Discovery is the general process by which parties to a personal injury claim obtain information from the other side. Deposition questions (in a pretrial oral examination) and interrogatories (pretrial written questions) are two of the most useful tools in discovery, as they give both sides the opportunity to ask questions about the case that the recipient must answer truthfully under penalty of perjury.
What is a deposition like in a personal injury trial?
In a personal injury trial, attorneys for each side will try first to collect as much information about the case as possible in order to build a strong case. To collect that information, they will conduct a pre-trial deposition. During this question-and-answer session, the attorneys of the opposing side will ask a witness deposition questions outside of the courtroom. However, any answers are under oath, which makes a deposition an intimidating process for anyone.
During the deposition, you can expect attorneys on both sides to be present, as well as a court reporter, who will keep a record of every word spoken (unless your attorney requests that something be off the record).
What are some common deposition questions?
Your deposition will begin with the lawyer asking you questions about your background.
Some of the deposition questions that you can expect during this more benign stage of the proceedings include:
- What is your full name?
- What is your date of birth?
- What is your address?
- What is your Social Security number?
- What is your place of birth?
- Where did you go to school?
- What is your level of education?
- Are you married?
- How many children do you have?
- What is your occupation?
These questions provide background information while letting you get comfortable in your surroundings. After this and some other personal questions, the deposition will progressively get more challenging and probing in nature.
Here are some of the deposition questions you can expect at this later stage:
- Were you working on the day after the accident?
- Were you working the day before?
- What were you doing on that day?
- When and where did the accident occur? (This is part of pinpointing the exact date you were injured because there is a time limit on filing personal injury claims.)
- Who else was in the car with you?
- Who was driving?
- Where were the passengers sitting?
- Can you describe what happened?
- Were there any witnesses at the scene?
- Were they any other cars at the scene? (Attorneys will ask you to describe the car — even its color — to establish credibility).
- Did you take a break from work after suffering the injury?
- Did you get medical treatment for your injury? (This question will include details about the doctor, hospital, diagnostic tests, and treatment options.)
- Did the injury prevent you from going to work or engaging in recreational activities?
- What are the long-term consequences of your injury? (Are you disabled, or do you find it difficult to perform certain activities?)
- What is the exact nature of the job that you performed during the course of your work before the injury?
- Have you suffered any injuries or illnesses before?
- Have you previously filed a lawsuit? Has anyone filed a lawsuit against you?
- Do you have a criminal record?
Usually, such questioning occurs at the opposing attorney’s law firm. One attorney may ask the questions, while another may cross-examine you. It is important that your own attorney is present as well to instruct you on how to answer deposition questions and to object if necessary. You will still need to answer nearly all objectionable questions, but the note of the objection may keep it from becoming evidence later on during trial. However, you do not have to answer a question at all if a communication is “privileged.” Your attorney will advise you if this is the case at the time of his or her objection.
How to Prepare for Deposition Questions
The deposition is a very important aspect of a personal injury trial because information collected during this process ultimately will affect the outcome of the case. When considering how to answer deposition questions, it can help to reexamine all of your medical and accident records to refresh your memory.
Soon after your accident or injury, write down all details about the accident, including the contact information of any witnesses at the scene.
Your next step should be to secure a personal injury attorney who can walk you through the process and ensure you do everything correctly at your deposition.
At the deposition, say only what is necessary and avoid going into long-winded explanations that open the door for you to make mistakes that can jeopardize your case. For example, if asked a yes or no question, simply respond with yes or no. Make the attorney dig for more — do not offer additional information.
A deposition can be an intimidating experience. Before you answer a question, take a second; think carefully about how you will phrase the response, being mindful that a court reporter will write down everything you say verbatim.
What is an interrogatory?
Similar to depositions, interrogatories also involve a series of questions that both sides will use later to develop their cases. Unlike depositions, however, interrogatories are written, and are therefore much less formal. Your attorney will typically answer these questions with you and/or advise you of how to properly answer the questions presented.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure also limit how many questions an attorney can ask in an interrogatory, so there will be a significant decrease in the amount of questions asked in an interrogatory versus the amount asked in your deposition (Note, there can be many subparts to a single question).
- Please state your full name.
- A. Please state your present home address.
- B. Please list the name of the members of your immediate household.
- C. Please list your employer’s name and business address.
- State the names of all known witnesses.
- A. State the addresses of all persons you know who witnessed any part of the incident, or have knowledge of the incident.
- B. Give a brief description of all witnesses whose names or addresses you do not know.
- Did you make any statements at the scene of the accident?
- A. State the name and address of the person to whom you made the statement.