When a personal injury lawsuit is filed in a car accident case, there are a number of things to take care of in the pre-trial stage. This pre-trial process includes the “discovery” process, in which both sides exchange information and investigate the accident.
A key part of discovery is a “deposition.” A deposition is testimony given under oath, but out of court. The following people are typically present at a deposition:
- The person being deposed
- The parties to the lawsuit
- Attorneys for each side
- Someone qualified to administer oaths (usually a court reporter)
Essentially, a deposition is a face-to-face question-and-answer session. This allows attorneys on each side to understand what the deponent (i.e. the person giving the deposition) knows about the accident.
The plaintiff in a car accident case should always expect to be deposed. New Jersey law states that “…after commencement of the action, any party may take the testimony of any person, including a party, by deposition upon oral examination.” In plain English, this means that the bringer of the lawsuit (i.e. the plaintiff) must be prepared to testify at a deposition. In addition, any relevant party called upon—by either side—must agree to testify, less any extreme circumstances that prevent him or her from doing so.
The questions asked during a deposition can address a wide range of information, including:
- Personal information: An attorney will often start out with the basics, including your name, address, date of birth, educational background, family background, living situation, your medical history (including any pre-existing injuries or chronic health issues), your employment background, your criminal background, and your legal background (i.e. whether or not you have filed any lawsuits in the past or made any other types of personal injury claims).
- Recollection of the accident: After a car accident, an attorney will ask many questions about how the accident happened, including the time and date of the accident, the weather conditions, the traffic conditions, where you were headed, the location of stop lights and other traffic control devices, and how each driver behaved leading up to the accident. The lawyer may ask how fast you were going, where in the road you were located, where on the roadway the cars collided, which parts of the cars were affected, and where the cars eventually came to rest.
- Your injuries and medical treatment: Determining the extent and cost of your injuries is an extremely important part of any personal injury case. During a deposition, the attorney may ask what injuries you believe were caused by the accident, whether or not any pre-existing conditions played a part, what symptoms you had at the scene of the accident, where and when you sought medical attention, and how the injuries have affected your day-to-day life.
Attorneys on either side may ask to depose witnesses, the medical professionals who treated the plaintiff, and possibly other expert witnesses.
The most important thing to remember during a deposition is to be clear and honest in your answers. If you do not know the answer to a particular question, say so. Any hesitation, unclear responses, or answers that don’t match up with other testimony can be used against you in court by the opposing side.