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Devon Glass
Devon Glass
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What's the big deal with my deposition?

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In a continuing series on the ins and outs of personal injury claims, beginning with what to do immediately after the injury up until you let a jury of your peers decide, it’s time to discuss what a deposition is and how it impacts your case.

When the time comes for you to have your deposition taken, you have already retained an attorney and a lawsuit has already been filed. There has also been discovery, or an investigation of the facts surrounding your injury and what treatment you’ve received since being injured. You’ve also answered interrogatories about where you lived, what happened in the accident, and what medical treatment you’ve had since you were born. Well, maybe not that far back, but if it were up to the defendant’s attorney you would have to tell them every single time you went to a doctor for anything. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

Now that all the attorney’s know what happened in your case that caused your injury and what kind of medical treatment you’ve had as a result, the attorney’s representing the defendant have an opportunity to ask you a whole bunch of questions on all the material they already know. It seems kinda crazy that you have to sit through it when you first think about it, but after this article it should hopefully make sense. I mean, if they already know the answers, why do they need to ask you a whole bunch of questions?

The basic point of a deposition is to allow the attorney to delve deeper into what answers already exist to get more context for the information they already know. The other, more important in my opinion, reason for a deposition is so the defendant’s attorney can figure out what kind of person you would be when sitting in front of a jury. They may know the factual answers and what happened, but what happened is almost as important as how you tell the story. I’ll explain that in a bit more detail soon.

Back to the basic purpose of the deposition. When you answer interrogatories with simple answers, there is likely many other things that could be related to that answer. If you say you were treated 5 years ago at the Mayo clinic, the defendant’s attorney would likely want to know what you were treated for and if there is any relationship between that prior treatment and your current injury. Maybe you broke your ankle 5 years ago and you also broke the same ankle in an automobile accident. The prior injury is relevant because you may not have fully healed from that injury, or it could have been treated improperly, or you may not have gotten any treatment other than an initial evaluation and failed to follow up as recommended by your doctor. That’s just off the top of my head. The answer to one question can often lead to dozens of further follow up questions.

Often times information is not available at the time you are answering interrogatories or it’s been a while since you answered them and the defendant’s attorney is interested in learning more about what’s currently happening with regard to your injury. There may also be an important dispute with regard to who is at fault for your injuries. Were there any witnesses, did you and the defendant exchange any words after the incident, maybe the defendant believes you or someone else did something to cause the accident and your testimony can help clear things up.

That’s the most basic thing about what a depositon is designed to accomplish, the explanation of what happened, what injuries you sustained and how it’s affected your life. I like to think about the deposition process as the chance to tell your story. You are the center of the lawsuit and your ability to recover damages from a jury or in the form of a settlement depend heavily on your testimony.

It’s not just what you have to say with your words, it’s also how you say your words and what you look like when you say them. I tell all my clients they should be polite, curteous, and do the best they can to not get upset or angry at the process. The reason I make these suggestions is because if a defense attorney knows you are a hot head or appear impolite when asked question, it can indicate to them what a jury might think of you. If you appear as someone who easily flys off the handle, a defense attorney is going to know to offer you a low settlement because a jury is likely to dislike you personally, and if that’s the case you don’t have much hope for your case. There are, of course, certain times when it’s appropriate to be upset at questions posed by the defense attorney, but if you refuse to answer questions or scoff at relatively simple questions, a jury is likely to find difficulty connecting with you as a person. Once the jury fails to see you as a sympathetic person, they will work very hard to deny you any award of damages because they have already decided you are one of "those" people who is only out for the money, regardless of how true that is.

Lawsuits are emotionally difficult proceedings and it’s often easy to let your emotions get a hold of you, but it’s important to try and respect the process as best as possible. This is not a suggestion that you be a cold, uncaring individual during your deposition. It’s only a suggestion to be as polite and sympathetic as possible under the circumstances. If you feel that you are starting to lose your cool during your deposition, let your attorney know you need to take a break to cool off. You don’t have to sit there the entire time, it’s okay to take a break.

This is what I mean when I mentioned earlier that your appearance is just as important as what you say. If a jury or defense attorney believes you have a sense of entitlement to an award of damages, they will be reluctant to give you anything. If, on the other hand, you respond politely and curteously to the questions, it will be easy for a jury or defense attorney to find you personable and likeable, thereby increasing the chances you will be awarded damages or a reasonable settlement.

The most important thing to remember about depositions is to always tell the truth. The only wrong answer a person can give in a deposition is a lie, and that can sink your case faster than anything else. Make sure not to exaggerate your claims, it will do you no good to make it seem like you are worse off than you actually are and people will not sympathize with someone they see as stretching the truth. Don’t argue with the defense attorney about the way a question is asked or whether the question is relevant, that’s for your attorney to decide. That’s why you’ve hired an attorney, to look out for you and your interests in the lawsuit. Your attorney will know when to allow you to answer a question or if a question is not allowed to be asked by placing an objection.

I could go on and on, but that’s the basics of a deposition and it’s impact on your case as I see it. I agree with Rick Shapiro that the deposition is the most important part of your case.

Here are a number of good injury law blog posts from my Injuryboard colleagues:

I was in an automobile accident. What should I do? Ten Tips For Hawaii Drivers, Wayne Parsons on September 14, 2009 – 3:59 AM EST.

What would a caveman bring to meet with the lawyer?, Steve Lombardi , September 15, 2009 11:00 AM

Solving Legal Problems, Being a Client, Back to the Basics, Steve Lombardi , September 15, 2009 8:48 AM

Car Accident Injury Client: What Makes the Case Good or Bad? (The Collision & Medical Care) , Rick Shapiro September 16, 2009 9:38 AM

Being a Client: More Tips To Help Improve Your Case If You’ve Been In An Car Accident , Devon Glass , September 17, 2009 8:39 AM

Presumed Guilty: How to Avoid Having Insult Added to Injury When You’ve Been Hurt in a Car Crash, Pierce Egerton , September 18, 2009 4:28 PM

What To Do After An Accident When The Adjuster Is There First, Mike Bryant, September 19, 2009 6:26 PM

What Questions Is The Lawyer Going To Ask Me At The Initial Interview For My Injury Or Death Case?, Wayne Parsons , 20 September 2009 12:01

What makes a case good or bad?, Steve Lombardi, 21 September 2009 12:57 PM

What To Do After An Accident When The Adjuster Has A Tape Recorder, Mike Bryant , September 23, 2009 10:01 PM

Do I have a good or a bad case?, Devon Glass, September 24, 2009

What are interrogatories and how do I answer them?, Steve Lombardi, September 29, 2009

Interrogatories: A Written Deposition , Devon Glass, September 30, 2009

How Do You Value Your Case? Mike Bryant October 03, 2009 9:29 AM

Demystifying Injury Litigation for Clients: What Are Interrogatories?, Rick Shapiro ,October 3, 2009

Do only dishonest people refuse to give a recorded statement? Steve Lombardi | October 06, 2009 10:47 AM

Demystifying Injury Litigation: What is a deposition and how do I get ready for it?, Rick Shapiro, October 21, 2009