If you were involved with an incident that resulted in a personal injury claim, you might receive a subpoena requiring you to testify. Perhaps you caused a car accident by rear-ending the person in front of you or were a witness at the scene of a car accident. Or maybe you were an employee who helped maintain the facilities where someone sustained injuries after a slip-and-fall accident.
You may have visions of being cross-examined in a formal court settings like you see on TV, but most cases are settled before they ever go to trial. More than likely, you will be testifying for a deposition, which often occurs in a less formal setting, such as an attorney’s office.
In this blog, we’ll help you understand what a deposition is. We’ll also share guidelines for testifying at a deposition.
After you file a personal injury claim and before a case is settled or goes to trial, there is a process known as “discovery.” Discovery is essentially an investigative process, with all named parties gathering information to support their claim so that they can make the most compelling case possible.
The discovery may involve issuing a subpoena to the opposing party, requiring them to turn over documents that shed light on the case. It can also involve sending them “interrogatories,” which are written questions about the details of the case that they must answer and return.
The deposition is yet another form of discovery. A deposition gathers oral statements from those who were involved in the injury incident, witnessed the incident, or were privy to surrounding events.
What to Expect
If you are asked to testify in a deposition, you will likely receive a subpoena asking you to show up at a certain time and place, usually the office of an attorney or court reporter.
The following parties will likely be in attendance:
- All parties directly involved in the case (defendant, plaintiff, etc.)
- The legal counsel of these parties
- The person being deposed (witness, etc.)
- A court reporter, who will record what is said at the deposition
The questions usually revolve around:
- The personal background of the person testifying (education, employment, family, etc.)
- Civil claims or criminal background (have you ever filed a lawsuit or been convicted of a crime?)
- Accident details
- Injuries resulting from the accident and ensuing treatment
How to Prepare
If you are deposed, you may find yourself feeling very nervous about what you might be asked and how you should present yourself. Here are a few tips to help you testify competently and with confidence.
- Be honest. First and foremost, tell the truth. Even little white lies can spin into big webs that could trap you later and discredit your testimony.
- Prepare. Preparing well can help minimize some of the anxiety that you may be feeling about the deposition and ensure that you convey your story in the best way possible. If you are one of the official parties in the case and have an accident injury attorney on your side, talk to them about what strategies the opposing party might use in the deposition. Practice formulating answers to potential questions on your own, and ask your attorney if they will consider a “trial run” where they question you on the spot, allowing you to give spontaneous answers. You can even consider scheduling a visit to the place where the deposition will be held so you can get familiar with your surroundings.
- Study all relevant documents. This might include the police report, medical records or any written communications that you may have shared per the opposing party’s request. These may all be used as a basis for questioning.
- Look your best. You want to present yourself as someone who is responsible and credible. You don’t have to wear your Sunday best, but do look well-groomed and professional.
- Stay cool. Depositions can dredge up a lot of emotion, but you should avoid getting angry or irritated. It’s fine to express emotion as you testify, but make sure that you don’t lose your cool. After all, you want to present yourself as someone who is likable and even-tempered.
- Clarify the question. You can’t give a good answer to a question you don’t understand. If you aren’t exactly sure what the attorney is asking you, ask him or her to clarify before you respond.
- Don’t say more than you have to. Don’t be lured into sharing extra information that could hurt your case. A deposition is not the time to be chatty. Answer the question, and leave it at that.
- Take your time. Nerves might make you feel rushed, but slow it down. Take time to formulate a response in your head before you respond.
- Don’t guess. If the attorney asks you something that you don’t know, don’t guess or speculate. And if you know an approximate answer but not the exact one, make sure to qualify your response accordingly. For example, if an attorney asks how fast you were going in advance of a car accident and you don’t know the exact speed, you could give a range: “I was going somewhere between 20 and 30 mph.”
- Use yes or no. You may be accustomed to nodding or shaking your head to give answers or using muddled words like “uh huh.” Save those for outside of the courtroom. A court reporter will be recording your testimony and will need to hear a clear yes or no—not body language or slang.
- Take a break. If you need a minute to compose yourself or to counsel with your attorney, don’t be shy about asking for a break in the proceedings.
If you have prepared, you can approach your deposition with self-assurance and positivity. Relax—rarely is a deposition as intimidating as people fear it may be. And if you have an attorney on your side, they can handle the task of building a watertight legal case so that you can focus on answering the questions at hand with honesty and confidence.