If you are the plaintiff in a personal injury case, you will eventually be asked to testify in a deposition taken by opposing counsel. Depositions are part of the discovery process that parties to a lawsuit conduct before trial to learn about the facts, legal theories and claims of the other parties.
A deposition typically takes place in a law firm conference room and consists of a witness (you) being asked questions under oath by opposing counsel (i.e. the lawyers for the parties you have sued).
Your lawyer will attend the deposition for the purpose of protecting you from unfair, misleading, unclear or irrelevant questions (your lawyer will object to those questions). Your lawyer will also ask you some questions to correct, expand upon or clarify the answers you’ve given to opposing counsel.
All of the questions and answers in a deposition are transcribed by a court reporter and the transcript becomes part of the discovery material produced by the parties before trial.
So, what do you need to know before testifying at a deposition?
Why are depositions taken?
- Depositions can be used to impeach your credibility at trial so it is important to relay the same facts and give the same answers that you intend to give at the trial in your case. If you change your story at trial, the inconsistencies with your pretrial deposition will be used against you.
- A deposition is not your opportunity to tell “your story.” You are there to answer the questions asked by opposing counsel and not to create your own narrative about the incident that caused your injuries. The deposition is opposing counsel’s show – not yours.
- Opposing counsel will have 3 goals in the deposition:
- To find out what facts you know in connection with your legal claims (I.e. what you will say at trial).
- To pin you down to a specific version of the facts so that you have less room to alter your story at trial.
- To catch you in lies or inconsistencies in your version of the facts.
How can you be a good witness at your deposition?
- Tell the truth. You are under oath to tell the truth in a deposition just like you would be in court. It is crucial that your testimony be completely truthful. If you give inaccurate testimony – whether intentionally or not – you can hurt your case.
- Prepare for it. Review the documents in your case – your written discovery responses, your medical records and any other documents your lawyer asks to read. Think about what answers you will give to some of the likely questions and ask your lawyer to explain the legal claims in your case.
- Make a good impression. You want opposing counsel to conclude that you are a likeable, credible witness (and therefore dangerous for his client at trial). Be polite and cooperative and not angry, annoyed and argumentative.
- Listen Before Speaking. Listen carefully to opposing counsel’s entire question and understand it before you answer. Ask the lawyer to repeat or rephrase a question if you don’t understand it.
- Don’t volunteer information. Answer only the question that is asked by opposing counsel – don’t relay facts or other information that have not been requested.
- Keep the Transcript in Mind. The court reporter is trying to write everything down. Don’t talk over opposing counsel – wait until the whole question is asked before you answer. Answer all of the questions with words – don’t shake your head or nod and be sure to clearly say “Yes” or “No” (don’t mumble).
- Let Your Lawyer Speak. If your lawyer begins to speak, stop talking and let your lawyer resolve his comment or objection with opposing counsel before you continue.
- Don’t make up facts. You don’t need to have an answer to every question. If you don’t know or remember something, it is completely acceptable to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” Don’t guess or make up an answer.
- Read documents before testifying about them. If you are asked to answer questions about a document (a police report, medical records, tax return, etc.), read and understand it before you start answering questions about it.
- Correct or supplement your answers. If you realize you made in a mistake in answering a question or you need to add information to clarify an answer, tell your lawyer so that he can correct or supplement your testimony.
Depositions in a personal injury lawsuit can be complicated and tricky. If you’ve been injured in a vehicle accident, an experienced Phoenix personal injury attorney lawyer at Hirsch & Lyon can provide the representation you need for your claim. Call any of our offices to schedule a free consultation.