Depositions are a procedural tool attorneys use to learn about civil cases. Oftentimes in personal injury cases, the deposition of the plaintiff (accident victim) is the only deposition that is taken. The plaintiff usually gives testimony about how the accident happened; what injuries he/she sustained; and, the medical treatment he/she received. The deposition is important because it helps the defense assess the value of the case. Therefore, if the plaintiff makes mistakes, the value of the plaintiff’s case decreases. Listed below are the biggest mistakes a plaintiff can make during a deposition.
Defendants (especially in bigger cases) spend a lot of time researching and surveilling plaintiffs. Most defense attorneys know the answers to questions before they ask them. They want plaintiffs to lie because they then can impeach the untruthful plaintiffs at trial. “Impeach” means showing the judge and/or jury how the plaintiff lied during deposition. Common things plaintiffs lie about during depositions are a) past accidents; b) past personal injury claims; c) arrests and convictions; and, d) drug use.
- Unresponsiveness to Questioning
Plaintiffs are asked a lot of questions during depositions. If they appear to “stonewall” the defense attorney—i.e., evade answering questions directly or claim an inability to remember common things—the perception will be that the witness (plaintiff) is untrustworthy. This perception of untrustworthiness is as bad as the plaintiff being perceived as a liar. Stonewalling will also frustrate the questioning attorney, which will make him or her more likely to want to take the plaintiff to court than to settle.
- Being Impolite
Legal cases are by their nature adversarial: two sides fight with each other to win a desired outcome. But that does not mean that parties should be hostile or rude to each other. It is not always easy to convince a plaintiff who has been injured by a party or otherwise wronged to be polite to that party’s attorney during deposition, but being civil will go a long way. If a person is likable and kind during a deposition, they will likely be that way in front of a judge and jury. A defense attorney that likes a plaintiff will tell that to his client(s) and will warn his/her client(s) that the plaintiff is likable and should be offered a fair amount to settle if the case is otherwise meritable. Conversely, if the plaintiff is rude, mean and/or curses, the defense attorney will believe that the plaintiff will not make a good trial witness and not be as afraid to take the plaintiff to court as opposed to settle the case.
- Fidgeting or Otherwise Appearing Nervous or Untrustworthy
Calm and collected body language is useful during a deposition because it shows that the plaintiff is confident and calm, which are indicators of trustworthiness. If a plaintiff fidgets during a deposition or fails to give anyone eye contact when answering questions, it will likely be perceived as an indicator of untrustworthiness and unlikability. A plaintiff will be best served if he or she can maintain good body language when answering questions: a) sit straight up in chair; b) call others Sir or Ma’am; c) give eye contact when speaking; d) keep hands visible and still on the table; e) keep shoulders relaxed.
Donald D’Aunoy Jr. “Lawyer Don” has taken hundreds of depositions. If you have question about a case or about discovery matters like depositions contact his office today for a Free Consultation: 504-508-6414. He has offices on the Westbank and Eastbank of Jefferson Parish. However, Lawyer Don represents clients throughout Louisiana. And he provides FREE house calls to his clients. Just ask!