Understanding the deposition process for a car accident injury.
What is a deposition?
If you are injured in a car accident or slip-and-fall (or any personal injury case, for that matter), you will have to provide your side of the events in a legal way, called a deposition. Any time somebody is asking you a series of questions—especially when the outcome bears weight on your life—it can be intimidating. Reading about what to expect (as you are now), and preparing for the event, will make things more comfortable since you will know what to expect and how to respond. If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you will be the one giving testimony at the deposition (called a deponent). For this reason, when the article refers to you, I am speaking about the person being interviewed and giving the answers.
A deposition is the legal term for giving sworn evidence in a case or trial. The process is similar to that of a witness giving testimony in open court, except that a deposition for a personal injury case is usually taken before the trial, in a private setting. At the beginning of a deposition you will be sworn in to give accurate and true information. That oath, and the transcript of everything said, will be taken by a court reporter known as a stenographer. They are the people you see in a courtroom typing very fast on what looks like a small typewriter. Just like in court, you will swear to “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
Who is deposed?
A deposition is part of something called pre-trial discovery. Basically, it is the information gathering part of the process. Legally, both sides have the right to questions the parties involved. Therefore, the defendant’s attorney will have the right to question you, the plaintiff. Likewise, your attorney will have an opportunity to question the defendant. Other people, like witnesses, may be deposed also.
A deposition is not a matter of trying to prove anyone right or wrong, or decide who is at fault, it is simply an important part of the process that seeks to gain the facts of the event.
What will the deposition look like?
A deposition is usually taken at the office of your attorney or the defendant’s, but never in a courtroom. You, your attorney, the defendant’s attorney, and the insurance adjuster will all be present, as well as, the court reporter. Sometimes, the proceedings are recorded by video, in which case a videographer will be present also. The deposition is usually taken in a conference room.
Will I be prepared by anyone?
Yes, of course. Your attorney will meet with you a few days prior to the event and go over everything you need to know. Your side of the event, your medical records, your personal history, and every other piece of relevant information that may come up will be covered in-depth. This way, you already know what you are going to say and how to say it. You may want to revisit the accident scene and go over any written statements already given to help refresh your memory. Later in this article, we will discuss some tips for giving a deposition.
What will be asked?
This is the information most people really want to know about their up-coming deposition. Your attorney will go over all this with you, but to give you a head-start, here is some of the information you can expect to give. Keep in mind that it may seem like a lot, and some questions may seem irrelevant, but it’s the nature of the beast, so to speak. Remember, you can answer a lot of these questions—like your name, number of children, etc.—without much thought, and for the harder-to-remember-stuff, you will be prepared by your attorney.
- Your name; address; telephone number; date of birth.
- Where you have lived for the past 10 years.
- Your educational background, like schools and degrees and any education and/or training you have received.
- Your family background, like marital status; number of children; living situation, such as who lives with you now and who lived with you at the time of your accident. (This information is relevant because they want to know who depends on you and thus who else might have been affected by your injury)
- Your health and medical background, like other injuries and health issues that existed before the accident; other injuries and health issues that you’ve experienced since the accident; any chronic health problems; and, doctors you have seen during the last 10 years and the types of treatment you have received. (The attorney is really looking to see here if you have injured the same body part in the past).
- Employment background, like your last several jobs; your current job including duties, physical requirements, hours, pay, supervisor, co-workers; whether you have missed time from work during the last five years, and if so, how much and why?
- Criminal background, like if you have ever been convicted of a crime, and if so what and when. (They are looking to see if you are trustworthy or if you have committed a crime of honesty in the past).
- Injury and civil lawsuit claims background, like if you have ever filed any lawsuits; or if you have ever made any other types of claims, like worker compensation or medical malpractice.
Details of the Accident
It may seem like the attorney should already know most of this information, and they might, but sometimes multiple attorneys or adjusters are handling your case. Also, they need to hear the information from you.
- Time, date, day of week, and location of accident.
- Where were you coming from and where were you going?
- What were the weather conditions?
- What were the traffic conditions?
- Were there any traffic control devices, such as traffic lights, stop signs, other traffic signs, lane markings, etc.?
- Exactly what each driver involved did and when. Be prepared for specific questions about times and distances. For example:
- How far was the other car from you when you first saw it?
- Where was the other car on the roadway at the time?
- How fast were you going?
- How fast was the other car going?
- Where on the roadway did the cars collide?
- What areas of the vehicles collided, for example the driver’s side fender, passenger side door, etc.?
- Where did the cars finally come to a stop?
- What happened to your body inside the vehicle when the collision occurred? Did any part of your body hit any part of the car?
- What happened to your car after it was hit?
- Was there any physical damage to any of the cars involved? Was your car repaired? How much did the repairs cost?
- Did you speak to the other driver after the accident? What did each of you say? Did either of you admit fault?
- Did anyone witness the accident? Who were they? Who came to the accident scene within two hours after the accident?
- Do you have any photos or diagrams that show the accident scene?
- Did you drink any alcohol during the 24 hours before the accident? Were you on any drugs or medications?
- Did you fill out an accident report with the police?
Details about Your Injuries and Treatment
- What injuries did you sustain from the accident?
- Did you have any health conditions before the accident that were made worse?
- What doctors and other health care providers have you seen for treatment of your injuries?
- What symptoms did you have at the scene of the accident? Did you get out of your car and walk around at the scene?
- When did you first get medical care? Were you seen by a medical professional at the scene, such as an EMT or transported to the hospital?
- What did you tell the doctor were your symptoms at that first visit?
- What were your symptoms over time? Did your symptoms get any better or worse? Which ones and when?
- If there were any gaps in your medical care—periods of several weeks or more that you did not get any treatment—why did you not get treatment?
- What symptoms, if any, do you still have that are attributed to this accident?
- How much are your medical bills so far?
- Have you missed any time from work as a result of this accident? How much? When? What amount of lost income are you claiming?
- Will you miss work or lose income in the future as a result of this accident? If so, explain.
- How have your injuries affected your day-to-day activities?
- What are the things that you cannot do at all as a result of your injuries?
- What are the things that you cannot do as well, as often, or for a similar duration as before your injuries?
- How has your injury affected your personal relationships, like your marriage or with your children? Any loss of enjoyment of other activities together? Has there been any loss or reduction of sex-drive? Loss of vacations? Loss of other opportunities? Explain.
Tips for Giving a Deposition
Now that you know what to expect and what the questions will be like, let’s go over some tips for how to give a deposition effectively without hurting your case or jeopardizing the compensation you deserve.
- Be prepared– As mentioned above, your attorney will help to prepare you for the deposition by going over: some questions to expect, what you will say, your medical records, etc. Also, it may be helpful to revisit the scene of the accident and any written testimonies already provided to the defense. It may also be helpful to briefly go through your past addresses and other personal information you may not know off the top of your head.
- Listen carefully– You will hear the attorney questioning you state at the beginning that, if you do not understand a question, to let them know. If you answer, it will be assumed you understood the question. Heed this advice. Before you answer a question, make sure you understand what is being asked. Attorneys have prepared questions, but are also making some up as they go, so they may not always be very clear. Ask them to repeat themselves.
- Stick to the question– Only answer the question that is being asked. Do not provide them with more information than is necessary to answer the question. This is not to be secretive, but instead a matter of precision and not giving away any information they may misconstrue.
- Be honest– It is definitely in your best interest to give honest answers, 100% of the time. Do not try to give the answer you think is “right” or that they want to hear. If you do, it is possible that at some point, your answers will not align with each other. Attorneys tend to repeat themselves for clarification purposes, but also to stall while coming up with other questions. If your answers to the same question don’t match, you lied under oath and no longer look credible to a judge or jury.
- Don’t guess– Similar to the rule above about honesty, do not guess at an answer. As mentioned above, you may be asked to give precise measurements, like “In feet, how far away was the other car?” “At exactly what time did you collide?” “Exactly how fast were you going at impact?” These questions are impossible to answer honestly, since you probably did not measure the accident scene or were not staring at the clock during impact. Do not guess. Feel free to say, “I don’t know.” Similarly, if you are asked about dates of employment or anything else you can’t recall, do the same thing. It is perfectly okay to not know the answer to a question.
- Be professional– This goes both ways. Do not get upset or frustrated—or at least do not let it show—no matter what. You want to stay calm and in control. Your attorney is right there with you and will object to anything that is out-of-control or out-of-bounds. Likewise, do not joke around or be sarcastic in response to a question. Remember the deposition is being typed. Jokes do not translate well onto paper; something you say could be misinterpreted.
- Answer with yes or no– Similar to not volunteering extra information, you want to stick to yes or no answers when possible. This will help things move along and also prevent extra information from being exchanged.
- Respond out loud– Head shakes and “uh-huhs” or “uh-uh” do not transcript well. If you make this mistake, as is natural, you will just simply be reminded to verbalize your answer.
- One at a time– Do not speak over the other attorney. First of all, you want to hear the entire question so you don’t answer something that wasn’t asked. Secondly, a court reporter cannot write to people’s words at once.
Dolman Law Group
Although giving a deposition may seem like an intimidating process, sitting down with an experienced attorney and being thoroughly prepared beforehand can make all the difference. At Dolman Law Group, we meet with clients several times prior to the scheduling of their deposition to go over the process and answer any questions one may have.
As explained above, we will discuss your deposition with you before it is scheduled to occur. Generally, we schedule a deposition review one to three days in advance. We will explain what you can expect and you will be free to ask questions about the process. It is proper to admit discussing your deposition testimony with your counsel. Discussions with your attorney concerning the facts of your accident occur in every case; consultation is entirely proper and expected. What was specifically discussed is privileged and protected. If you have questions about an auto accident, or know someone who has been injured in one with questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at (727) 853-6275.
Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652
1 Florida Automobile Insurance Law 9th ed. (Tallahassee, FL: Florida Bar, Continuing Legal Education, 2014): §8.26, §8.50.