How to Prepare for a Personal Injury Deposition:
Welcome to your Deposition 101 class. This is your guide to giving a great deposition. We live here in the city of the stars, Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood, where people come from all over to be the next George Clooney or Selma Hayek. They study, they research their roles, they rehearse, and they memorize their scripts, all at a chance to get their 15 minutes in the limelight
Now, here’s the deal. You get to be the star of your own deposition, but guess what? You don’t even have to study, rehearse, research, or memorize anything. To be a success, all you have to do is follow three easy rules, which you’ll hear me say over and over.
- Listen to the entire question.
- Think about the question and your answer
- Answer the question truthfully with as few words as possible.
With just a little effort, your deposition will be a walk in the park.
We will cover five topics that will help you prepare for your deposition: your deposition, what is it? What happens before your deposition day, what happens during your deposition day, the admonitions, also known as the rules, and what happens after your deposition day. Let’s get started.
Your deposition. What is it? If you’re watching this video, you’ve unfortunately been injured in an accident. Now, you may be thinking, “Why do I have to do all this stuff if my injury is due to someone else’s fault?” It’s a good question. It’s how our judicial system is set up to work. Each side gets to ask the opposing side questions to get information.
Okay, so what is a deposition? It’s a word to describe a question and answer session under oath during which the opposing side’s attorney asks you questions and you answer them. Your deposition will usually take place in a conference room at the opposing side’s office. There is no judge or jury.
As I said before, your deposition is a chance for the opposing side to gather information, but it’s also a chance for them to evaluate how well you will do if the case goes to trial. More specifically, they’re evaluating your credibility, which is, are you honest and trustworthy so that a jury will believe you?
Your credibility is the most important aspect of your case. That’s what a deposition is. Not very difficult at all, especially when you keep in mind that all you have to do is listen, think, and answer truthfully.
All right, let’s move on. What happens before your deposition day? Your deposition often comes months, if not years after your injury accident. That’s why in the weeks before your deposition you will watch this video and also meet with your Dominguez Firm attorney to go over the process and to awaken the memories so they are fresh in your mind. The good news is you don’t have to study for your deposition.
It can be helpful to take some quiet time on your own and go back in your mind to what life was like before the accident, the accident or incident itself, and your life after the accident, including what the doctors have told you about your future treatment or consequences of your accident. With all this said, it’s important to remember that this is not a test. It’s simply your day to listen, think, and answer questions to the best of your ability.
The day before the deposition, it is important to get a good night’s sleep and avoid drugs and alcohol. Wear nice clothes that you might wear to church or to a casual business meeting. A suit and tie or a formal dress is not necessary, and a blazer is optional.
The day before your deposition, map out where you need to go and plan for traffic delays. Get an early start, as we will ask you to arrive 15 to 30 minutes early. Of course, if you need help with transportation, just ask your Dominguez Firm attorney and we can help.
What happens during your deposition day? All right, so you’re all ready for your deposition day. So what’s it actually going to be like? Upon arriving at the deposition, you’ll meet with your Dominguez Firm attorney to make sure you’re all set to go. This is a good time for you to ask your attorney any last-minute questions you might have. After that, you and your attorney will go into the deposition conference room. The opposing attorney and the court reporter will join us in the room. The Dominguez Firm attorney will sit next to you for the entire process.
Most depositions can take a few hours and can last up to a full day, depending on the severity of your accident. It’s important for you to know that this is not a marathon. You’re allowed to take as many breaks as you need, whether it’s to use the restroom, stretch your legs, talk to your attorney, eat, or just give your brain a break. At any time, all you have to say is, “I’d like to take a break.”
Most depositions follow a similar format of five steps. The first step is when you take the oath to tell the truth. The court reporter administers an oath and uses a small typing machine to type out everything that is said during your deposition. Next, they will ask you to state and spell your name, raise your right hand, and then they will ask you to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, to which you will answer, “Yes.” The oath has the same force and effect as if you were in a formal courtroom and carries with it the penalty of perjury if you don’t tell the truth. That’s why it’s important for you to follow these three simple rules: listen to the entire question, think about the question and your answer, and answer the question truthfully with as few words as possible.
The second step is the admonition section. This is when the opposing attorney goes over the ground rules with you. This step is of most importance, and we will explain this in further detail in its own section.
The third step is the background section. The opposing attorney will ask you about your family history, work history, educational history, and some pertinent health history. The opposing attorney simply wants to get an idea about what your life was like before the accident. They may also ask about your recreational, social, and entertainment activities.
After that, the opposing attorney asks you about your accident. Most attorneys start on the day of your accident and ask you questions about events leading up to your accident. This line of questions will usually discuss any immediate medical treatment, times, speeds, distances. It’s a good time to slow down and make sure you listen to the question and think about the answer.
Next, the opposing attorney will go over your post-accident life. This will usually include a discussion of all of your injuries and your various medical care and treatment, past and future. When it comes to your medical symptoms and injuries as a result of your accident, it is important to mention all of them from head to toe. Here, it is okay to expand upon your answers. In this section, they will also ask you about how the accident impacted the enjoyment of your life, including the impact on your work, recreation, family, social, and entertainment activities.
At this point, the opposing attorney is usually done with their main questions. In very rare circumstances, your Dominguez Firm attorney might ask you some questions, and if so, it’s usually to clear something up. Another time you may hear from your Dominguez Firm attorney is when they’re issuing objections if the opposing attorney asks questions that do not meet legal requirements.
In rare instances, your attorney may tell you not to answer the question. It is very important that you listen to your attorney and follow any instructions your attorney might have for you.
Your attorney is there to make sure the day goes smooth, that the other attorney follows the rules, and that you are comfortable.
The admonitions, also known as the rules. All right, now that we’ve covered what a basic deposition structure looks like, we’ll back up a bit and talk about the admonitions, also known as the rules. After the oath, the opposing attorney will go over some of the rules of the deposition with you to make sure you understand them. Here are rules to keep in mind when you’re listening to the question.
Listen to the entire question. You might feel the urge to answer the questions before the full question has been asked, but you run into the risk of answering the wrong question if you do so. Make sure you understand the question. If you do not understand the question, please speak up and say so. If the question requires you to guess, do not guess. Please speak up and say, “It calls for a guess,” and a guess is not permitted in a deposition. As an example, if I asked you the length of my desk in my office and you’ve never been to my office, well, then your answer would be a guess or a mere speculation.
Here are rules to keep in mind when you’re thinking about the question. Think about what was asked of you and how best to answer it truthfully in as few words as possible. If the question asks you is estimate something like the speed of a car, avoid giving a precise measurement of time, speed, heights lengths if they were not previously measured precisely by you. You’re entitled to state your estimate based on prior perception, but never guess nor speculate if you have no prior knowledge.
It is best to state the word approximately prior to giving your answer. This is very important. Memories fade over time, and this is totally acceptable. So if I asked you the length of the desk in my office and you’ve previously been inside my office and seen my desk, then you would be entitled to say, “Approximately five feet,” even though it actually measures six feet. That’s okay. You’re entitled to the estimate based upon your prior observation, even though your estimate is not 100% accurate.
Finally, there are rules to keep in mind when you’re answering the question. Use your words, not gestures. Every answer must be out loud, using words. Do not use casual expressions like, “Yeah. Nuh-uh.” Please say yes or no. Do not speak in absolutes. Please avoid saying always, never, and other similar words and phrases.
The following four points are of special importance. Number one, “I don’t know,” is a great answer if you truly don’t know. Number two, “I can’t remember,” is a great answer if you truly cannot remember. Number three, do not provide extra information or volunteer information that was not asked of you. Number four, only answer in a way that addresses the exact call of the question. Many questions call for a simple yes or no. The call of the question is what prompts you to give a certain type of answer. If the opposing attorney asks, “Did you eat dinner?” A correct response is, “Yes.” An incorrect response is, “Yes. I had a salad, a bowl of pasta, and cake.” See the difference? The opposing attorney did not ask you what you ate. It was not in the call of the question. Plus, if you volunteer information, you are sure to get a whole bunch of other questions.
Also, do not worry if the other attorney doesn’t ask you every single question. You may be dying to tell them something that is important to you. If they don’t ask it, do not provide the information. We may ask you at trial if your case goes to trial.
All right. Now that we have covered the admonitions, let’s talk about what happens after the deposition. What happens after your deposition day? All right, so you’ve just given a great deposition and it’s all over. Now, what? After the deposition, the court reporter will prepare a booklet of everything said. You will have a chance to make any changes that you think are necessary to any of your answers. However, if you make any changes that make it seem like you are fixing something that favors you, then that makes you look bad. You want to be credible.
Don’t forget, the opposing side will have access to the two different versions of your answer. It’s okay to make soft changes to your deposition, things like spellings or correcting a name or some other minor change. But if you listen, think, and then answer, you will nail your deposition, and hopefully not have to change anything.
That’s it. You’ve made it to the end of this lesson, and you’ve learned to, one, listen to the entire question; two, think about your question and answer; and three, answer the question truthfully with as few words as possible. Pretty simple, right? No need to feel overwhelmed or nervous. All of this preparation will help you, and if you forget anything on the day of your deposition, you can always take a break and discuss it with your attorney. But again, if you stick to the basics and listen, think, and then answer your question, your deposition will be a success and you’ll be the star of your case. Thank you for paying attention and please do not hesitate to ask your Dominguez Firm attorney if you have any questions.