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Personal Injury Depositions - Tips, Questions & Answers

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What Is A Deposition In Personal Injury Cases?

Depositions in personal injury cases are in-depth interviews of witnesses or persons involved in the case that allow both sides of the lawsuit an opportunity to better understand what actually happened, what they are up against, and what areas they will need to be prepared to defend in court, at trial or during settlement negotiation. A deposition consists of sworn testimony that is taken under oath, and is taken before a court reporter who writes everything down as it happens. Occasionally depositions occur in the presence of a videographer in addition to a court reporter. Depositions typically happen during the discovery phase of a lawsuit, before going to trial or settlement conference.

lawyer writing down notes during a personal injury deposition

There are many aspects to a deposition, and the strategic value of a deposition varies depending on the nature of the case. For example, in a clear liability auto accident claim, the defense counsel may take the deposition of the plaintiff, or injured party, and the main goal might be to see how the plaintiff would likely present before a jury. In the case of a disputed liability claim, the plaintiff’s attorney will depose the defendant or other witnesses to try to prove liability, and to determine the likelihood of success should the case proceed to trial.

Regardless of the strategic purpose, if you are going to have your deposition taken, you are likely feeling a lot of stress. If you’ve made it this far in a civil claim (filing a lawsuit and proceeding to discovery phase), it is advisable to have an attorney representing you, as there are many mistakes people can make if they are not adequately prepared, which are discussed below.

What Not to Do At A Deposition

The right thing to do is never something you want to piece together from an internet article, as it varies from case to case, and even depending upon the facts of a particular case of a similar type. However, the wrong things to do are always the same regardless of what kind of case you have. Here are some examples of bad mistakes that our personal injuries have observed during depositions over the years involving opposing parties or witnesses:

  1. Don’t try to massage the truth or tell a story favorable to you without regard to the facts – People always want to paint themselves in the most favorable light possible, and this can have a very damaging effect on credibility if it appears you are trying to ignore certain facts to make yourself look better. The truth is not always pretty, but it is far better than the alternative.
  2. Not listening to the entire question before answering – If you wait a few seconds before answering the question, this gives you time to think through your answer and ensure you understand the question. It also gives your lawyer time to object to a question that might not be appropriate. In the alternative, if you start talking right away, even before the attorney has finished answering the question, you might not understand the question and your answer might not make sense.
  3. Answering questions other than the question that is asked by the attorney – It is easy to go off on a tangent when relaying your account of what happened, but if you give the opposing party information other than what was directly asked about, it can appear argumentative and lead to unnecessary side-shows later on.
  4. Losing your cool or letting emotions get the better of you – Never act angry or argue with the examiner. Doing this will show them that you struggle to control your emotions and could be used against you to show that you easily act out and do things that you shouldn’t when your emotions take hold. It creates a very uncomfortable atmosphere. No one wants to have his or her deposition taken, but it doesn’t do you any good to get upset with the examiner who is only asking questions. One recent deposition of a defendant in a premises liability case was upset to the point where he stood up and tried to leave the deposition before it was over. His attorney hung her head and the case settled soon afterward. If you demonstrate a willingness to become emotional or argumentative, a seasoned trial lawyer will realize that they will be able to expose this quality in front of a jury, which will likely lead to an unfavorable verdict for you.
  5. Answering a question that you don’t understand – Lawyers are familiar with asking questions, but they’re also still people. Sometimes they ask a question that doesn’t make sense, or could be interpreted in more than one way, or is a compound question. In that case, don’t try to outsmart the attorney by answering it. We have seen this before with folks faced with a confusing question. Instead of admitting that they didn’t understand it and asking the attorney to rephrase, they guessed at the meaning of the question and their answer, like the question, also became subject to multiple interpretations. It does not make you appear stupid to say “I don’t understand your question,” and ask that it be rephrased.
  6. Guessing at information – Never guess or give information that you do not know for a fact to be true. It is likely that the opposing party will figure out your lie and use it against you later by discrediting your account of the event due to your habit of lying under oath. The most common incidents of this are when someone is asked to estimate the speed that they were driving, or the distance that another vehicle was from them when they first saw it. If you know, answer it. Most people have never been asked this type of question before and feel put on the spot. In that case, the first rule applies. Don’t massage the truth. If the truth is that you don’t know, that should be the answer.
  7. Not being specific about quoting or paraphrasing – Explaining later that when you said Susan told you “slow down, or you’re going to hit that bus” was not a direct quote is never a good look.
  8. Allowing the person taking the deposition to put words in your mouth – Leading questions are allowed at depositions. A leading question is a question that suggests the answer. For example: “when you caused the accident, you knew you were incredibly drunk, correct?” If you disagree with the words or phrasing of a question, it’s better to do so right away than try to dig yourself out of a hole later trying to explain what you really meant.
  9. Not listening carefully to objections by your counsel – If your attorney objects to something during the deposition, make sure to pay careful attention to the specifics of the objection. They have a reason for objecting and you should most likely take that into consideration when coming up with your response. Some people disregard this objection and try to answer anyway to outsmart the person asking the questions. This is not a wise decision.
  10. Trying to “win” your case at deposition – This goes along with most of the above, but the man or woman who tries to sit down and out-smart the lawyer who takes depositions for a living, often doesn’t look very good at the end of the day. In contrast, the person who remembers to breathe and not take this personally, and focuses on listening to the questions asked and answering truthfully without guessing will do just fine.

What Kind Of Questions Will They Ask At My Deposition?

Each deposition process is different because each personal injury lawsuit is different. This means that the questions will also be different as each side attempts to get the information they need out of you during their discovery process. Below are some examples of the types of questions that may be asked.

Personal Background Information

The deposer will start by asking you personal questions about yourself and your past as an attempt to figure out what type of person you are. They are always looking for pieces of information that their defense attorney may be able to use against your deposition testimony at some point, so be sure to avoid telling them about how you have an anger problem or things of that nature. Always remember, if they can use it against you in any way that helps their case, they will.

Specifics Of The Injuries You Sustained

If you were injured in the accident in question, the deposer will ask you about specifics of your injuries. From how it felt right after the accident to proving how much pain you were in during your time in medical care as well as how difficult your recovery process was. All of this is meant to give them an idea of how bad your injuries and suffering were so they can start to calculate how much they think you should be awarded in economic and non-economic damages as well as to see if your medical bills match the types of injuries that you claim to have gotten from the accident. A lot of people freak out about this because they don’t have a perfect recollection of every doctor visit. This is again why it’s important not to guess at details, but to rely upon the records that will speak for themselves about these particular aspects of a case.

Your Recovery Process

How you have recovered after your injury plays a big role in how much your settlement will be, so they will ask you a lot about your healing process, how long it took to fully recover and how painful the recovery process was. If you sustained visible or lifelong or disabling injuries that will continue, you should expect questions about how this has and will continue to affect your life, your ability to generate income and your ability to live a happy life with this lifelong injury.

What You Remember Happened

Your account of what happened will be scrutinized because it impacts one of the more critical aspects of a personal injury case–liability, or whose fault the accident was. There are sure to be questions about how the accident happened, what you were doing that day, and similar lines of inquiry. Take your time when speaking and do your absolute best to give only information that you remember truthfully. This is where guessing or trying to outsmart the deposition examiner can really have some negative impacts.

Remember, This All Goes On Record

The deposition transcript is a legal document that will be taken under oath and used against you to every extent possible during your litigation and settlement process. It is rarely possible to convincingly change your answers after a deposition has been taken.

Best Ways To Answer Deposition Questions

As mentioned above, there will be a lot to consider when responding to the questions of your deposition. The only affirmative advice that makes sense across the board is: 1) always tell the truth; 2) don’t guess at the meaning of confusing questions; 3) don’t argue; and 4) ask for clarification if needed. By following these rules, and relying upon your attorney, you will do just fine during your deposition.

Am I Required To Attend A Deposition?

Generally, without getting too technical, yes. The long answer is, if you are simply asked to attend, you are not required to respond. However, with most things in lawsuits, this is not the best way to handle things. There are ways to compel people to attend depositions, and if the opposing side has to go through this process with you, you will not only be required to attend, but it will also undoubtedly reflect poorly on you that you did not participate willingly. Like everything else, however, depositions have changed a lot with the COVID pandemic. Depositions used to occur in person, which could pose logistical problems with travel for witnesses or parties who live far away. Depositions now routinely occur on Zoom or another electronic platform, which makes the entire process much easier for everyone. It’s a good idea to discuss these various options with your attorney depending on the logistical difficulties attendant with your specific case.

How Depositions Affect Personal Injury Cases

Depositions play a major role in the direction as well as the outcome of personal injury claims. The testimony given in these depositions will many times make the case easy to come to a settlement when details about fault become present. Sometimes the depositions can also cause issues with the case if conflicting stories are given or details do not match up. Either way, you never know how the case will proceed until all the facts are on the table which is why depositions are such an important piece of the lawsuit process. Someone may admit to doing an act that makes them partially or fully at fault for the accident and that can completely close out a case by itself. Or a credible witness can come in and give a completely different story than anyone else that just creates a mess of a case. As you can see, depositions play a major role in the outcome of a personal injury and accident claims.

Who Else Will Be There During The Deposition?

During your personal injury deposition, there will be multiple people there. These people are as follows: the lawyers for both sides, involved parties from both sides if they want to be present, a court reporter and possibly a videographer. This can vary with each deposition and sometimes depositions are for witnesses instead so they will not have a lawyer with them. In some cases, there may be an agent from the insurance companies there as well to get their own account of the deposition.

Be Prepared For Your Deposition

Having an exceptional personal injury lawyer on your side before, during and after your deposition is very important if you want the best outcome for your case. Your attorney will prepare you sufficiently so that you go into the deposition feeling comfortable with the questions they will be asking and knowing how to respond to them. At Rector Stuzynski LLC, we have an outstanding team of injury lawyers that will fight to get you the best possible results from your claim along with the maximum compensation. Leave the heavy lifting up to us while you heal from your injuries. To be sure you are as prepared as possible for your deposition, give us a call for a free case consultation. We are located in Downtown Colorado Springs, CO if you want to speak with us in person or feel free to give us a call 24/7.

Areas We Serve

We serve clients injured anywhere throughout the state of Colorado, but we focus on residents of these areas: Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Briargate, Monument, Black Forest, Pueblo, Canon City, Larkspur, Security-Widefield, Peyton, Castle Rock, Teller County, El Paso County, Elbert County, Park County, Douglas County and beyond.