When you have a personal injury suit against another person or company, the courts focus will be on determining what the truth is. Depositions are typically required of witnesses so that the courts can determine what they know and try to obtain all the facts before the case moves to trial. Being called for a deposition can seem a little daunting, but it’s actually a very easy process. Here’s what you should know about your personal injury deposition.
What is a Personal Injury Deposition?
The deposition is nothing more than a tool used as part of the pre-trial information gathering phase for personal injury cases. You’ll be required to appear at a specified time and place in order to give your testimony to the opposing counsel. Before you start the process, you’ll be asked to swear under oath that the information provided will be truthful and accurate to the best of your knowledge.
What’s the Purpose?
The purpose is to obtain important facts about the case. These details may be used to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your particular claims. The attorney or court officials will ask for more information so that they can determine how and why your injury occurred.
However, there is another purpose to the deposition that you may not be aware of. This is that a deposition helps show attorneys how a person will testify at the trial. This information may become part of the strategy for either your attorney or the opposing counsel.
What you should remember is that the opposing counsel is not your friend. He or she is actively working towards winning in court, so they are looking for information that can be used against you. Don’t let this frighten you. Just share the factual and truthful information that you remember.
How Does the Process Work?
The deposition may be the most important aspect of your entire case. How you share information and what you share in the deposition may have a greater impact on the outcome than how you perform when you’re actually on the stand. It can seem overwhelming, but the key to remember is that you only have to take it one question at a time.
After you take your oath and sit down in front of the attorney, a question and answer session will begin. The opposing counsel will ask you questions about your case, and a court reporter will record all the information with a stenograph machine. This allows the court to develop a written transcript that can be used at the trial.
The opposing counsel will typically start out by asking you certain key questions. You can expect them to ask if you:
- Understand that you are providing information while under oath.
- Understand that the answers are being recorded along with the questions and that they’ll be transferred to a booklet format that you’ll then be able to review.
- Understand that answers must be spoken because the court reporter cannot record a head nod or other gestures.
- Realize that it’s acceptable to make corrections to the testimony after it’s recorded in the booklet.
- Realize that it’s acceptable to say that you cannot remember some details that are requested.
What Types of Questions Will They Ask and How Should I Answer?
You should be prepared to conduct yourself in a particular manner. Avoid any displays of frustration or anger, and strive to remain calm throughout the process. The attorney may start with basic background questions regarding where you live and work. You can expect to answer all types of personal questions relating to your job history, current salary, and even your financial position. Most of this information is a matter of public record, and you should just answer it honestly.
The attorney will also ask questions about any legal claims or lawsuits that you’ve been involved in previously. Be prepared for questions about any criminal history that you may have. You can even be asked to discuss illnesses and injuries that you’ve had over the course of your life. Again, most of this information is public record, so you should just take a calming breath and answer it honestly.
In regard to the matter at hand, you’ll be asked about the details of your accident. If it was a car accident, then you may be asked questions about your destination that day, the route you took, any stops you made, and whether you signaled. If you are asked to estimate the speed of another car, it’s best to simply state that you do not know.
You’ll also be questioned about your injuries, including what types of treatments you’re receiving and who your doctor is. If you’re using a chiropractor, then you may be questioned about this decision. Expect to answer questions regarding any physical limitations that you are currently experiencing.
Tips to Keep in Mind and What to Avoid in a Deposition
It’s important that you answer deposition questions carefully and with a little thought. Rather than going with your gut response, you should take a breath, repeat the question to yourself, and then answer it with care. If you don’t understand the question, then you should ask for clarification. Always wait a moment to be sure that the lawyer has asked the full question before answering.
Only state what you know to be true. If you don’t know the answer, then you should state that you don’t know. If you once had the details but have since forgotten them, then state that you do not remember.
Do not allow the opposing counsel to alter your answers in any way. One common tactic is to attorneys to provide you with a quick summary that has some of the details you gave along with other statements that are not entirely consistent with your testimony. They will then ask if the summary is substantially correct. At this point, you should simply state that it does not represent your testimony. You’ll then be given the opportunity to point out the flawed areas that are not in line with your answers.
Remember that as a victim or witness, your only purpose is to provide the courts with the facts that you know. Do not elaborate with your own opinions unless advised to do so by the attorney. Avoid the temptation to explain or justify any answers that you give. Your sole purpose is to provide the attorneys with the facts as you know them at the time of the deposition.
Preparing for the Moment
Reach out to your personal injury attorney for more information. Depositions can be overwhelming and nerve-wracking, but there’s no reason to feel rattled. Try to stay calm throughout the process. Take a breath and consider questions before answering them. You have the right to ask for clarification on anything that is unclear. You are also allowed to say that you don’t know an answer or cannot recall certain information.