If your personal injury case goes to trial, you will definitely have to testify and you will almost definitely be the first witness. It’s your case, and the jury will be looking to hear from you right off the bat. If it looks like your case is going to trial (maybe the two sides are just too far apart on an agreeable settlement), here's what you need to know.
Preparation and Consistency are Keys to a Good Outcome
There's no such thing as being "too prepared" for trial. Any good lawyer will start preparing you at least a couple of weeks before trial. The first thing that he/she will usually do is give you a copy of your deposition and your answers to interrogatories to read. You need to become familiar with what you said at your deposition in order to make sure that your trial testimony is consistent with your deposition testimony. (Learn more about Personal Injury Depositions.)
Another key to a good trial outcome is consistency. You don’t want the defense attorney ripping you apart on cross-examination because your trial testimony conflicts with your deposition testimony. Example: “You just testified that the light was green at the time of the collision, but, at your deposition, you testified that the light was yellow, isn’t that true?” No one wants to be confronted with that type of cross-examination. It's probably not going to end well for you if the defense attorney gets to tee off on you like that.
Once you have read your deposition and interrogatory answers, you will meet with your lawyer to prepare your testimony. Again, any good lawyer will meet with the client a number of times to prepare the client for testimony. A good timeframe for testimony preparation is about two hours, with a break in the middle. Any longer than that and either you, your lawyer, or both will start to lose focus. If your lawyer wants to meet with you all day long to go over your testimony, don’t be afraid to suggest that that’s way too long.
A good personal injury lawyer will meet with his/her client as many times as it takes, for as long as it takes, in order for the client to be properly prepared for trial. If the lawyer has to meet with the client ten times, then so be it.
Practice, Practice, Practice
At first, the lawyer will just practice parts of your testimony with you. For example, at one meeting, he/she might practice background questions. The next day, he/she might focus on how the accident happened. Another day, you will go over damages. Then, you might practice cross-examination. Good cross-examination practice should really make you squirm. You should be prepared for your lawyer to really hover over you and get in your face. He/she should challenge you and pick apart your weaknesses. If you don’t practice it in the office, how can you possibly handle it in the courtroom?
The last day before trial will be the final run through. That is when you and your lawyer put it all together and practice the questioning from start to finish.
Stick to the "Script"
The secret to trial testimony is that neither you nor your lawyer want any surprises in the courtroom. Direct examination of the plaintiff in any lawsuit should essentially be scripted. When you take the stand, you should know exactly what questions your lawyer is going to be asking you, and in what order. And, just as importantly, your lawyer should know what all of your answers are going to be. It’s a script, but you don’t want the jury to know that. You want the jury to think that you and your lawyer are just having a casual conversation.
Make sure you know what your lawyer’s theories are about trial preparation well in advance of trial, so you know you're on the same page. Learn more: How Can I Make Sure I'm a Good Client During My Personal Injury Case?