Depositions are an essential part of the legal process, and they are very important in determining the outcome of personal injury lawsuits like car accidents. Both sides must take the process seriously and come fully prepared. While the deposition process is not when or where your case will be decided, what you say and how you present yourself during this process can make or break your day in court.
A deposition is a structured question and answer session where the attorneys for both sides take turns asking questions. This process may involve both the plaintiff (person filing suit) and/or the defendant (person sued or charged with a crime). Also, witnesses of the car accident or anyone that has knowledge of the facts of the case may also be sworn in for oral testimony that will be converted into a written transcript. It is this legal document that can be recalled in court as fact are presented to a judge and/or a jury.
You never want to give a deposition without the advice of your attorney. You also don’t want to exaggerate scenarios or lie about the facts. Be clear and concise in your speaking. Get a good night’s sleep, eat a healthy meal before your appointment, and follow your lawyer’s prep advice are the best ways to end up with a good transcript that your team can use to win your case. Here are 5 important things you should know before your car accident deposition.
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1. Practice framing your answers with your lawyer
It is important to have a car accident attorney that can help you frame your answers to questions that are asked during a deposition. And, when you have relevant documents like a police report, medical records, and witness statements, you want all the answers you give to be in line with your supporting documentation.
Also, your lawyer has likely filed a response to the defendant’s requests for information during the discovery period. The answers you give during your deposition should be consistent with any documents or testimonies already submitted by lawyers from both teams. It is possible your lawyer has instructed you to not answer some questions. To support the legal strategy outlined by your attorney, it is important that you do not answer these questions.
Framing your answers to deposition questions starts with giving short and precise answers. Your responses should only be a sentence or two long, and not a paragraph or a chapter-long discourse. Never volunteer any information during a deposition that is not a direct response to a question. You can impress the opposing attorney by giving honest, accurate, and direct answers.
The goal is to frame all your answers into a direct response to a question. This means no added details, no opinions or commentaries, and no volunteering of additional information. It is this type of prep work that you should expect from your car accident attorney. They know the success of a court trial and getting the best settlement will depend heavily on the information given during a deposition. So, don’t give the opposing team any latitude by offering information that is not specifically requested.
2. What not to say in a car accident deposition
Just as important as it is to know what to say, you should also speak with your lawyer about things you should not say. You should stick with the truth and the facts of the case as discussed by you and your attorney. Other things to avoid saying include:
- Don’t say anything in a moment of excitement or anger. Stay calm and take a deep breath before you answer any questions that may have an emotional impact on you.
- Don’t provide opinions or conclusions on any facts, unless you are an expert witness. Answer only what you know – and for anything else, answers like “I don’t recall” or “I do not know” are appropriate answers
- Don’t be bullied. If you are consistently interrupted by opposing counsel, calmly indicate that you would like to finish your prior response for the record.
- Don’t become argumentative. Again, stay calm. A deposition can be stressful, but lashing out in anger, becoming defensive, or being overly apologetic are emotions that will only help the opposition in discovering a weakness in your demeanor or case.
- Don’t answer questions about a document or an exhibit before you ask to see it first. If there are any mistakes within the document or you haven’t seen the information before, you should speak up. Only answer the question after you’ve examined the document first.
This may seem like a lot to remember, but your lawyer’s prep and his presence during the deposition will be enough to keep you on track. Try to remember that the opposing team is not only listening to the answers you give, they are also looking at your temperament and how believable and how likable you will be in a real courtroom situation.
3. What does a deposition look like?
This is a good question because you’ll be more prepared and much calmer when you know what to expect on this day. The first step involves being sworn in by the court reporter. If you prefer not to swear to God, then your attorney can ask if you may simply ‘affirm’ the oath instead. The opposing attorney may have some rules they would like to follow. These include things like:
- Don’t speak while they are asking questions so the court reporter can accurately record the questions.
- Ask for clarification if you don’t understand their questions
- if you need a break for the restroom or an emergency call, please ask for one
Once the questions and answers begin, you cannot talk to your attorney about the answers or testimony you are given. Your attorney is only there to prevent you from answering questions that are improper and/or not in your best interest to answer. When your attorney objects to a question, stop talking, and then he will tell you whether to answer or not. Many objections are simply “for the record” because there is no judge present. Sometimes your lawyer will object to a question, then tell their clients to go ahead and answer. This is common, so don’t be surprised if it happens.
4. Know when you should not give an answer
The best way to survive deposition questions that you don’t have a good answer for is to not panic. The opposing attorney is not an authority that is forcing an answer to questions. You are only responsible for answering truthfully to questions that you have first-hand knowledge of the answer. Don’t feel ashamed or disappointed if you don’t have an answer for one or more of the questions presented.
Simply stating that you honestly do not know the answer to a question is better than taking a guess or fabricating an answer. This is a crucial point to make. Why? Because each time you answer a question incorrectly, it can be made to look as if you are not telling the truth. When this happens the opposing team can question your credibility on other important facts.
In a few weeks, you will likely be answering the same questions before a judge and/or a jury. The answers you presented during the deposition may be read aloud in a trial from your transcript. If your deposition was videotaped, then the judge can go back and view you telling a different story or giving a different answer to the same question. Your credibility and trustworthiness can take a huge hit when this happens.
5. How to answer questions about injuries and medical treatments
Be prepared to speak up on your own behalf on how your life has been affected by the car accident, including any injuries you received and medical treatments that you have or are presently undergoing. The only way to answer medical questions is with the truth as discussed with your lawyer. Many medical conditions or injuries after a car accident can present themselves again later down the road. So, don’t feel bad if you’ve healed nicely from a neck or back injury because often people face long-term physical limitations that can disappear and reappear.
You want to relay to the courts just how your injuries are affecting your day-to-day activities, including work, quality time with family and friends, and even the simple ability to relax or be active. If there are things that you cannot do as well (or for as long or as often as before) make sure this is clear in your answers.
Have all documentation that details any missed time from work as a result of the accident and how much income you have lost and are claiming. Be clear about any symptoms you have and any conditions you are being treated for. Remember, timelines are important in car accident cases. Have documentation on when you first received medical care after the car accident and know what you told the doctor about your symptoms at that first visit.
Partner with Shiner Law Group personal injury attorneys that understand your problems and know the issues you are dealing with. Our staff is more than happy to get you prepared for a successful deposition that works to your advantage.