Plaintiffs in a personal injury case can often be intimidated by a notice that the defense wants to depose them. A deposition is a standard part of most civil lawsuits and it’s important for the plaintiff to keep calm about this part of the process. Depositions are, however, important; the person being deposed (called a deponent) is giving testimony under oath that could potentially be seen by a jury at trial. Here are a few basic suggestions to keep in mind when thinking about your deposition.
1. Be Honest
Lying in a deposition is technically considered perjury and is a crime. While it’s rare for someone to be arrested for giving false deposition testimony, it will at the very least harm the person’s credibility as a witness and a plaintiff. No matter how uncomfortable or harmful you think an answer will be, the truthful answer will always be the best answer for your case.
If you’ve reached the point in your case where the defense wants to depose you, your attorney has already examined the potential weaknesses you and your case have. From the moment of your first consultation, your legal counsel has been evaluating how well you’d present to a jury and to the defense, and how credible the claims in your case are. As such, the truth helps you because it reinforces the claims you’re making. Any weaknesses in your case are left to your attorney to work out; the best thing you can do to help them is to answer each question honestly.
In some instances, plaintiffs are worried because they have details about their past that make them feel embarrassed or ashamed. Testimony about completely irrelevant facts is usually excluded from being made public well before the trial.
As a final note, it’s perfectly acceptable to not know the answer to a question. Any time you don’t know the answer or don’t understand the question, the honest answer then is “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand the question.”
2. Listen to Counsel
At times, your attorney may object to a question or instruct you not to answer. In almost all cases, the safe option is to listen to your attorney when they advise you not to answer or to only answer under specific conditions. For instance, in an employment case, a plaintiff may have been working for a firm for a long time in many different capacities. A question by the defense about what job duties that person had may be incredibly open ended. The plaintiff may assume that the defense means at the time of termination, but the question itself calls for a broader answer. If your attorney objects to the question based on it being vague as to time, that’s an indication for you to pay extra attention about the full scope of the question so that you can give the most honest and complete testimony possible.
Your legal counsel has been through extensive training on depositions and, in all likelihood, has sat through multiple depositions throughout their career. If they have explicit advice during your deposition, it’s almost always best to listen to them.
3. Only Answer the Question You’re Asked
Plaintiffs must remember that the person deposing them has the responsibility of asking the questions that help their case. The plaintiff’s only obligation is to answer questions honestly and completely. He or she does not have an obligation to offer information that isn’t responsive to the question being asked or to direct opposing counsel to other questions.
For example, in an automobile accident case the defense may ask the plaintiff if they were wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. It may be tempting to answer along the lines of, “Yes, I always wear a seatbelt in the car.” The answer that addresses only the question as it was asked is, “Yes.” If the opposing attorney wants to discuss the frequency you wear a seatbelt, they would do so in follow up questions.
To conclude, it’s normal for an upcoming deposition to cause stress because it is an important part of your case. However, answering honestly, listening to counsel, and answering only the questions you’re asked are some of the best ways to keep a level head through the process.