After filing a personal injury lawsuit, you will likely be asked to participate in a deposition regarding your case, before it goes to trial or is settled. Think of a deposition as a slow and measured interview with the defense attorney, where the side you are filing your claim against is given the opportunity to ask questions and get answers regarding the circumstances of your claim. Your personal injury lawyer should prepare you for this deposition and will be present during it.
No matter how much preparation you undergo, a deposition can be an intimidating and stressful process. Here is what you can expect during a deposition, how to get ready to participate in one rationally and confidently, and tips for completing one successfully so that your case benefits.
Before a case goes to trial, a deposition in a more private setting will occur, without a judge and usually in a conference room atmosphere. Typically, those present during a deposition will include lawyers from both sides of the case, as well as a court stenographer who will record all proceedings. Sometimes, a deposition will also be videotaped. Unlike written questions a legal team might send, or a request for documents pertaining to your claim, a deposition is oral, and one or several attorneys from the defense team may be asking the questions.
Before you are asked questions during a deposition, you will be sworn in and affirm you will tell the truth. The defense attorney will go over any guidelines for the deposition, such as avoiding talking at the same time as the lawyer, and asking for clarification on questions if you need it before answering.
During the deposition, the defense legal team will ask you, the plaintiff, general background information. They’ll want to investigate your physical condition before your injury occurred, exactly how the personal injury happened, if there were any witnesses and what was said at the scene of the accident, what your medical treatment was like, and any limitations you now face because of your injury.
Even though your attorney will be present during the deposition, you cannot consult with your attorney during it. Do ask for clarification if you need it. Sometimes, your attorney will object to questions to protect you. If this happens, do not answer the question until your attorney directs you to.
Before attending your deposition, you should make sure to get adequate rest, eat nutritiously, and stay hydrated with plenty of water. Nerves plus the amount of information you’ll have to process during a deposition, make being well-fed and well-rested imperative, so that you can give the clearest, most honest answers possible.
Because the answers you give during a deposition will go on the record and will ultimately affect the outcome of your case, you should not rush the answers that you give. If you are naturally a fast talker, you should go into the deposition with the intent to pause and answer the question in your head before stating your answer out loud. This is something you can practice with your attorney, who may ask you sample questions before the deposition so you can slow down your pace.
Short and concise is better than long and detailed in terms of answers. Avoid jokes or small talk, since these come across as unprofessional in a transcript. While you want to answer the question truthfully, aim to give one-sentence-long answers. If the other attorney wants to ask you follow-up questions, they can, but talking at length does not benefit your case.
Consider, though, that you don’t want to just give simple “yes” or “no” answers to questions. These clear-cut answers can hurt you if there is any gray area, or if your memory is the least bit fuzzy. Try to answer what seem like yes or no questions by using language more along the lines of, “I don’t recall,” or, “As far as I can remember,” which offers you more protection. If you answer yes or no to a question, but something from years back contradicts your answer, it could appear that you lied during the deposition, which isn’t good for your case. If you are guessing or estimating an answer, add, “I’m estimating” or “I’m guessing” to your answer.
The defense team will likely ask you about your medical history dating back to as much as 10 years or more before your personal injury. Brush up on your history by reviewing your medical records and consulting with your attorney about potential questions to be aware of.
Know that the deposition is a rehearsal of sorts, should your case go to trial. Your appearance and mannerisms during the deposition will give the defense team an idea of how to interact with you in front of a judge and jury so that they can win a case. Because of this, it’s best to dress professionally, be polite and courteous, and avoid showing tattoos or body piercings at the deposition.
Advice to Give a Successful Deposition
Just like you’ll want to get plenty of rest before the deposition, pay attention to your physical state during the deposition. Ask for breaks when you need them, whether it’s to grab some water or go to the bathroom. Taking regular breaks, at least once an hour, will help you to recharge and come back refreshed. Depositions can last several hours a day and go for several days, so protect yourself with ample rest.
Always ask for clarification when it’s needed, including if you are not sure of the meaning of a word in a question. Don’t answer something without truly knowing the meaning of the question just to avoid embarrassment – it could hurt your case. If the defense attorney is asking you about something that happened on a specific day, ask to see the record or report they are referring to, such as a doctor’s visit. This will give you insight to clearly answer the question, or explain that you have no recollection of the information the report is displaying.
Also, don’t offer additional information if you feel the need to clarify yourself later. You can speak with your attorney after the deposition, who can contact the defense team later to further explain something if needed.
Part of being honest during the deposition is to admit you don’t remember something if you don’t remember it. This is why it’s important to pause before answering, so you can avoid quickly blurting out information that is actually incorrect.
Your lawyer should thoroughly prepare you for your deposition so you feel as comfortable and confident as possible when you have to give it. If you have a personal injury and want to pursue a claim, know that the Pittman, Dutton & Hellums law firm has a personal injury lawyer Birmingham team that is in your corner to make your deposition a success.