As the victim of a car accident, you may have the right to sue the at-fault party (or parties) for financial compensation. If you pursue a lawsuit, you will have to attend and answer questions in a formal interview known as a deposition. Having a car accident lawyer can help with this process.
Let’s look at what a deposition is and what happens (or may happen) after you participate in one in your car accident case.
Introduction to Depositions
A deposition is an interview conducted by a lawyer in which the person being interviewed answers questions under oath. It is one of several methods of discovery in a car accident case. Discovery is the process by which the lawyers in a car accident case collect evidence and information that they may use to prove their clients’ claims, or to disprove those made by an opposing party.
If you filed a lawsuit seeking damages for your injuries in a car accident, you must sit for a deposition if asked to do so by your opposing party. Likewise, the party you are suing (and its employees, if it is a business) must sit for a deposition upon your request. Finally, third-party witnesses may need to give a deposition if your lawyer or the opposing party’s lawyer serves them with a valid subpoena for their testimony.
The answers to questions at a deposition constitute sworn testimony, just as if you gave them as a witness in a trial. As such, your answers must be truthful. Giving knowingly false testimony at a deposition constitutes perjury.
A deposition often represents an important, even critical, event in a car accident case. Sitting for a deposition can feel stressful and unpleasant, but you can feel confident if you have a skilled, experienced car accident lawyer.
The Nuts-and-Bolts of a Deposition
Depositions typically occur in a conference room at a lawyer’s office (either yours or the other party’s), but they can occur anywhere the parties mutually agree. When parties cannot agree on the location, the court may order the parties to conduct a deposition at a courthouse or elsewhere.
Depositions occur at a time mutually agreed by the parties, or if they cannot agree, at a time set by the court. A set of court-made rules, known as Rules of Civil Procedure, govern the length and scope of a deposition. In federal court cases, for instance, the rules limit a deposition’s length to one day of seven hours, unless the parties agree or the court orders otherwise.
Although a deposition can occur at almost any point after filing a car accident case, it most commonly happens after the parties have engaged in other forms of discovery, such as disclosing documents to each other or providing each other written answers to informational inquiries known as interrogatories.
Depositions take place later than other discovery methods because lawyers typically only get one shot at taking a deposition, so they try to gather as much information as possible beforehand to use in formulating questions to ask the witness.
Only the parties in your car accident case and your respective representatives have a right to attend a deposition. Members of the public are not entitled to attend.
The attendees at a deposition at which you are the witness commonly include:
- Your lawyer
- The opposing party’s lawyer
- A court reporter (who transcribes the deposition), and
- A videographer (who captures video of the deposition).
Your opposing party or the party’s non-lawyer representative also has the right to attend and will sometimes do so. If the person deposed is a child, the child’s parent or guardian may also attend.
You and your lawyer sit side-by-side at a conference table across from the opposing party’s lawyer at a typical deposition. The court reporter sits close enough nearby to hear and transcribe your answers. If one is present, the videographer tends to a camera trained on you.
The deposition usually begins with the opposing party’s lawyer making brief introductions, describing how the questioning will proceed, and asking you some basic questions, such as your name, occupation, role in the case, and ability to answer questions truthfully.
Then, the opposing party’s lawyer questions you about your lawsuit. The lawyer should (and usually does) ask you one question at a time, which you may answer before the lawyer moves on to the next question.
The opposing party’s lawyer generally has wide latitude in choosing the topic, order, and manner of asking questions. Just as in a courtroom, your lawyer may object to the questions or their phrasing.
Unlike in a courtroom, there is no judge present to rule on the objection. Instead, with limited exceptions, you must answer every question asked, even if your lawyer objects or you think the question is irrelevant, rude, or repetitive.
When the opposing party’s lawyer has finished asking you questions, your lawyer can ask you questions, too. Your lawyer may do this if, for example, one of your answers to a question from the opposing party’s attorney was incomplete, confusing, or otherwise needed clarification. As the witness, you do not have the right to ask questions yourself.
The deposition concludes when both lawyers have completed their questioning, or when the allotted time set by rule or agreement runs out, whichever happens first.
What Happens After the Deposition
As we mentioned earlier, depositions commonly happen in the latter stages of the discovery process. In fact, depositions of the actual parties to a lawsuit—you, and the party you are suing—frequently occur at the very end of discovery, after the lawyers have collected information about the case from all other available sources.
In other words, there’s a good chance your deposition will mark the end of the fact-gathering stage of your car accident case.
As a practical matter, after the deposition concludes, the parties usually wait a few days or weeks for the court reporter to prepare the deposition transcript. This, along with the video, constitutes the official record of your sworn answers to a lawyer’s questions. This official record usually serves three essential purposes for your car accident case.
As Evidence in Summary Judgment Motions
After the discovery phase of a car accident case ends, each party has a relatively brief window of time to make written arguments to the court explaining why their side should win the case without holding a trial. These written arguments are called motions for summary judgment.
Lawyers often base their arguments in a motion for summary judgment on the sworn answers given by witnesses in depositions, which have the force and effect of courtroom testimony.
The court considers these arguments and the evidence (including deposition testimony) offered to support them.
Then, it issues a ruling stating either:
- That the case can be resolved without a trial and, if so, which party wins; or
- That neither party wins yet, because a trial is needed to resolve the issues in dispute between them.
As an Instrument of Settlement Negotiation
A second way lawyers use depositions is to demonstrate the strengths of their case to the opposing party or as a way to expose the weaknesses in the other party’s case. For example, if you give strong, credible deposition testimony, it helps to demonstrate that your side would likely win at trial.
Likewise, if the opposing party’s witness gives weak, contradictory, or unbelievable answers to your lawyer’s questions at a deposition, it signals to the other side that they might have a difficult time proving their claims to a jury.
By illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case heading into trial, depositions often serve as powerful tools for lawyers to use in convincing their opponent to settle the case.
Settling means mutually agreeing to end a lawsuit or legal claim. In the typical car accident settlement, the opposing party pays you an agreed sum of money in exchange for you agreeing to release that party from future liability for your accident-related injuries and losses.
As Material to Use at Trial
The third general use of deposition testimony involves its use at a trial. If your car accident case does not settle, it will typically head to trial in a courtroom before a judge and jury. At a trial, the lawyers for each side present evidence about what happened in the accident and the injuries you suffered. Then they ask the jury to decide if you should receive money damages and, if so, how much you should get.
At trial, the court may call the same parties who sat for depositions during the discovery phase as witnesses to give live testimony in front of the jury. Practically speaking, this means the lawyers for both sides will ask many of the same questions they already answered at a deposition. If their answers differ from their earlier answers, lawyers can use their deposition testimony to contradict (or “impeach”) them.
Lawyers can also sometimes use deposition testimony as actual evidence—that is, they can read the deposition transcript to the jury as if it was live witness testimony. This can happen, for example, if a witness who sat for a deposition dies or otherwise can’t testify at a trial.
How the Right Lawyer Can Help Make the Most of Your Deposition
As the discussion above illustrates, depositions constitute an essential and potentially consequential step in a car accident case. As a car accident victim seeking financial compensation for your injuries and losses, you want your deposition to go well to serve as a useful tool for your lawyer.
But you cannot realistically expect to know how to navigate the challenges of a deposition on your own. Instead, your lawyer should have the skill, know-how, and resources to guide you through a deposition and make the most of your right to take the deposition of your opposing party and others.
Specifically, the right lawyer for your car accident case should be able to:
- Investigate the facts and circumstances of your car accident, and gather detailed evidence about what happened, to use in preparing you for your deposition, and in taking the depositions of others;
- Prepare you for the experience of giving a deposition, including by anticipating and discussing the questions the opposing party’s lawyer will ask you, and by familiarizing you with the evidence you may have to address in your answers;
- Protect your interests during the deposition by making appropriate objections, enforcing time limits, asking follow-up questions, and, if necessary, advising you about your rights when a question may jeopardize your legal rights;
- Prepare for and take thorough, successful depositions of your opposing party and third parties to enhance the value and strength of your car accident claim;
- Use deposition testimony effectively in summary judgment motions, settlement negotiations, and trial to help get you the most favorable outcome.
Talk to an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Today
If you suffered injuries in a car accident that wasn’t your fault, you may have the right to demand significant financial compensation from the party or parties at fault. Obtaining that compensation, however, may require you to file a lawsuit and, subsequently, sit for a deposition.
Your deposition testimony could have a material impact on the outcome of your case. Select a car accident injury lawyer with years of experience and a track record of favorable verdicts and settlements in cases like yours.
To learn more about your rights and options after getting hurt in a car accident, contact an experienced lawyer today.