When a car accident results in the filing of a personal injury claim, settlement discussions may be ongoing, but the parties also have to focus on building their respective cases by gathering as much information as possible. This is called the “discovery” phase of the case.
An important part of discovery is the deposition, which is an out-of-court question-and-answer session during which you will give testimony under oath. The opposing party’s attorney will be asking the questions, i.e. the plaintiff’s attorney will ask the defendant questions, and vice versa.
Who Gets Deposed in a Car Accident Case?
Besides the people involved in the car accident, others who may have to give depositions include:
- witnesses to the accident
- police officers who responded to the accident
- medical providers, and
- expert witnesses.
Other than the person being deposed (the deponent), people present at a deposition will usually include the parties to the lawsuit and their attorneys, a court reporter, and a person qualified to administer an oath. (Note: The court reporter, who records and provides a transcript of the deposition testimony, is often also qualified to administer the oath.)
What Procedure is Followed at a Deposition?
While depositions are held out of court, the testimony is sworn and is subject to the same penalties that apply if you commit perjury (lie under oath) in court. Additionally, the testimony given during a deposition may be introduced at trial should any discrepancies arise between the deposition and trial testimony.
The procedure and rules for depositions vary from state to state, but in general, if you have to appear for a deposition, you will be given advance notice of the time and place of the deposition. The deposition will be held in a convenient location, usually in the county where the witness resides or where the lawsuit is pending. Depositions may last for an hour or more, depending on who the deponent is and the complexity of the case.
After the deponent has been sworn in, the opposing attorney may begin by providing basic instructions and requesting that all responses be verbal, as the court reporter cannot take down an action or gesture. Each deponent is then usually asked general background questions and a series of questions that set the stage for the car accident, including:
- time, date, day of week
- exact location of the accident
- weather conditions and traffic conditions at the time of the accident, and
- whether there were traffic control devices involved.
What Else Will the Deponent Be Asked About?
The plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit), the defendant (the person being sued) and witnesses will also likely be asked what they observed and how the accident occurred. This helps to establish liability (who was at fault for the accident, in other words).
Additional questions during a deposition depend on the deponent’s connection to the lawsuit. If you are the plaintiff, you will then be asked questions about the injuries you sustained, the medical treatment you received and any other damages you claim to have suffered as a result of the accident. If you are the defendant, you may be asked whether you were in a hurry or on your cell phone prior to the accident.
If your attorney finds any questions inappropriate or irrelevant, he or she may object and direct you not to answer. Learn more about questions to expect at a car accident deposition.
What Happens Next?
The deposition concludes when the questioning attorney determines he or she has no further questions. You are then free to leave. After the deposition is completed and the transcript is prepared, you will receive a copy of your deposition transcript for review. You can correct any errors at that time and will then sign the transcript to attest to its accuracy.
If you need to appear for a deposition, you should consult with a car accident attorney, prepare accordingly, and most importantly, give direct and honest testimony.