they are asking for what they want. For instance, they often seek the last 3 to 5 years tax returns. And it would be reasonable to assume that the last 3 to 5 years IRS information would have a little to nothing to do with who’s at fault in an accident in Shelby County, Tennessee. And you’d be right. It has no bearing whatsoever on who’s at fault. It is reasonable for them to seek medical records and bills for both the injury and even prior to the injury, to determine what is new and what is old.

Of course, it is not as if they suspect that someone is a tax cheat by asking this question. But what you may not think about is that the insurance company is trying to check a bunch of boxes to make sure that there’s not something else going on and this does almost all those in one fell swoop. For instance, if someone is using a fake Social Security number and therefore dodging identification under medical records, the IRS records for 3 to 5 years will have a record of what social security numbers they used.

If someone claims a back injury for instance, W-2s or 1099’s will show wages from jobs that may have had Worker’s Compensation claims for back injuries. And that would certainly be relevant. Also, it establishes the fact of marriage between spouses which is important when you have a loss of consortium claim. It verifies residences so that background checks can be clearer and if necessary, even neighbors and coworkers can be called to discuss the physical or mental condition of the person prior to the accident or after. So, there is a virtual cornucopia of information in your tax returns that insurance companies find irresistible. But most of the time they really only help us when we’re seeking lost wages or lost earning capacity. So, for instance, if being off work under the orders of an approved doctor cost you 2 1/2 months’ worth of salary, that’s pretty easy to determine. But what if you get paid on commission? Or a bonus? Well they can look to prior year’s tax returns for averages and at least have something better to guess at then what someone might remember.

In short, when you file a personal injury action, it is personal. They have a right to look at a lot more information than what would be used at trial. So, the test for discovery is merely could it reasonably lead to the discovery of admissible evidence?

If it can, it’s free game.

Mr. Peel seeks justice for those injured in truck, motorcycle, and car crashes. He often addresses churches, clubs and groups without charge. Mr. Peel may be reached through PeelLawFirm.com wherein other articles may be accessed.

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