Lawsuits & the SSN

If you initiate a lawsuit or are sued, there is a phase of litigation called discovery.  During this phase each side will attempt to learn or discover information from the other side to support the party’s claims or the party’s defenses.

During discovery, let’s say the defendant serves interrogatories [written questions which must be answered in writing under oath] on plaintiff.  Two of the questions are (a) what is your date of birth and (b) what is your social security number.  Without hesitation plaintiff answers these questions.

Also during discovery let’s say plaintiff deposes defendant.  A deposition is basically sworn testimony taken outside of court.  A court reporter or stenographer is present recording verbatim the questions and answers.

The court reporter or stenographer will administer the oath to defendant before plaintiff’s counsel begins questioning the defendant.  The deposition then begins.  Plaintiff’s counsel will likely ask defendant if he has ever been deposed.  If not, plaintiff’s counsel will explain the process to the defendant.

Plaintiff’s counsel will attempt to make defendant comfortable.  Plaintiff’s counsel will ask easy questions including (a) where do you presently live, (b) what is your date of birth and (c) what is your social security number.  Defendant answers all three questions.

Now, let’s say, the phase of discovery has ended.  Defendant moves for summary judgment, in essence, seeking a ruling from the Court, before a trial, that plaintiff cannot prove her case and that justice thus requires judgment be entered in favor of defendant.

In filing the summary judgment motion, defendant’s counsel attaches as an exhibit plaintiff’s interrogatory answers including her date of birth and social security number.

In filing the opposition, plaintiff’s counsel attaches portions of the transcript from defendant’s deposition including where defendant identified his present address, his date of birth and his social security number.

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Not sure how many of you realize that many papers, which previously were mailed to the court or hand delivered to the court, are now filed electronically.   Attorneys are electronically filing exhibits such as answers to interrogatories and deposition transcripts which may contain sensitive personal information such as dates of birth and social security numbers.   Courts do advise counsel to redact or remove such information before filing documents electronically.

If you are involved in a lawsuit and your social security number is requested, don’t hesitate to question the need for that information.  If the opposing counsel explains the reason for the need and your counsel confirms the information must be provided, then before disclosing the information, question counsel  – – is it possible the information may be filed electronically as part of a brief or motion?   If the attorney responds yes, then ask counsel, will he provide you a year’s worth of free credit report monitoring if his office/firm inadvertently files your social security number electronically?

An attorney reading this may roll his/her eyes.  But YOU must take steps to PROTECT your social security number.  Attorneys and their staff are not always diligent in protecting this critical identifier.

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