Helpful Tips For Personal Injury Deposition PreparationRequest Free Consultation
Clients who are involved in a personal injury lawsuit will almost always have their deposition taken at one point or another. We want our clients to feel confident when they are having to do this process. However, if our client has never been deposed, they can be apprehensive with the prospect of being in front of a camera, under oath, and be questions by an attorney. The below tips should be helpful.
Everyone Prepares For Their Depositions, You Should Too
You shouldn’t feel apprehensive about preparing for your deposition. I have had past clients who say they have nothing to hide and so they don’t want any preparation for a deposition. However, you should remember that the insurance companies prep their witnesses as well. Which means that your deposition will look worse than the at-fault party, their experts, and other witnesses. They are motivated by paying you the smallest compensation possible, and if you don’t do some preparation, this could seriously affect your case. Instead, by doing preparation before your deposition, you will help your case by making you look as good as you should to a potential jury.
Preparing For The Deposition:
Before getting into the tips, what is a deposition? A frequently deposition is a question-and answer interview session of one party to a lawsuit of another person. Depositions are taken under oath with a court reporter typing word for word what is said.
How early should I arrive?
Normally, clients should arrive when the attorney requests they arrive. We normally will have the client prep before the day of the deposition, but also there will sometimes be some administrative tasks completed by the court reporter, like taking a picture for the deposition, or requesting correct spelling of names. Plan to meet your attorney ahead of time. You also want to arrive after your attorney, so that you can feel confident and have a familiar face to arrive to, as law offices for corporate insurance companies can be large and intimidating.
Also remember that you will normally be in a large conference room, and sometimes there is a video camera. Although, this has changed slightly since the Covid-19 pandemic began, there are still attorneys who prefer in-person depositions. I would say that over seventy-five percent of depositions occur at our offices, with corporate counsel not objecting to the deposition occurring at our offices.
What To Bring
Just yourself. Even if your attorney has you review documents or anything beforehand, you should not bring them to the deposition. If you do, the opposing attorney could ask that they be used as an exhibit. Even bringing a cell phone can be problematic as you are then going to be asked to find emails, photographs, or text messages. Instead, nothing should be brought into the deposition.
What To Wear
Generally, you should dress how you would show up to a job interview. Clothes should be neat and pressed, however a suit is not required. Clients should also feel comfortable, as some depositions can last from a few hours to the whole day. Don’t worry though, you are allowed to take as many breaks as you need.
What Happens At The Beginning Of The Deposition?
The first thing that will happen is that the court reporter will put you under oath to tell the truth. Then the opposing attorney will give you some instructions. These instructions normally consist of the following in any order: 1) there is a court reporter typing everything that is being said and to assist them, you will need to make sure to wait until the attorney has asked his question before answering; 2) that you cannot answer non-verbally (like the nod of a head) but instead must answer affirmatively like yes or no; 3) that you may request a break at any time to use the bathroom or discuss things with your attorney but if a question has already been asked you must answer it before the break; and 4) you should not answer a question you do not understand and that if you do answer a question, the attorney will understand that you understood the question.
There are certainly additional instructions that may vary on a case-by-case basis. For example, sometimes the person being deposed is required to bring certain documents and those documents can normally be marked at the first of the deposition. Additionally, since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many depositions are occurring remotely and there may be additional instructions concerning the muting of microphones, zoom or other video technology, etc.
What Should I Remember During My deposition?
During the deposition, we always remind our client of three important rules: 1) don’t lie, 2) don’t guess, and 3) only answer the question being asked.
The first rule may seem very simple, most of us don’t lie on a normal basis, or at least we don’t think we do, but it is very important to be honest in a deposition, even if you believe your answer is a bad or negative fact about your case. I had a seasoned trial attorney during law school explain to me that attorneys are great at managing bad facts of a case into a positive thing, but no matter how experienced the attorney is, he cannot turn a lie into something positive.
The second rule of not guessing, is really important because guessing will make you look bad. For example, recently I had a case where the client had reported to the police that they were going 25 miles per hour, the posted speed limit, when they were approaching a green light. However, in their deposition they didn’t remember how fast they were going. Instead, they guessed that they were going 45 miles per hour because they thought that was the posted speed limit. In other words, they guessed what speed they were going. This hurt their case because now it looks like they were speeding 20 miles per hour over the speed limit before entering the intersection where the accident occurred. Remember, guessing is just as bad as lying.
Awkward Silences Are Okay
The third rule has a little to do with human nature. We naturally want to fill in non-verbal moments with talking, especially if we are nervous. Attorneys know this and will often have prolonged “awkward silence” moments to see if you will fill in these moments with more information than their questions solicit. Many times a client will give a great response to a question, only to ruin their answer while the interviewing attorney is contemplating their next question.
A perfect example of this was in a case we did a few years ago where our client answered definitively that they were not on their cell phone during the accident and could not have prevented the accident. However, after a brief “awkward silence” from the interviewing attorney, our client then said that even though this time they were not on their cell phone, they almost always drove while on their cell phone and then even added that they text and drove “all the time.” This impacted their case because the opposing attorney included this into evidence as dishonesty or habit. This was unfortunate because the original answer, that our client was not on their cell phone, would have helped their case if the client had not kept talking.
What About Objections?
The attorneys will sometimes object to the questions being asked by the interviewing attorney. These objections are preserved in the record by the court reporter. Objections can be for many things, like “lack of foundation”, “leading the witness”, “compound questions”, “misstating the evidence” or a variety of other objections. Once your attorney has finished objecting, you are still required to answer the question, and your attorney can then argue the objection in front of the judge at a later point. Sometimes the interviewing attorney will simply rephrase their question to not have to worry about the objection.
However, there are certain privilege exceptions when your attorney will instruct you not to answer the question. For example, if the interviewing attorney asked you what you and your attorney discussed prior to the deposition, this would violate the attorney-client privilege, your attorney would object and then instruct you not to answer. There is also a spousal privilege and constitutional privileges like the fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Just remember to listen to the objection and the instruction after, but in most instances you will end up answering the question.
The last advice I can give is for nervous clients is to just breath. Take a deep breath before answering. This break in time will normally give you enough time to think about the question and think about your answer. Following this tip can take away much of the stress of a deposition. You deposition will normally end with your attorney having a chance to ask you any questions to clarify anything that was asked during your deposition.
While there are certainly other things your attorney will go over prior to your deposition, by following the above simple tips, you should be prepared to have your deposition taken. If you have been injured in an accident and are involved in a lawsuit, you need an experienced injury attorney in your corner and you don’t want to get taken advantage of by the insurance companies and their lawyers. At We Win Injury Law we’re here to help you. Remember the consultations are always free, and we don’t get paid unless We Win.