Following a car accident in which you are injured, you may at some point have your deposition taken by an attorney that represents the insurance company that insures the at-fault party. This can be a nerve wracking experience for anyone. With any luck, your personal injury attorney will help prepare you for what to expect. No matter what the symptoms or cause of your injury, your deposition is an important part of your case, and understanding how to best answer the questions asked of you is something you should take seriously.
With a little preparation, you can rest assured your deposition will go smoothly. A deposition is sworn testimony. This means you will literally raise your right hand before answering the questions and swear to tell the truth. A certified court reporter will ask this of you. Be advised that the deposition may be recorded on video as well. While the format is basically a conversation or interview, the importance of your answers cannot be understated: your deposition will be typed up in a word-for-word document that becomes part of the official record on your case, meaning it can (and likely will) be presented at trial. You should therefore prepare for your deposition as if you were preparing to answer the same questions before a judge and jury in a courtroom.
We have prepared five things you should remember when preparing for your deposition. This is not official legal advice, and we urge you to seek legal counsel and/or representation by an attorney in order to understand the details specific to your case.
Answer the Question and STOP Talking
Most lawyers agree that the shorter your answer to a deposition question, the better. Keep it simple. Remember that although you are sitting across from an attorney, the result of the deposition is a written transcript. The deposition transcript is written in the following format:
Attorney: What color was the car?
Respondent (You): Blue
The range of questions the attorney on the other side of the table asks you is essentially unlimited. The attorney may appear to be your best friend, or may come off as mean and combative - you never know and it does not really matter. End of the day, the attorney asking you the questions is not your friend - his or her job is to chip away at your case and find weaknesses or inconsistencies in your version of events. This can be tricky, as many of the questions you will be asked are not difficult, and there’s no room for error, such as ‘what is your birthdate,” or “where were you born?” But some questions are not so simple. For example, “explain to me the symptoms of you injuries.”
In short, you should listen to the question you are asked, and pause for a second before answering. What was the question? Answer only that question, and wait for the attorney to ask you another question. It is easy to get into “conversation mode,” where you feel like you are just having a normal conversation, back-and-forth, with the attorney. This is especially challenging when you get along well with the attorney, who may be very friendly towards you. Remember: answer the question asked of you, and stop talking! The more you talk, the better for the attorney on the other side of the table. If you remember just one tip, remember this: answer the question and stop talking!
Don’t Volunteer Information
The attorney asking you questions can basically ask you whatever he or she wants. Your attorney will be there, but your attorney won’t be doing much talking. Again, this is not a normal conversation, but rather an opportunity for the insurance company’s lawyers to chip away at your case, which ultimately means less money in your settlement. You may feel the urge to explain yourself, or give your version of events.
Listen to your lawyer, as he or she is well versed in injury law and will help you understand when you should feel free to give your version of what happened, and when you should keep quiet. We have a tendency to try to be defensive if we feel our opinions or position on an issue is being attacked. The fact that you are sitting in a conference room answering questions to an attorney for an injury you incurred through no fault of your own might be offensive, even angering to you. But don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Remember, if your attorney guides you to share more information in a particular line of questioning, feel free to do so. Otherwise, don’t volunteer information, even if in your mind you feel like it is completely harmless and can only help you.
Not Your Friend
Defense lawyers (as with all lawyers) come in all shapes and sizes, and most importantly, their personalities are not always predictable. You may be imagining a scary, intimidating older man, or perhaps a sharp and mean lady. This may be who you are sitting across the table from. But don’t be surprised if the attorney is the opposite of what you imagined. Maybe he or she is younger, more attractive, friendlier, or however you say it, a lot more likable than what you were expecting. We tend to talk more easily when we are with people we get along with, so don’t be surprised if the attorney talks with you in a way that makes you very comfortable. Don’t get too comfortable, and remember, he or she is doing their job, and you’re unlikely to meet this attorney again. Just because you are having a good time talking to the attorney, or you feel he or she is really on your side, doesn’t mean this person won’t hurt your case, or weaken it. That is his or her job. Remember that the defense attorney is not your friend.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
There is a reason the attorney is asking you the questions he or she is asking you. Don’t try to figure it out. Some of the questions regarding your injury will make sense. Some won’t. Do not waste your time engaging in mind games, trying to understand what the other attorney is trying to get at, or trying to get you to say. At the same time, don’t assume the questions are not important. You should be concise in your answers, and answer truthfully, but you should not try to add information in an effort to “fight back.” Leave that to your injury lawyer, who will have experience in understanding what the other attorney is doing, and why.
If you feel like you want to talk to your lawyer, you can at any time ask to step into the hall. Most defense lawyers will ask that you first answer the last question they asked you, and then step into the hall. But you may sense that you are uncomfortable with the direction the questioning is going. This is normal. Feel free to take a bathroom break, ask to speak with your injury lawyer in the hall, or go “off the record” whenever you want.
Don’t be surprised if you are answering questions for many hours. For the first two or three hours, you may feel like your deposition is a breeze. But five or six hours in, you may find yourself somewhat exhausted. This is often by design. Again, you do not need to figure the whole process out. In fact, because you are not an injury attorney, you’ll never be able to learn all the nuances necessary to understand exactly what is going on. This takes years and years of practice, and you would first have to handle thousands of injury cases to pick up on the trends, tricks, and traps. Trust the counsel of your lawyer, and he or she will guide you through the entire process and help you get through your deposition testimony without unnecessary stress or anxiety.
Your Deposition is Not a Conversation
Finally, remember that you are not just chatting casually with an attorney about how you were hurt. Defense lawyers are building their case against you, even if the lawyer sitting on the other side of the table has a smile on his or her face. Remember that you have sworn to tell the truth, and that every word you say will be transcribed (typed) and made into a small booklet that can be used at trial. Don’t get carried away talking too much. Listen to your lawyer, and answer only the question asked of you, one at a time. Take a moment after each question to think about what was actually asked, and provide a basic, brief answer. If you remember that the court reporter is typing every word, you will speak more slowly, which is good for everyone. Don’t interrupt the attorney who is asking you questions.
“Don’t Get Screwed”
This information is not official legal counsel, and you should not rely on it exclusively. These tips were compiled by plaintiff’s attorneys at The Lions Injury Lawyers, P.C., a law firm that helps injured people get fair money for their pain and suffering. The Lions are based in Orange County, California, but represent plaintiffs throughout the state of California, from San Diego all the way to the Oregon border, and everywhere in between. If you have questions regarding your injury or your case, feel free to call The Lions today. You will speak with a lawyer, not a salesperson, and your call is free of charge.