A deposition is recorded testimony that either a plaintiff or defendant delivers before a Tennessee lawsuit goes to trial. The person delivering the deposition — or deponent — is under oath as if it were taking place in a courtroom. It can be nerve-wracking but you can protect yourself by knowing what to expect in a deposition for a car accident.
Why do I need to give a deposition?
If there is a lawsuit after a car accident, it is likely that the facts of the case are in dispute. So each party’s account of what happened is an important part of determining who ends up paying damages and in what amount.
An attorney may ask other people with knowledge of the accident to provide depositions as well, including passengers in either of the vehicles or law enforcement officers who responded to the crash.
These depositions allow the judge and/or jury to determine exactly how the accident happened without relying on one person’s account of the accident. Plus, since all deposed parties are under oath, they will likely give the full, true account of what occurred.
Where does a deposition take place?
There is no specific place where depositions must happen. They will typically occur in an office of one of the lawyers involved in the case or some other, more neutral place. In cases in which a deponent resides a great distance away, the attorneys will likely make some other accommodation, such as videoconferencing.
Even though depositions do not take place in a courtroom, a court reporter will most likely be on hand to record the testimony in a transcript. Sometimes the attorney will make an audio or video recording of the deposition.
What should I do if I have to give a deposition?
Preparation is key. In most lawsuits, the plaintiff’s and defendant’s depositions will form the basis for arguments, settlements, or jury decisions in a car accident lawsuit, so you should take it seriously. While your lawyer will do the legal prep work, there are a few things you can do on your own:
- Get some sleep: Depending on the number of questions the other side has, depositions can last hours. To prevent yourself from saying something that will jeopardize your case, make sure you are well-rested.
- Watch what you wear: While a deposition is less formal than a court appearance, you should still consider the impression you make. Do not wear jeans, a t-shirt, or flip flops.
- Remember that you will be under oath: Think of the deposition as exactly what you would say in court if you are on the witness stand. If an account of the accident at trial differs from the contents of a deposition, the other attorney will point this out in cross-examination, and it can irreparably harm the case.
What should I expect during questioning?
In most cases where there are depositions, the plaintiff’s attorney will question the defendant, and the defendant’s attorney will question the plaintiff. Whichever side you are on, your attorney will be present.
In a car accident lawsuit, the purpose of the deposition is to reconstruct the incident in as much detail as possible, but also to provide context.
Expect seemingly unrelated questions. The other attorney probably will ask about your family life and occupation and also if you have a criminal background or have been involved in similar accidents before.
The other person’s attorney will ask you to provide as much information as you can recall about the accident. If you cannot remember certain details, it is OK to admit this. It is also OK to ask the attorney to clarify a question you do not understand.
You should also be prepared to explain how the accident has affected your quality of life, so the court will understand what damages you might deserve to receive.
Should I lie in my deposition if I think it will make my case stronger?
This should go without saying, but absolutely not. Always tell the truth, but err on the side of saying less, not more. The more you talk during a deposition, the more you might risk contradicting yourself, even if it’s not on purpose.
If the question has a yes or no answer, simply say yes or no and do not elaborate on this answer. Never use the word “because.” This can lead to follow-up questioning you would prefer to avoid. Do not try to anticipate additional questions.
How should I act during the deposition?
If your case goes to trial, your demeanor while testifying can influence how a jury interprets the facts of the case. The attorneys for both sides will decide on the basis of your deposition whether calling you to the stand in a trial would be a good idea.
Even when you are telling the truth, a jury might not believe you if your answers or body language are distracting or unconvincing. It is important to remain calm and keep your answers succinct. Talking more than necessary could signal a jury that you are nervous, which can hurt your case.
Do I have to give a deposition?
There is no law forcing you to give a deposition in a lawsuit if you do not want to. However, if you refuse, a judge may dismiss your case.
Since a judge or jury’s perception can be a major factor in deciding car accident cases, it will not look good if you are unwilling to submit to a sworn deposition before the case goes to trial.