For personal injury lawyers, the deposition is a critical phase for a case and should be handled very well. If not handled well, a deposition can mark the beginning of an unfavorable outcome of a trial. Even experienced litigators can point to the frustrations of reviewing a deposition transcript, only to find the questions and answers were not as good as they would want them to be. A poor deposition may give the opposing party an upper hand when the questions and answers become hazy or not useful. The following are some of the essential questions that lawyers should ask to ensure high-quality depositions:
1. Preliminary/Introductory Questions
In this stage, the primary aim of the questions is to obtain basic identification and the background of the deponent. Further, the questions are also important in ensuring that the client understands the meaning of the deposition. It is also excellent opportunity to set the rules of the deposition process and to ensure that the deponent understands them and their importance to the process. Some of the questions during this stage include:
- What is your name, date of birth, and place of residence?
- Have you ever taken a deposition before?
Asking whether the witness has previously taken another deposition allows the personal injury lawyer to determine if the deponent understands the process. If the witness has prior experience, you can ask more about the case, the court, and so on for future discovery at your own time. Other questions in this section are:
- I would like to inform you some ground rules. Are you okay with that?
- Since the court reporter records everything that you say, it is important to respond with words instead of nodding or gesturing. Do you understand?
- To ensure everything is recorded, it is important not to talk over each other. You will wait I finish talking before you can respond or talk. Do you understand?
- Are you aware that you are under oath and you are sworn to tell the truth?
- In case you do not understand a question, you are allowed to ask for clarification, and I will rephrase it. Do you understand?
2. Questions Relating to the Accident
The session aims at obtaining the deponent’s side of the story relating to the accident as this can make or destroy the case. Well-crafted questions are essential in getting clear and detailed answers on the circumstances of the accident. For a car accident claim, for example, the lawyer would likely ask about weather conditions, road conditions, and how much traffic was on the road at the time of the accident. For a slip and fall accident, the lawyer might ask if there were any warning signs present. The questions in this section should be tailored specifically to fit the details of the accident.
3. Questions Relating to the Damage Claims
The session focuses on arriving at an accurate valuation of the damages that are alleged to be linked to the accident. The information in this section should, however, be supported by medical documents from health providers that have served the deponent relating to the collision. These questions include:
- Did you have any prior health conditions before the collision?
- Did the accident affect your ability to work or to undertake normal daily activities?
- How much medical care was required to treat your injury?
All of these questions and answers should be transcribed or recorded by trusted San Francisco court reporters to view and reference later. While every deposition is unique, it’s essential for all parties involved to know what to expect during the process.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Veritext for their insight into personal injury depositions.