Philadelphia car accidents can be scary, and the aftermath can seem even more intimidating when you don’t know what to expect. When you are involved in a car accident and are injured, the first step is having your attorney file a claim for you with the insurance company. If a claim cannot be resolved with a settlement, your attorney will file a lawsuit on your behalf; this is known as “litigation.” During the litigation process, there is a phase known as “discovery”. One of the most important phases of discovery will be your deposition.
A deposition is when attorneys for either side ask potential witnesses questions and get those witnesses’ statements in preparation for a trial. Each side of a case has the right to take depositions of the person filing the claim – known as the “plaintiff’ – and witnesses involved in the matter.
In the case of the opposing attorney/side, a deposition is used to find out more about your role in the car accident. Even though you are not in trial yet, understand that the statements you give about your car accident will be conducted under sworn oath. This means that if you are untruthful during your deposition, you can be charged with a serious crime known as “perjury,” however, charges for the crime are quite rare.
The deposition is one of the most important phases of the discovery process. With that in mind, your attorney will usually go over how a deposition works and how to behave during a deposition.
Your attorney will likely advise you to behave courteously at all times during the deposition, and dress appropriately as if you were going to court.
It is of utmost importance to remember to stay calm during the deposition. At times, things the other side’s lawyers may say can annoy or frustrate you, and you will be tempted to express your annoyance or frustration. Don’t! The goal of the opposing attorney oftentimes is to make you display this type of behavior to see how you will react and/or to “throw you off” so that you can become confused or rattled during the deposition.
You will also want to make sure that your attorney has a copy of all your medical records that relate to your injury from the car accident. If you have other medical conditions, tell your attorney before your deposition, so it will not come as a surprise to him or her when you are being questioned by the opposing side.
Don’t bring paper evidence or medical records to the deposition without speaking with your attorney first.
Your attorney will usually receive notice anywhere from 30 days to 5 days before your deposition. The deposition does not take place in court and usually occurs at your attorney’s office. It can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours. If your injuries are severe or your case is very complex, there may be a need for a second deposition. The deposition can be audio recorded or videotaped as well. Prior to the deposition, you should receive notice if your deposition is to be videotaped.
You, your attorney, a court reporter, and opposing counsel will be at the deposition. The court reporter will swear you in under oath. Usually, you will be asked to raise your right hand and “solemnly state the evidence/testimony you are giving in this matter is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God.”
The main purpose of the deposition is to find how and when did your injury occur, and other evidence or specifics of the car accident. Because attorneys who represent insurance companies deal with hundreds even thousands of cases each year involving car accidents, they have formed a template of questioning during depositions, and they seldom stray away from the same pattern of questioning. Opposing counsel is allowed to ask you questions about your past, including any criminal history, up to 10 years.
While the following list is not all inclusive of the questions that you may be asked at car accident deposition, the following is a general overview of the areas of questioning you can expect.
During your deposition you may also be asked about other witnesses who have knowledge of your pain and suffering, injuries, or the car accident. Remember, when being questioned, be truthful. You always have the right to state that you don’t understand a question, ask for a question to be repeated, say I don’t remember, and ask for a break.
While you are being questioned, your attorney may object to certain questions; refrain from speaking while your attorney notes objections for the record. Once he/she is done, under the direction of your attorney, you may continue and/or finish responding to the question. Objections are noted for the record; however, they do not mean that you cannot answer the question.
While you are answering questions, make sure you are giving verbal responses. Head nods, hand gestures, or body movements are not appropriate and cannot be recorded by the court reporter.
Once the opposing attorney has completed his or her questioning, your attorney may begin questioning. Your attorney may seek to bring out more information on your injuries, treatment and/or pain suffering, or to help you clarify statements you made during questioning by the opposing attorneys.
After a deposition ends, depending on where your case is at in the discovery process, in most jurisdictions the court will call for a settlement conference to see if the matter can be resolved without going to trial. Other times, if the testimony given in the deposition is compelling, opposing counsel may reach out with a settlement offer. However, if a settlement is unable to be reached after the discovery phase has ended, then the case will be taken to trial.
Even though a deposition is not a trial, the fact that the information revealed during a deposition can strengthen or weaken a case can often make depositions stressful and even confrontational. If you are concerned about an upcoming deposition, or your car accident case in general, please don’t hesitate to contact our experienced accident attorneys. You can reach us by phone or by completing the Contact Us form on this page.