After the lawsuit is filed, your lawyer sends a letter advising of the date for your deposition. This raises several questions about what you should expect. First know that a deposition is you being questioned under oath. The person asking the questions will be your opponent's attorney. There may be more than one lawyer for the opponents. Just know that it is not a free-for-all, because there is an order to who gets to talk and in which order.
So what should you do to prepare?
Here are a few points for thinking about your role in the deposition.
Preparing for your deposition - Being prepared to do well is a matter of simple preparation.
Relax because you are going to do fine. Get a good night sleep the night before. Drink water, stay away from the booze and get to bed early.
Experience with deposition process – Have you ever been deposed? Stated another way have you ever given a deposition? If you have, then know that it can be generally the same, but also can be quite different. That is because lawyers have differing styles of asking questions.
For those who haven't been deposed just know it is a meeting of the clients and lawyers where the opposing lawyers will get to ask you questions while you are under oath. It is not a formal event in the sense there is no judge or jury. What makes it formal is the court reporter that is taking down the lawyer’s questions and your answers. So you have to be somewhat careful about what you say and how you say it. Remember, you’re there to answer questions not argue a point; nor to argue with the other lawyer and certainly not to try to WIN the case. The first rule is always the same: meaning you tell the truth.
I’ll say it again; you’re there simply to answer questions. PERIOD. You don't WIN a deposition; you can only lose. So answer the questions and then close your yap.
The oath – So what is an oath. An oath is you raising your right hand and swearing the answers you give will be truthful. It’s easy to say, you will tell the truth; but telling the truth is not so easily applied in practice. What “the truth” is, isn’t black and white, nor is the factual truth outlined with bright lines. For instance “Have you ever suffered from back pain?” What if in the past you’ve suffered from tension in your shoulders or neck? Do you say yes or no? And where does the neck end, and the back begin? Where do the shoulders end and the back begin? Does tension in the shoulders qualify for pain? Is tension pain? Is all pain equal? People describe discomfort from tight muscles to burning sensations, but are either of those pain? There is dull, nagging, sharp, disabling and many other descriptions for pain. Some people have higher tolerances for what some describe as pain. But if you and I have the same amount of pain, but I’d take aspirin for it and you want prescription pain killers is mine really pain or just discomfort? As you can see depending on the question and the words used in the question define “the truth” , which for all practical purposes is a moving target. The point here is not to teach deception, but to make you aware of being careful when choosing the words you use to answer any question.
Is it raining outside? If you and I look outside and we see mist then do we each see “rain”?
Rules – 8 Simple Rules and 1 Simple Answer – This is a simple concept of rules to be applied when answering deposition questions. I want you to read them and make sure you understand the rules. After you understand the rules then answer the One Simple Question. For the answer write to me and I’ll grade your answer.
Deposition Testimony Rules:
Tell the Truth
Listen to the Question
Make sure you understand the Question
If you don’t understand the Question ask for clarification.
Pause and think about your answer.
If you can answer with a “Yes” or “No”, answer with a “yes” or “no”.
If the answer requires more than a “yes” or “no”, keep your answer concise/brief.
Don’t offer any information. Do Not Offer Any Information! Re-read!
Go back to the Eight Simple Rules© and review them. Remember, listen to the question, then make sure you understand the question, followed by if you don’t understand the question ask for clarification; and then pause and think about your answer.
One Simple Question
Now we have discussed the 8 Simple Rules© For Deposition Testimony. Today we ask the 1 Simple Question©.
Do you understand these rules? Then let’s see how well you can apply them.
Answer this Question: “Do you know what time it is?”
What is your answer: _________________. Write it down.
If you wish to know whether or not the answer you gave is correct then write to me at [email protected] and I'll send you a private email with the correct answer and tell you if you indeed understand the Eight Simple Rules.© I've received hundreds of emails with right and wrong answers; proving to me the rules are simple, but the application not so much.
Bucket method to answer questions – Liability and Damages
When climbing Kilimanjaro African porters have a saying, "Anyone can eat and elephant, you just have to eat it one bite at a time."
The bucket system is built on this idea of breaking up the deposition questions into smaller pieces. To know how to answer questions, first group each question into one of two buckets. The one bucket is for liability questions and the other for damage questions. Questions about how the collision occurred or the mechanism of injury go towards the liability bucket. Questions about what your body struck, who treated your injuries and for how long go into that damage bucket.
The Warm Up – The opposing lawyer will warm you up with softball questions about who you are and about your social history. (Age, education, marital status, children, where you grew up and went to high school are all social history.) Be careful during this phase. Don’t forget the opposing lawyer isn’t your friend; he’s a professional that if seasoned will be friendly. You can smile and be friendly but don’t be chatty and act as if this lawyer is your friend. Don’t be fooled by the opposing lawyer’s friendliness. It’s sort of like divorce. After you file for divorce you’ll find out of those people you know which are really your friends and who was just being friendly. The opposing lawyer is always just being friendly. But is never your friend!
How do you handle pre-existing conditions? Be direct in your answer. If you can answer with a yes or a no then do so. Admit pre-existing conditions. It helps to know your history, so get the records and create a medical dateline that reads like a story of your medical life. Normally the lawyer does this but some are lazy and are in it just for some quick money; they do a crappy job and this isn't one of those things they are going to do if it takes time away from golf or just loafing.
If you have a pre-existing condition. Breaks in a condition being active, certainly helps; so know your medical history. And remember a person who has worked hard to successfully deal with years of back ache, then having it lit up because of a car accident may have in some ways a claim that the jury places a higher value. The injured person is put right back on the misery train. So think about your condition and consider why your case has value. Don’t shy away from common prejudices. In other words don’t be afraid of your facts; learn how to make them work for your claim.
What should you review before the day of the deposition?
Here is what you need to review/read as you prepare for your lawyer meeting to discuss deposition preparation: The motor vehicle accident report, car damage photographs, visit the accident scene and note the posted speed limit, the petition, the defendant’s answer, your interrogatory answers, medical dateline, persons’ report and the organizations’ report. Read to understand the information that is grouped into the two buckets – liability and damages.
Well, that’s enough for today. I hope this is helpful. Read The Verdict on the Lombardi Law Firm website and also follow Steve Lombardi on the Des Moines market. If we can help you give us a call and please … contact us sooner rather than later.