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Preparing for a Deposition in Your Personal Injury Trial

Depositions are often a critically important part of discovery, the fact-gathering phase of litigation. In a deposition, attorneys representing the parties in the dispute ask a witness a series of questions that are intended to help the attorneys gather information that may be important to the case. Witnesses answer questions under oath, meaning they face possible legal consequences for lying or misleading their questioners. A court reporter keeps a transcript of the deposition, which may also be videotaped in some situations. In some circumstances a witness may be assisted by an attorney, but as a rule a witness in a deposition is expected to prove accurate answers to all the questions that are asked. For someone who is directly involved in a legal dispute over a personal injury, a deposition may sound like a kind of interrogation. Television and film like to ratchet up the drama with scenes of aggressive attorneys badgering witnesses into emotional outbursts. In reality a deposition needn’t be a stressful event. Although a witness is expected to answer every question that is asked, the witness’s attorney can enter objections on the record and can even ask that the deposition be stopped if the witness is being unfairly attacked. Another important part of an attorney’s job is to prepare clients for depositions. There are a number of things that a witness can do to prepare for a deposition:
  • Get clear about the important facts. To be clear, a witness’s preparation for a deposition is not about crafting a good story. It’s about making sure that the witness has a clear memory of the things that are likely to come up, so the answers given at the deposition are as accurate as possible. This includes knowing what one doesn’t know, and what one is unsure about.
  • Practice answering questions. It can be helpful to have a friendly attorney roleplay the deposition. Not only does this help the witness think about how to answer difficult questions, it also makes the deposition itself feel more familiar and less stressful.
  • Think about body language and vocal inflection. An attorney who is experienced with depositions will be looking for clues not just in what the witness says, but also in how the witness behaves. There’s nothing to gain by being argumentative, rude, or angry during a deposition. The witness should think about steps that could help relieve tension, such as taking a breath, sipping water, or other simple tactics.
  • Get clear about procedure. During a deposition, attorneys will banter about technicalities, raise objections, and make comments to the court reporter. It can be helpful to a witness to know how this back-and-forth may affect them. Simply put, most of it can be ignored. At a minimum, witnesses should be prepared to answer questions even if their attorney objects to it. It can also be helpful for a witness to know how to go about asking for a break.
The law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented clients in personal injury cases for over 45 years. Our team is devoted to providing personal, thoughtful attention to each client. We have extensive experience with helping clients prepare for their depositions. We can be reached at 702-388-4476 or through our contacts page.

The Role of Depositions in Personal Injury Cases

Oral testimony often forms a central part of a legal case. For many people outside the legal profession “oral testimony” often conjures images out of courtroom dramas, with a witness nervously breaking down under an attorney’s barrage of questions. The reality is usually quite different. Most personal injury cases settle without going to trial, so courtroom exchanges never happen. Instead, lawyers talk to witnesses in pre-trial processes called depositions.

What is a deposition?

Depositions are part of the broader pre-trial discovery process, during which the parties to the dispute gather facts from each other about the events that led to the controversy. In a personal injury case, discovery often involves a mix of documents (for example, medical records or accident reports) and answers to questions that attorneys pose to witnesses. Such questions can be put before a witness in writing, in so-called interrogatories, or they can be asked in person, during a deposition. Depositions can be thought of as formal interviews. Attorneys from both sides in a dispute are present and may ask the witness questions. The witness may also be represented by an attorney. The answers given in a deposition are under oath and can be used as evidence at trial. A deposition is typically held in an attorney’s office with a courtroom reporter present to take down a transcript of everything that is said.

The witness’s role in a deposition

The purpose of a deposition is to help the two sides in a dispute clarify what a witness knows about the case. If the case goes to trial, the deposition will have given both sides a better idea of what to expect if the witness is called to testify in court. In practice, personal injury cases rarely go to trial. Instead, they will settle out of court, quite often with the attorneys for both parties negotiating a settlement in light of the facts that are brought forward during the discovery process. The specific nature of a deposition often depends on the kind of witness that is involved. Depositions of the people directly involved in an incident may delve into a wide range of matters as opposing attorneys seek clarity on facts and probe for weaknesses. For example, in a car accident case one can expect the driver who was allegedly responsible for the crash to be asked about drug and alcohol use prior to the accident. Other potential witnesses may include people who saw the incident, people who can attest to the nature of the plaintiff’s injuries (friends, family, and medical professionals), and expert witnesses who provide insights into technical matters that are germane to the case. Questions posed during a deposition can be far-ranging. Although attorneys often raise objections during depositions, the witness usually is obligated to answer questions as truthfully as possible even if the question would not be allowed in court. That is because the rules governing depositions are not as strict as the rules of evidence that apply in the courtroom. Witnesses are often represented by attorneys during depositions to protect the witness from questions that stray too far from relevance.

Talk to a Las Vegas personal injury attorney about your case

For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented clients in personal injury cases. We give each case the personal attention it deserves. Protecting our clients’ interests is paramount to our practice, and that includes helping them get ready for depositions. For a free attorney consultation call us today at 702-388-4476 or ask us to reach out to you through our contact page.