If you bring a lawsuit, you can expect to be asked at some point to give a personal injury deposition. Almost every one of our clients involved in litigation is deposed at some point in the process. Most people find the thought of this to be very intimidating. However, it should not be. Depositions are nothing more than statements of a witness or party taken under oath in front of a court reporter. You go in, answer questions truthfully and leave. They are nothing more than a simple part of the process. Nevertheless, I have prepared this blog entry to give a good basic idea of what to expect.
The purpose of a deposition is to allow an opposing party to conduct discovery-that is, learn certain factual information. More specifically, a deposition consists of oral response to questions. These statements can be used in court and are one of the most important tools attorneys use. They serve several purposes. They are used to obtain information about a case, determine what kind of impression a person will make in front of a jury, and possibly be used in court to assist in questioning a witness.
How Does a Personal Injury Deposition Work?
In a personal injury deposition in Nashville where I practice, there will be a court reporter whose job it is to take down everything that is said. Additionally, sometimes the deposition will be videotaped by a videographer. The format of a deposition is a Q&A forum. You are asked a series of questions by an attorney representing the opposing party. In some cases, there will be more than one attorney and each will have an opportunity to ask questions. Most of the time, your attorney will ask questions of the party who is alleged to be at fault.
General Rules of a Deposition
- The most important rule is to tell the truth. As stated above, deposition testimony is taken under oath and can be used in court.
- Answer only the question asked. Clients tend to be nervous in depositions and they try to prove their case to opposing counsel; therefore they ramble about all sorts of things. This leads to explanations that are irrelevant and unnecessary. If an explanation is needed, the other attorney will ask for one. You are not trying to prove your case in a deposition. Proving your case will come when you are in front of a jury.
- Be nice. It is beneficial to your case to be polite in your deposition. It shows how great of an impression you would make on a jury.
- There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know.” Do not try to come up with or guess at an answer. Sometimes depositions are not taken until well after an incident has occurred and clients simply cannot recall an answer at the time of the deposition.
- If you do not understand a question, ask. If you are confused by a question, ask the other attorney to clarify.
- Answer with verbal responses as opposed to nods and “uh-huhs.” Since the court reporter is taking down everything that is said, a verbal response needs to be given. When looking back at the transcript it is hard to read how you responded if you simply nodded of said “uh-huh.”
- Depositions can last for hours or can go on over the course of several days. They are not endurance contests. If you need a break, ask for one.
Phases of a Deposition
Phase 1: Life before the incident.
The other attorney will ask you questions about your life before the incident. These questions will range from your educational background, employment history, where you’ve lived, prior incidents or worker’s compensation claims you’ve been involved in, prior medical history, whether or not you’ve ever been convicted of a crime, etc.
Phase 2: The incident itself.
These questions will be focused on the actual facts of the incident. You will be called upon to describe how the incident occurred to the best of your recollection.
Phase 3: Life after the incident.
These will be questions regarding not only the injury you are claiming to have sustained as a result of the incident, but also what medical treatment you’ve sought. You will be asked questions about how the incident has affected your life. These questions will range from what hobbies and activities you enjoyed prior to the incident that you are unable to engage in post-incident, how your ability to work has been affected, and any projected future impediments.
Your Attorney’s Role in a Deposition
Do not be surprised if your attorney doesn’t say much while you’re giving your deposition. If your attorney objected to everything during your deposition that could be objected to at trial, you would be there forever.
However, there are certain things your attorney might object to. Your attorney might object to any question that violates your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Additionally, your attorney may object to any question that violates your attorney-client privilege. One of the most common objections you will hear is one objecting to the form of the question. This is when something is technically wrong with the question being asked.
When your attorney makes an objection, it is best to pause, let your attorney make their objection and then listen to their instruction. If their objection is due to either a fifth amendment violation or a violation of attorney-client privilege then your attorney will instruct you to not answer the question. However, if your attorney objects to the form of a question you must answer the question.
As stated above, depositions are a basic step in the litigation process. Your attorney will be with you every step of the way and always has your best interests in mind. All you have to remember is to tell the truth and do what I tell every client-take a deep breath.