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What is a deposition? A deposition is the process in which a witness is asked questions under oath by an attorney. Testifying at a deposition is often a mysterious and nerve racking event for most people. To give a successful deposition it is important to understand a couple of things. First, you need to know what the defense attorney is trying to accomplish with their questions.
Most defense attorneys have two main goals during a deposition. The first goal is to get your complete story. Questions will generally range from how the accident happened, to what your injuries and treatment were, to what types of problems you are having today as a result of your accident. Of course there will be other questions, but those are generally the main areas of questioning.
By getting your complete story at the deposition, the attorney will be able to develop a strategy for the remainder of the case. That strategy may include trying to find inconsistencies in your story at trial. Therefore, it is important to be as accurate as possible when answering questions during a deposition.
The attorney’s second goal will be to evaluate you as a witness. They will be trying to gauge how effective you will testify should there be a trial. Will you be able to effectively communicate your story to the jury? Can you accurately describe how your accident happened? Do you have a strong grasp of your injuries and treatment?
In addition to understanding the defense attorney’s motives, it is also imperative to be prepared to answer questions. Over the years I’ve represented hundreds of people at depositions and found that having the client review the facts of the case prior to the deposition is very helpful. Also, while most people understand their accident and injuries, very few people are used to the specificity of the questions that they will face at a deposition. For example in car accident cases, often people are asked to give time estimates and/or speed estimates. This can be very tricky for some people, so it’s best to discuss it prior to the deposition.
Finally, I give my clients four simple rules to follow to effectively handle these unusual questions. I refer to these as the four commandments.
1) Tell the truth. Nothing hurts a case more then a lie. Even a white lie can kill your case. Once you are caught in a lie your credibility is ruined. While the truth sometimes hurts a case, it is never as bad as a lie. Every case has a weakness, so we don’t run from them with a lie, we deal with them head on with the truth.
2) Do not guess at answers. It is always better to say that you do not remember or don’t know an answer. You will face hundreds of questions at your deposition. If prepared properly you will know all of the key points of your case. The rest of the questions are window dressing for the defense attorneys report to his client. So, it’s ok not to know the answers to some of those questions.
3) Do not volunteer additional information. Most questions can be answered with just a few short words. For example, what time did the accident happen? Just simply say the time. No other explanation is necessary. Always remember a deposition is not a trial. If your case goes to trial you will have an opportunity to tell your entire story through much friendlier direct examination by your attorney.
4) My fourth rule is to keep calm. Don’t get agitated by the defense attorney’s questions. Don’t make light of the questions either. The defense attorney is always trying to get a read on your ability to testify. Should you get annoyed, seem aloof or act silly the defense will see that as a weakness to be exploited should the matter go to trial. Nervousness, however, is normal and usually passes after a few minutes of questions. Don’t be afraid to be a little nervous.
If you remember the defense attorney’s goals, review your case with your attorney and follow the four rules proposed here, your deposition will almost certainly be a success.
Steven Palermo is the managing partner for Palermo Law, Long Island’s Personal Injury Law Firm. He has been helping people receive compensation for their injuries for over 21 years. He focuses on cases involving car accidents, truck accidents, construction accidents and slip and fall injuries.
His book The Ultimate Guide to Handling New York Car Accident Claims details the ins and outs of a car accident claim in a simple, easy-to-read manner.