A deposition is a legal process where a lawyer asks a witness questions under oath. If you are the plaintiff in a personal injury case, the lawyer for the other side will ask you questions. There will be a court reporter present to take down every word. That includes every question, answer, and comment. The court reporter will then prepare a booklet with the entire deposition testimony.
Your testimony is crucial to your case. The defense will use it to size up your case for potential settlement. If the case goes to trial, the lawyer can use it as evidence. If you testify differently at trial, the lawyer will argue that you are being dishonest.
Depositions are part of a larger process called "discovery." During discovery, lawyers use a variety of tools to gather evidence. One of those tools is the deposition. Lawyers take depositions to gather facts, understand claims and defenses, and evaluate witnesses.
As the plaintiff, the other lawyer will likely take your deposition because you are key to your case. The attorney will ask about the incident that caused your injury, your health history, and how the incident affected your life.
Most personal injury depositions follow a predictable pattern which I will outline here. The attorney will start by making sure you understand the rules of a deposition. Then they will ask questions about your background and get you comfortable talking. Next, they will ask questions about your health history. Then they will address the incident that caused your injury. After that, they will ask about your medical care followed by the impact your injury has had on your life.
The attorney will introduce themselves to you off the record and likely be very pleasant. The court reporter will swear you in as you would be in court. The attorney will explain the deposition rules and make sure you understand them. Those rules will include:
After explaining the rules, the lawyer will ask background questions and get you comfortable talking. Typical questions will include your name, prior names, age, address, marital status, work history, and your highest level of education.
Their purpose is to find out information about you and know where to look for even more information. Another reason is to get you comfortable talking more than you should.
You must understand that while the attorney may be friendly, they are not your friend. It is their job to sink your case if possible. You should stay focused on the question and only answer the question. We may all be having coffee, but this is not a coffee date.
In any personal injury case, your health history is relevant. The defense attorney will ask about prior hospitalizations, illnesses, and injuries. They want to know if there is a possible alternative cause of your injury. They also want to know what your baseline health looked like. They will ask who your primary care doctor is and when you last saw them.
Next, the attorney will ask about the incident that caused your injury. If the other party is denying fault, the lawyer will spend a lot of time here. In a car accident case, they'll ask where you were coming from and going to. They'll ask who was with you, if anyone, and where everyone was sitting. They'll ask about the road conditions, your speed, when you first observed the other car and how fast it was going. They'll ask how you were sitting, if you were seat belted, and if airbags deployed. They will ask if you ever lost consciousness.
If you are aware of any witnesses, they will ask you for their names and contact information. If you spoke to anyone after the crash, they'll want to know who you spoke to.
Next, the attorney will ask about your injuries and medical care. It is important to know that the attorney has read your medical records. It isn't important to memorize dates and times. If there is a specific chart note they want to ask you about, they can show it to you.
This is usually the last part of a personal injury deposition. The defense will ask you questions about the impact the injury has had on your life. They want to know how it has affected you physically and emotionally. The attorney will ask you about hobbies you used to do and can no longer do. They will ask you whether your ability to work has been affected. The attorney will ask you about household duties and how they were affected.
Don't exaggerate. The defense attorney will give you the opportunity to exaggerate; you can't take the bait. Exaggerating is lying. Be honest about the impact the injury has had on your life but don't go beyond that.
That is usually the end of the deposition. Sometimes the attorney will want to take a break to review their notes to see if they missed anything. If they did, they'll come back with some scattered follow-up questions. If there is another defendant, their attorney will have an opportunity to ask questions too.
In Oregon personal injury cases, the defendant has the right to be at your deposition if they choose. The opposing lawyer(s) will be there to ask you questions and the court reporter will be there to record everything. Your personal injury attorney will be there to "defend" the deposition. Sometimes the insurance company will want the adjuster to be present. If the deposition is being videotaped, there will be a videographer present too.
The opposing attorney can ask for the deposition to be on video if they choose. They have to give your attorney advance notice if they intend to video your deposition. In smaller personal injury cases, lawyers often won't pay for expensive videographers, but in larger cases, they often will. Talk to your lawyers to see if your deposition will be videotaped.
Giving a good deposition is very important for plaintiffs in personal injury cases. After your deposition, the attorney will write a report to the insurance company summarizing your case and testimony. A good deposition can cause the insurance company to increase settlement offers. A bad deposition can cause the opposite. So, it is important that you follow some basic rules for giving a good deposition.
You are trying to make a good impression on the attorney who will be taking your deposition. You should dress appropriately. You don't have to wear a dress or a suit, but you should wear clean clothes like you were going to a job interview or church.
You have to be 100% honest in your deposition no matter the question. If you are not honest they will find out. And when they find out, they will make your case all about your dishonesty. It doesn't matter if you think the question is too personal, or irrelevant; you have to tell the truth.
You have to listen to the words of each question carefully before answering. And you should only answer the question if you understood it. At trial, you can't use the excuse that you weren't paying attention to the questions.
Your deposition is not the time for any guessing. Your deposition transcript won't state you were guessing. When you are wrong, it will appear that you have lied. That is why you should never guess; only answer the question if you know the answer. Otherwise, you should say that you don't know.
If you know the answer to a question, then answer it clearly. Don't be evasive, it hurts your credibility. For example, if they ask how long you have lived in Portland, and you have lived here for ten years, then your answer should be "ten years." Don't say "about 8-12 years."
Don't make the deposition any harder on yourself and your attorney than it has to be; only answer the question you are asked. My goal for every client's deposition is for the client to be 100% honest and likable and for the deposition to be short. If you start giving long answers when short ones will work, you will be in for a long, painful deposition.
For example, if you are asked how long you have been at your job and the answer is ten years you should say "ten years." You should not say, "well I went to school in Eugene and after I graduated I had two job offers, one was in Portland and the other was in Bend. I chose the Portland job and that was ten years ago."
If you bring papers into your deposition, the defense lawyer is entitled to a copy. Don't bring anything unless your attorney instructs you to. Clients often worry about dates and times; you don't need to worry, this isn't a quiz. What matters is your memory and your honesty.
Occasionally, the opposing attorney is a jerk. Your job is to be nice and respond professionally to the questions asked. If it gets bad, ask for a break and talk to your attorney. Let your attorney deal with it while you remain calm and pleasant.
The rules allow you to take as many breaks as you need for whatever reason you need. And you don't have to say the reason you want a break. As long as there is no pending question, you can take a break. If you start losing focus or feel like you should chat with your attorney for a few minutes, ask for a break.
You should spend your mental energy listening to the question and answering honestly and briefly. Don't waste your energy wondering why they are asking you a question. If you are being 100% truthful, their reasons for asking the question shouldn't matter.
Some defense lawyers will invite you to vouch for other witnesses involved in the case including doctors. The defense might ask for example, "Your doctor would have no reason to leave your left shoulder injury out of your chart note, would she?" You can't honestly answer that question unless you know why the doctor left out the information. And when you don't know the answer to a question, you should answer that you don't know.
In any personal injury case, your attorney has the right to object to their questions. Your lawyer can object for the record and instruct you to answer the question, or instruct you not to answer the question. It is rare for a lawyer to instruct their client not to answer a question. But it is important to give your lawyer a moment to make their objection and give you an instruction. So take a brief pause before answering questions.
Your social media pages are fair game for the defense in a personal injury case. Be careful how much you share on social media. The defense will use it against you. Most importantly, be honest in your deposition. The defense probably already downloaded all your social media posts. If you posted about a vacation, they will ask you about it. If you claim you can't do something, but you're doing it on social media, your case is finished.
If you have been injured due to the fault of someone else, you should consult with personal injury attorney Chad Stavley before trying to go through the deposition process alone. We have handled hundreds of personal injury cases and are experienced in preparing witnesses for depositions and getting them through the litigation process. Call 503-546-8812 for a free consultation.