What Happens in a Personal Injury Deposition?
Once your personal injury claim is filed and answered your case will enter a process known as “discovery.” Discovery is essentially a time for both attorneys to locate as many of the facts of the case as they can, and to use those facts to build their arguments and their eventual settlement offer.
Depositions are a big part of the discovery process, and they’re one you yourself will probably be participating in. While being deposed can cause some anxiety, it’s a routine part of the case and one your lawyer will prepare you for rather thoroughly.
What is a personal injury deposition?
A deposition is a series of statements made on the record and under oath. They take place in an office, rather than in a courtroom, and no judge is present. You’re required to tell the truth just as you would be required to do so if you were taking the stand in a personal injury trial. A court reporter will be on hand to put everything on the record.
While it’s rare for personal injury cases to go to trial the results of the deposition can be brought up in court. For example, if a witness says “the red car turned onto Smith Street” in the deposition but says, “the red car turned onto Wilson Lane” in court, the attorney can pull out the deposition and say, “But under oath in depositions on August 27 you said Smith Street. Which was it?”
In reality, depositions help both attorneys determine the strength of one another’s cases. While this seems like it could be a disadvantage, it’s actually quite helpful. It sets the stage for settlement conferences.
If your attorney can go in and show, during the course of the deposition process, that you have a strong case that’s likely to do very well if forced in front of a jury then the defendant will tend to be a lot more amenable to working up a fair settlement during the negotiation process.
What should you say in a personal injury deposition?
You should always tell the truth, but if that were all there was to successfully handling a deposition then we attorneys would spend a lot less time prepping our clients and witnesses.
One big trick is to avoid volunteering information. Answer only the question that’s asked, with the exact amount of detail it takes to answer it. If asked, “Did you turn onto Smith Street at 6 PM,” say “yes.” Don’t say, “Yes, because I was trying to get to my child’s daycare before it closed.” Those details might seem harmless to you…right up until you get a bunch of follow-up questions about whether you were in a hurry, whether you were maybe speeding, and whether you were really paying as much attention as you thought you were when you were worried about getting somewhere on time.
If you say it, then you invite the other attorney to ask about it. So don’t say it unless you have to. Don’t be afraid to pause a moment to compose your answer, to take a deep breath, or even to ask for a repeat of the question or a clarification of the question if you don’t understand it.
Finally, stay calm. Emotional responses can be used against you and can cause you to reveal more than you mean to.
Do most cases settle after a deposition?
92% of cases settle out of court, period, but most won’t settle until the deposition process is complete. This is, again, because this is the point where the defendant’s lawyers start to see whether they have a strong enough position to dig in or whether it behooves them to settle. Of course, the opposite is also true.
Try not to be too nervous when your deposition happens. Our attorneys will ensure you are thoroughly prepared and ready to go. From there, do your best and trust in the process and your counsel to see the matter through to a favorable conclusion.