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5 Things To Remember During Your Personal Injury Deposition

Sitting across the table from a lawyer that represents the insurance company for your personal injury case can be intimidating. Fortunately, with a little preparation and sound legal representation, you have nothing to worry about.

Sitting across the table from a lawyer that represents the insurance company for your personal injury case can be intimidating. Fortunately, with a little preparation and sound legal representation, you have nothing to worry about.

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!

The format of your personal injury deposition does not change based on location - your case might be Orange County, the Central Coast, or San Diego - it doesn’t matter.

The format of your personal injury deposition does not change based on location - your case might be Orange County, the Central Coast, or San Diego - it doesn’t matter.

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.

A deposition may be one step you have to go through to get to the light at the end of the tunnel on your personal injury case. In most injury cases, this is a step that helps lawyers on both sides prepare for trial, or expedite the settlement of your case.

A deposition may be one step you have to go through to get to the light at the end of the tunnel on your personal injury case. In most injury cases, this is a step that helps lawyers on both sides prepare for trial, or expedite the settlement of your case.

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.

Treatment for a Car Accident Injury: How Long Can You Treat?

One of the most frequent and important questions regarding treatment for an injury stemming from a car accident is how long you can treat and expect that the at-fault driver's insurance company will pay for your treatment. Some injuries, such as a broken bone, may be fairly predictable, while other car crash injuries may take significantly longer to mend.

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Big Picture: Treat Until You're Healed

The law basically says that if you were injured and it was not your fault, it is the other party's responsibility to make you whole again. This has been interpreted to mean that you should essentially be put back in the same position you were before the car crash. One way insurance companies avoid paying medical claims from car crashes is by saying that your injuries were "preexisting conditions," or in other words, you already had the ailment or were hurt in that area of your body before the car crash. If that is true, the insurance company (who steps in for the actual driver who caused the crash), does not have to pay for your medical bills relating to a preexisting condition. But what if you were injured in an area of your body that was already painful or hurt, and now it is worse?

Aggravation of Preexisting Conditions

Nobody is perfectly healthy, and the older we get, the more ailments we tend to have. For example, it is common for older people to have back pain. So if you have back pain before a car accident, does that mean that you can't receive medical treatment for the pain if it is now worse than it was before your car accident? California courts have taken the approach of looking at what is fair and reasonable, and consider whether the treatment received is medically necessary. Thus, if you had a bad back before the crash, but it has gotten worse, you should be able to seek treatment. After all, the increase in pain cannot be attributed to you being older, but directly relates to the car crash. Thus, California residents (and this is the same for those living in Southern California as in Northern California) should consider getting medical help and treatment for the aggravation and exacerbation of prior injuries if it is reasonable and medically necessary.

Examples of Treating Prior Medical Conditions

Consider that some people are involved in multiple car crashes. After all, California roads are among some of the busiest in the country, and some of our cities, like Los Angeles, Orange County metro area, like Irvine and Costa Mesa, see millions of drivers every week on their thoroughfares. Thus, some people experience a car wreck more than once. What if a person is injured, received medical treatment and is feeling better, and then gets in another car accident that is not his or her fault, but is injured in the same way again?

If the injury is in the neck and back, the individual will likely follow this type of treatment: a visit to a doctor, which may include going to the emergency room or an urgent care, but often is simply a visit to your primary care physician; then, perhaps they have an x-ray taken, or an MRI, in order to find out the extent and severity of the injury; next, they may go to a chiropractor or pain management doctor and try to heal their injuries through therapy; finally, if necessary, the individual may have a surgical procedure, such as a fusion surgery, or receive a stem cell injection, or an epidural injection. There tends to be a chronology of care that increases in seriousness as the treatment continues. Nobody wants to have an epidural injection, or have an invasive procedure like surgery on their back. However, if the pain a person feels continues, they may elect these procedures.

How do Insurance Policy Limits Play In?

The more treatment an injured person receives, the more expensive it will be. The more intensive the treatment, such as surgery or injection of an epidural or stem cells, the more costly the care is. But what happens if there is not enough money in the at-fault driver's insurance policy? The basic answer is that the at-fault driver's insurance company can rarely be made to pay you more than what their insured's policy limits are. Thus, if the individual who caused the crash was insured for only $15,000, at the end of the day, that is likely the most the insurance company will pay for your medical bills. Of course, if there is a bigger insurance policy, and your injury requires more costly medical care to recover from, then the insurance company will be made to pay more to make you whole again.

It does not seem fair that the same injury can settle for different sums of money, but consider a situation in which two people have the same injuries, but one was injured by someone with a million dollar insurance policy, and the other person was injured by someone with a $15,000 "minimal" policy (in California, to legally drive on California roads, $15,000 is the minimum amount of liability coverage individuals need to be insured for). Now, consider that the two people both need a surgery that costs $50,000. The individual who was hit by someone with a million dollar policy will be able to get the surgery and can reasonably predict the insurance company will eventually be made to foot the bill. The individual hit by the driver with the minimal insurance policy may elect to get the surgery, but how will they pay for it? If the insurance company pays the $15,000, what happens to the remaining $35,000 of the bill? And what about pain and suffering, lost wages, and future medical treatment?

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How an Injury Attorney Can Help

Most people don't know how to proceed in a situation such as the example shown above - even finding out how much the at-fault driver is insured for can be a great challenge to people who are not represented by an injury lawyer. The good news is that injury law firms usually work on a contingency fee basis, meaning whatever money they are paid comes out of what they win. For example, most injury lawyers will pay all the costs on a case up front, and won't get pain anything until they win your case, so you're never left writing a check to your lawyer, not knowing whether you'll actually win in the end or not.

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An injury attorney can help you compare your situation to other cases, and can help advise regarding policy limits, jurisdictional issues (a case in San Francisco may play out differently in court than it would in Los Angeles County, or Orange County), and other questions you might have. Regarding how long you should treat, a good injury lawyer will be able to get into the details about your prior injuries or ailments, and will help you understand the process of how injury cases are handled, including what the general value of your case may be, and whether or not your case is one that will likely go to trial or not. 

Ask More Questions

The more you understand how the injury claims process works in California, the better position you will be in to make wise and educated decisions. If you're like most people, this is new territory. Fortunately, injury lawyers and most injury law firms have seen hundreds and sometimes thousands of cases, and their attorneys can compare your case with the outcome of similar cases. Without knowing how similar cases worked out in the past, you will have a hard time making educated decisions regarding your treatment. For this reasons, many people find it helpful to discuss their injury with a car crash lawyer, even if they don't decide to hire the lawyer. The more you know, the better you'll be in the long run, and that is never more true than when it comes to treating your car accident injury.