In order to hold a defendant liable for a slip and fall accident, the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant negligently allowed or caused the dangerous condition on the property. What you say and how you come across at your deposition could directly impact your potential liability -- and the extent of that liability.
So let’s take a look at the deposition stage of a slip and fall case and the kinds of questions that you, as the defendant homeowner or property owner, can expect to be asked.
What is a Deposition?
A deposition is a question-answer session where an attorney questions a witness under oath to learn about the case. The purpose of a deposition is to extract information from the witness, but also, to determine how the witness will testify at trial. For instance, does the witness appear truthful, likable, and/or knowledgeable?
Depositions are relatively informal -- at least compared to a trial. A deposition will typically take place in a lawyer’s office or a conference room. A court reporter is present and will record and later transcribe the entire proceeding. Remember, unless the deposition is being videotaped, no one will subsequently be able to decipher your tone of voice, awkward pauses before answers, or facial expression. All they can do is read the transcript. This means that the words you use are very important.
The examining attorney will begin by asking preliminary questions, such as your name, address, date of birth, employment background, and whether you have ever given testimony before. It is not uncommon to ask whether you have a criminal history and have been sued before.
Questions About Liability
If you are a defendant, the purpose of the deposition is to determine whether you are liable for the accident. In a slip and fall case, a defendant (usually a property owner or the owner’s agent) is liable if the defendant failed to recognize, remove or repair the potential hazard, or if the defendant caused the danger. In other words, you will be questioned about the maintenance and upkeep of the property.
Here are some questions a defendant can expect to hear on the issue of liability:
- Has the unsafe condition ever been brought to your attention?
- Have you ever made any attempts to fix the problem?
- Exactly what did you do to try to fix the problem?
- Has anyone ever been injured in that area prior to the incident that led to this lawsuit?
If you are the property owner of a large property or a manager of several employees, you may be asked:
- Do you review the maintenance orders for the property?
- Who did your company hire to fix the hazard? Has your company ever hired them before? Did you instruct any employee to research that company before you hired it?
- If you didn’t personally order the repair, then who did? How often and in what way do you communicate with that employee?
- How often do you, personally, survey or walk by the area?
- When was the last time you physically went to the area where the accident occurred prior to the incident?
- How do your employees notify you of potential dangers?
- What is your practice if you learn about a potentially dangerous condition? Do you personally go to the area to observe it?
Preparation is Key
If you are the defendant in a slip and fall case, you most likely have an attorney representing you. If there is a homeowners' or commercial liability insurance policy that covers the accident, then the insurance company is most likely providing an attorney to you. Pay close attention to what the attorney tells you regarding your deposition, cooperate with any preparation the attorney deems necessary, and bring any concerns to his or her attention.