When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you must give a deposition. A personal injury deposition is your statement of what happened, given under oath. During the deposition, the attorneys in the case will ask you questions you must answer truthfully. A court reporter will record your answers.
Depositions are critical in personal injury cases because the opposing attorney and insurance company can later use something you say against you. Depositions also give attorneys an idea of the type of witness you’d be should the case go to trial. If you are a credible witness, the odds are greater that you’ll receive a fair settlement offer without the case going to trial.
Here are some tips on how to prepare for a personal injury deposition.
Understand Four Things First
As you prepare for the deposition process, understand these four things first.
- The opposing attorney is not your friend, no matter how nice they seem or how informal the process is.
- If you don’t remember some of the details, it is OK to say you don’t remember. Indeed, saying you don’t know if you are unsure is preferable to saying something that may be inaccurate.
- Always tell the truth.
- The court reporter will provide a written transcript of the deposition bound in a booklet. You will have a right to see the booklet and ask for a revision if something is inaccurate.
Handling the Opposing Attorney In the Personal Injury Lawsuit
You’ll want to handle the opposing counsel carefully during the deposition testimony. Their job is to discredit your testimony and accentuate its weak points. They may also try to ridicule your story or make you doubt what you know occurred. They may also try to confuse you. Be on guard. Answer the questions truthfully, but don’t volunteer information you weren’t asked for.
Work With Your Personal Injury Lawyer To Prepare
Meet with your personal injury attorney to prepare for the deposition questions. Go over the event completely to refresh your memory. Also, discuss with your attorney the strengths of your case. You’ll want the defense attorney to understand the strengths of your case to encourage a fair settlement for your injuries and their impact on your life.
If possible, practice the question and answer session with your attorney to get an idea of the types of questions the defense attorney might ask. For example, the attorney will typically start with background questions that are a matter of public record.
They may then delve into your history of personal injury lawsuits if you’ve filed claims. If you have a criminal record, they will ask about that. Then they will ask about the accident and your actions before, during, and after the event. They will also ask about your injuries and treatment. If you’ve chosen a non-traditional form of treatment, such as a chiropractor, they may question why you made that choice. The opposing lawyer will also ask how the injury affected your life.
The other party may also ask irrelevant questions about your childhood, credit history, work experience, and relationships. These questions are personal. Most are inadmissible if the case goes to trial, but the attorney asks them to try to uncover something useful that may be admissible. Answer only what you are asked, truthfully and succinctly. If anything in your personal life is likely to be problematic, discuss it with your personal injury lawyer ahead of time.
The more you prepare with your attorney and with family and friends, the better you’ll be able to answer the questions.
Listen and Think
Once the deposition begins, listen carefully to the entire question. Then think before you speak. You want to avoid anticipating a question and providing information the other attorney wasn’t making about. Also, by pausing, you’ll allow your attorney to object if the question is flawed.
Ensure You Understand the Question
You should ask for clarification if the defense attorney’s questions are unclear. If you didn’t hear the question, ask the opposing lawyer to repeat it.
Once you answer the question, the attorney will assume you heard and understood it. You have the right to hear and fully understand the question before you answer it.
Make Sure the Defendant’s Attorney Doesn’t Alter Your Answers
A common tactic of defense attorneys is summarizing what you’ve said but altering the details slightly. Be sure the other lawyer outlines your statement comprehensively.
Speak Only From Personal Knowledge
Testify only to those things you know from personal knowledge. Avoid giving your opinions or testifying to things others have told you. Also, avoid the temptation to justify your answers or to fill in any uncomfortable silences the other attorney might create.
If you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know. Avoid guessing. You don’t want to make a false statement inadvertently.
Avoid being rattled by anything the other lawyer says or does. One goal of a successful deposition is to make a good impression on the defense attorney. Being calm can make all the difference. If you come across as a good witness, the attorney will believe you have a good chance of obtaining a good settlement should your case go to trial, and they will be more likely to offer a settlement upfront. If, on the other hand, you become rattled, you won’t make a good impression, and the defense attorney and their client may decide to take their chances at trial. No matter what, stay pleasant and professional.
Stick to Your Answers
Many defense attorneys will ask the same question in different ways. Be alert to this practice and stick with the same answer no matter how the attorney asks the question.
Review Documents Carefully
During the deposition, the defense attorney may present you with documents and ask questions about them. Read the entire document, including the fine print, before answering. The attorney also may suggest that the document says certain things; however, you should always check the record to be sure it says what the attorney suggests.
Also, review any photographs carefully before answering questions about them. Don’t let the other party get away with interpreting the photo in a way you disagree with.
Avoid Bringing Documents With You
Don’t bring any documents to personal injury depositions, including notes. The defense attorney will ask to review any documents you bring and can question you about them in detail. Some notes are privileged, but if you bring the documents to the deposition, you waive your privilege.
Although you’ll have an opportunity to correct mistakes after the written record is complete, the best time to fix them is before then. Discuss it with your attorney at the break if you think you’ve made a mistake. Your attorney can help you correct the error after the break and on the record.
At some points during the deposition, your attorney may object. When your attorney objects, stop speaking immediately. At most depositions, you’ll end up answering the question anyway; however, the court reporter will record the objection in the record, and a judge will rule on it at trial. In some cases, however, your attorney will instruct your not to answer.
Giving testimony in a personal injury deposition is difficult. Throughout the process, relax and remain confident that the truth generally prevails.
Find a Good Law Firm
An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you prepare for your deposition and ensure your personal injury claim goes smoothly. When choosing your attorney, choose one with trial experience. Although most personal injury cases settle out of court, you’ll want to be sure you are prepared in the event your case goes to trial. Most personal injury attorneys take cases on a contingency basis, which means they receive nothing if you don’t receive a settlement. They then receive a portion of your settlement. Most attorneys also will offer a free consultation to help you determine how strong your case is.
Engage a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after your accident to protect your legal rights throughout the process. Actions you take immediately after the accident can affect the size of your settlement.
1-800Ask-Gary is a referral hotline that connects you with medical professionals and lawyers who can help you if you are injured through someone else’s negligence. 1-800Ask-Gary can refer to professionals in Florida, Minnesota, and New Mexico.