After a lawsuit has been filed in a car accident case, one of the key steps in developing your case is through a process called "discovery." This is the legal means by which parties to a lawsuit obtain information from each other that may be helpful to their case.
One type of discovery is called a deposition. A deposition is out-of-court testimony, given under oath, and the person giving the sworn testimony is referred to as the "deponent." (Similar to an interrogatory, but the questioning is done in person).
Deposition testimony may be introduced as evidence at trial in order to impeach that witness (ie., lower his or her credibility in the eyes of the jury) should the trial testimony differ significantly from the deposition testimony. This article addresses depositions in car accident injury cases.
Generally, the person being deposed, the parties to the lawsuit, attorneys for the parties and a person qualified to administer oaths. The person administering an oath is usually a court reporter. He or she will also be recording all testimony given at the deposition and will prepare a written transcript of the deposition upon request. There is a generally a cost for the court reporter’s time as well as production of the transcript. The judge and court personnel are usually not directly involved in the deposition.
Filing a personal injury lawsuit nearly guarantees that the defendant or his attorney will ask to take your deposition. The rules of procedure governing civil lawsuits vary from state to state, but generally require that parties to a lawsuit participate in a deposition if the other side has requested it.
Defense counsel should be willing to work with you to find a date and time which is convenient for you, so long as you are reasonable in your requests. If you have an attorney, he or she can assist in preparing you for the deposition but being represented by counsel is not required.
The defendant or his attorney is going to ask you many questions during your deposition. Many of these will be questions that seek background or personal information about you, including your name, address, immediate family members, and whether you have taken any medications that day.
The defendant’s attorney will ask you to testify as to your recollection of the events surrounding the car accident. He or she may ask you where you were going in an attempt to determine whether you may have been distracted or in a rush and therefore a contributing cause to the accident.
Defense counsel will have likely reviewed all of your medical records in anticipation of the deposition and will ask you to expand on the information contained within those records. If you are claiming lost wages you will be asked about your employment history, your job duties, income, and to explain why you were unable to work while injured. If you are self-employed, be prepared to explain how you calculate your income and lost earnings.
You should listen to each question carefully and answer the question honestly. If you do not know an answer with certainty, say so. Do not make up an answer. While it can be aggravating answering questions that may seem irrelevant or intrusive, try to exercise patience and be polite. Being obstructive or refusing to answer questions may result in the opposing counsel contacting the judge for assistance. Getting the judge involved at this stage is not a good idea, as you don’t want the judge to develop a negative opinion about you and your case. However, if the defendant is truly asking questions that are irrelevant, seek privileged information, or seem overly intrusive into your personal or medical history, you can object and refuse to answer. You can also ask the court for assistance.
This is your chance to speak to the defendant and obtain information from him or her regarding the events leading up to the car accident. Speaking with the defendant personally is also a great way to ascertain the type of witness he or she will be at trial.
You will want to obtain basic information about the defendant’s identity and to confirm the identity of the person who was driving the vehicle that hit you, as well as the owner of that vehicle. Ask the defendant to state in detail the events leading up to the accident and his or her version of how the accident happened. If the defendant is aware of any witnesses, obtain that information. Try to ascertain any information that might indicate that the defendant was being reckless – was he or she using their cell phone, playing with the radio, on drugs or under the influence of alcohol? Find out if the defendant was on a work errand at the time of the accident, and if so, the name and contact information for the employer. Ask any other relevant questions that you think might be helpful in successfully prosecuting your accident case.
You should consider deposing any witnesses to the accident, any treating medical providers, and any medical providers that the defense intends to call. You should also depose any expert witnesses that either side plans to use at trial.