What to Expect in a Personal Injury Deposition
Depositions are a key part of the discovery process. The purpose of depositions is to allow parties and their counsel to investigate and gather facts and information to help them assess their case and plan the development of case strategy to trial to best accentuate strengths and minimize weaknesses. A deposition is like an interview in which the plaintiff is questioned by defense counsel about his or her personal injury claim and the basis of his or her case against the defendant.
How can you prepare for your deposition?
The primary instructions for plaintiffs to best prepare for their depositions are simple. The first directive is to listen closely and carefully. It is imperative to wait for the entire question to be asked before attempting to speak. It is crucial to answer only the question asked and not to ramble, offer further information, or speak in circles.
If the plaintiff does not know the answer to the question asked, it is prudent to say, "I do not recall" or "I do not know" rather than guess, speculate, or state something inaccurate. A party is only held accountable for what he or she knows and is not being asked to give opinion, advice, or information in areas in which he or she is unfamiliar or inexperienced.
The plaintiff is directed to answer the questions truthfully. He or she is reminded that he or she is under oath and answers the questions under penalty of perjury. If the plaintiff later gives a different response to the same questions under oath on the witness stand at trial, opposing counsel will probably try to impeach or discredit him or her.
Plaintiff's counsel will advise his or her client to pause a few seconds after a question is asked by defense counsel, so that plaintiff's counsel may have an opportunity to lodge an objection. This is particularly helpful so that the parties do not speak over each other, complicating the record and transcription process for the court reporter. In contentious depositions in which counsel are argumentative and adversarial, objections may be frequently and repeatedly lodged to questions to preserve the record.
Many litigants and their counsel prefer to meet prior to a deposition or at least to have a telephonic preparation session in advance. The purpose of the meeting is to:
- go over key facts, areas of concern or weakness, key documents, photographs, facts, dates, or other information
- stress points to try to communicate throughout testimony to strengthen the case
- discuss how best to navigate through tricky areas
These sessions occur close to the date of the deposition, so that the party being deposed has a fresh memory. Counsel will likely advise a party being deposed not to bring any written materials, notes, files, or other information to a deposition because it is subject to review by the other party and subject to questioning at the deposition.
For most personal injury cases, depositions are standard. There are five areas of substantive questioning:
- deponent's background information regarding age, employment, education, family, marriage, and residence
- any prior and subsequent accidents, aside from the accident that caused the injury at issue
- current accident and how it happened
- injuries claimed in the suit and medical treatment
- how the plaintiff's injuries have impacted the plaintiff's everyday lifestyle