After a car accident, when you seek help from a car accident lawyer, that lawyer will need to gather evidence relating to the accident that they can use to build a case for you. A car accident deposition is one piece of the evidence they will collect during Discovery. This statement, taken under oath, closely resembles the type of statement you might make in a courtroom setting, as in both cases, you will be under oath and required to answer various questions.
Car accident depositions are crucial for helping lawyers collect the evidence they need to build a car accident claim that they can use to seek compensation. When you’re in an accident that was not your fault, you have a legal right to pursue compensation in the form of a settlement from the party who caused your accident.
A deposition is an important part of the process because it helps the lawyers involved in the claim, including a car accident lawyer, get a clear picture of what happened so they can prove that you were not at fault and that you deserve compensation.
The Definition of a Car Accident Deposition
A car accident deposition is oral testimony given by a witness out of court. As you are probably aware, if you ever go to court as a witness in a car accident claim, you must swear an oath, to tell the truth and then answer questions directed at you by the lawyers working on the case. A deposition is basically the same process but completed out of court, often in the office of one of the lawyers.
The deposition is taken during the process called discovery. Discovery is a period before the trial in which lawyers collect evidence to prove the claims they want to bring in the trial. For example, most lawyers exchange documented evidence they have already collected to support their clients. Depositions are very important to this Discovery process.
A deposition helps lawyers save time and money and build a strong claim before they go to court. In general, depositions are considered hearsay and are not permissible in a trial. The main goal of a deposition is to help each lawyer understand the circumstances of the car accident and how likely they can help their client win their claim.
Because 95 percent to 96 percent of all car accident claims don’t end up in court, depositions can prove one party’s fault and make coming to a settlement out of court easier.
Three reasons make a deposition useful if your case does go to court:
- If a party admits to something in a deposition (for example, if the defendant admits they caused the accident by speeding)
- If the testimony of a witness at trial contradicts their testimony during the deposition
- If a witness is unable to attend the trial in court
In general, the parties present at a deposition include:
- The deponent (i.e., the individual whose testimony the lawyers want to hear).
- The deponent’s lawyer.
- The lawyer of the opposite party.
Say, for example, that you’re the victim and plaintiff in a claim and want to prove that the car accident that you were in is not your fault. During the Discovery process, the lawyer for the defendant (the person you have sued because you believe they are responsible for the accident) may ask to depose you.
In that case, you would go to the office of either that lawyer or your lawyer. You would take an oath administered by someone qualified to do so (such as a notary). The defendant’s lawyer would ask you a series of questions, and you would have to answer them all under oath. Your lawyer would be present to ensure you were asked no illegal questions but couldn’t help you with your answers.
Rarely do lawyers take a deposition in writing. In this situation, the lawyer for the opposite party will send the deponent a list of written questions for which they will write down statements in answer. These are the only questions that can be asked and used in the oral deposition.
While a written deposition is much cheaper than an oral deposition and doesn’t require the opposing party’s lawyers to attend the deposition itself, it is difficult for lawyers to follow up on any confusing or otherwise relevant points when all questions and answers are written out beforehand. Therefore, written depositions are rarely used.
Why Is a Deposition Important for a Car Accident Claim?
When you bring a car accident claim against another person, your goal is to prove that the other person (called the defendant) is responsible for your accident and subsequent injuries. To prove that the defendant is responsible, you need evidence from the accident, which may include witness statements, photos, video footage (from a nearby security camera, for example), the police report filed on the accident, etc.
A deposition is another way in which lawyers can collect evidence to prove the defendant’s fault (or attempt to disprove it, in the case of the defendant’s lawyer). During a deposition, the lawyer for the opposing party asks questions about the deponent’s life, state of mind, and health before the accident and the circumstances of the accident. In general, they want to get a complete picture of who the deponent is if they’re trustworthy, and how they experienced the accident.
After the deposition, the lawyers on both sides will clearly see how the accident happened, according to the deponent. They will also know if that view does or doesn’t match up with other evidence or statements they have heard from other witnesses. This clear view allows lawyers to prepare cases for their clients using all the knowledge available.
Another benefit gained in a deposition is a better understanding of how the accident affected the deponent’s life. As the plaintiff and the car accident victim, you will likely have much to relay about the injuries you’ve suffered and other damages you’ve had to endure because of your accident. A complete view of your suffering is crucial to ensuring you get the appropriate compensation to cover all your damages.
What Happens at a Deposition?
Generally, a deposition occurs in a lawyer’s office or conference room. The lawyer who requested the deposition, the deponent, the deponent’s lawyer, and a court reporter authorized to administer an oath will attend the deposition. Sometimes, a stenographer may also attend to transcribe the deposition, though depositions are often video-recorded these days. Family members or members of the public are not allowed at a deposition.
Here are the steps of a deposition:
- Administration of the oath. The court reporter and/or notary administers the oath in which the deponent swears to tell the truth.
- Questioning. The lawyer who requested the deposition questions the deponent. They can ask any questions they believe are relevant to understanding the deponent and the case.
- Break. Depositions generally take a long time. Those under a time limit usually last seven hours, with a one-hour break at some point during the proceedings.
- Further questioning and/or cross-examination. After the initial questioning is complete, the opposing lawyer may ask questions to help clarify any confusing points. Of course, after this, the initial questioner is allowed to ask more questions in follow-up, if desired.
- Conclusion. The deposition ends when the lawyers finish questioning or the time limit is up.
While lawyers are not allowed to coach deponents on the answers they should provide, they can help you prepare. If you’re called in for a deposition, speak with your lawyer for advice.
What Kinds of Questions Can You Expect at a Deposition?
The questions in a deposition vary from basic personal information to important details about your accident and injuries.
Some common questions you might expect to encounter include:
- Do you know that you are under oath and obligated to tell the truth?
- Do you take any medications that might prevent you from answering deposition questions?
- What is your full name?
- What is your age?
- Where were you born?
- How long have you lived at your current address?
- Do you live alone?
- Are you currently married?
- Where does your spouse work?
- Do you have children?
- Where did you attend school?
- Do you have a college degree?
- Have you been convicted of a crime?
- Have you ever been arrested?
- Did you prepare in any way for this deposition?
- What documents about this case have you seen?
After completing this type of introductory questioning, lawyers will ask you specifics about the accident, such as what happened, what you were doing when it happened, how it has affected you physically, mentally, and financially, etc. The questions at each deposition will vary considerably based on what the lawyers questioning you want to know, so be sure to prepare with your lawyer before any deposition.
Tips for Handling a Deposition Well
If you’re worried about your deposition or concerned that you’ll make a mistake, you’re not alone. The deposition experience can cause stress and confusion!
However, to ensure that the deposition goes well and you do your job to the best of your ability:
- Tell the truth. Never equivocate, and don’t add unnecessary information. Simply tell the truth and answer every question as precisely as you can.
- Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know or remember. If you don’t know an answer or can’t remember a detail, say so. This is simply telling the truth! Guessing about an answer may only lead to more trouble for you in the future.
- Stay calm and answer only the questions asked. There’s no need to embellish your story or add details no one asked for. Answer each question as fully and calmly as possible. Only provide the requested details. Depositions can be frustrating and tiring, so don’t be ashamed to ask for a break if you need a few minutes to calm down.
Remember that your lawyer will be there with you. If there are any questions that you don’t have to legally answer and don’t want to answer (personal details, self-incriminating details, etc.), your lawyer will make you aware of them and help you refuse to answer. Before you go to a deposition, discuss it with your lawyer so they can guide you on how to answer questions appropriately in your unique situation.
What Happens After a Deposition?
When a deposition is over, you get to relax somewhat. The most difficult part of the case for you is now over unless, of course, you need to appear in court. However, your lawyers don’t stop at this point. They will keep working to ensure your case continues down the right path.
After a deposition, your lawyers can:
- Review the transcript with you to ensure its accuracy.
- Conduct follow-up discovery by requesting more information from the other lawyers or by providing more information in response to requests.
- Help you negotiate for a settlement so that you can, if possible, settle the case with the compensation you deserve before you go to court.
If necessary, your case may go to trial after completing these steps. Your lawyer will build your case and defend your case in court before a judge and jury. After the trial, the judge and jury will hand down a verdict that will include the amount of settlement they believe you deserve. Your lawyer can help you get the settlement check, pay off your debts, and use the remainder of the check to pay for whatever you need.
If you’ve been in a car accident and need legal help to prepare you for a claim against the at-fault driver, don’t hesitate to reach out for guidance from an experienced personal injury lawyer in Philadelphia.