Depositions can be an invaluable tool in a number of cases including civil cases involving personal injury. Depositions allow attorneys to collect critical information needed to fully advise and represent their clients.
What is a deposition?
A deposition is a statement that is given under oath. It is sworn testimony by the parties and/or witnesses in a case. It gives the lawyers for each side in a dispute the opportunity to ask questions of both the parties involved and witnesses. It is one of the most important tools that attorneys have at their disposal during a case.
Typically depositions occur during discovery, and are taken after a lawsuit is filed and before a case goes to trial. The person being deposed is referred to as the deponent.
In a personal injury case, like a car accident, the victim of the car accident (plaintiff), the person accused of causing the car accident (defendant), and any possible witnesses to the accident would be deposed. Depending on the facts of the case, an expert witness might also be deposed to talk about something like the dangers of a particular intersection where the accident may have occurred.
How does a deposition actually work?
In the majority of court cases, plaintiffs and defendants are represented by attorneys. Since depositions happen during the discovery phase of a case, and not trial, depositions typically take place in a conference room at the office of one of the attorneys involved in the case. A deposition notice will be sent to the person being deposed containing a date, time and location for the deposition.
Depositions can be taken in person or by video. Video depositions have become increasingly common due to COVID-19. During a deposition, the attorneys for both the plaintiff and defendant have the opportunity to question the deponent. In addition to the parties to the lawsuit, the attorneys for each party and the deponent, a court reporter is typically in the room. The court reporter records the attorneys questions and the deponent’s testimony. The court reporter later provides each party with a copy of the transcript of the proceedings.
In a personal injury case, deposition questions asked during the plaintiff’s deposition will generally focus on the:
- accident. Questions for the plaintiff in a personal injury case might include - were you on the phone at the time of the accident? What was the weather like on the day of the accident? Were you speeding? Were there any witnesses?
- prior health. The defense attorney will be trying to gather evidence to show that the plaintiff had prior health issues that either contributed to the accident, or already existed and therefore were not affected by the accident. One question might be - did you have any prior injuries that might have contributed to the accident like a hurt arm or shoulder?
- injuries sustained and treatment for those injuries. A detailed description of the actual injuries suffered is what the defense attorney will be looking for. Treatment questions might include: Did you go to the hospital immediately following the accident? Were you admitted to the hospital or released right away? Was there any follow-up treatment? Did you have to do physical therapy?
- life of the plaintiff after the accident as compared to before. Specifically, the defense attorney will be trying to establish that the plaintiff’s life was not negatively affected by the accident and resulting injuries.
Typically deponents meet with their attorney ahead of time to prepare for their deposition. An experienced Charlotte, North Carolina personal injury attorney can help you understand what types of questions will be asked, give advice as to how to answer questions and be a source of comfort on the day of the actual deposition.
Depositions are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The purpose of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to “secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and every proceeding.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 1. States also have their own state Rules of Civil Procedure which in some cases mirror the Federal Rules. The Rules governing depositions regulate things like:
- timing. For example, North Carolina’s Rule of Civil Procedure 30(b)(1) requires that deposition notices be served upon parties at least 10 days before the deposition, or 15 days if the party served lives outside of North Carolina.
- content. Deposition notices have to be specific and include the time and place for the deposition as well as the name and address of the person to be deposed.
- location. N.C. Rule of Civil Procedure 30 states that North Carolina residents can only be required to attend a deposition “in the county wherein he resides or is employed or transacts his business in person.”
- type of deposition. The deposition notice must identify if the deposition will be taken in person or by video.
- service. In North Carolina, deposition notices must be hand-delivered, faxed or mailed to the deponent’s attorney. If the deponent is not represented by an attorney, then it can be hand-delivered or mailed to the deponent's last known address.
Why are depositions important?
Depositions create a written record of the parties and witnesses testimony. Since depositions are given under oath, deponents swear to tell the truth, thereby creating a factually accurate written record.
Depositions allow deponents to tell their side of the story early on in the discovery process. Since they are written records given under oath, deposition testimony can be used at trial to impeach (or contradict) trial testimony.
Depositions aid attorneys in evaluating the positives and negatives of their case which could go a long way toward resolving a case, particularly if one attorney realizes that their client will not do well at trial.
Discuss Your Personal Injury Case with Our Charlotte, North Carolina Attorneys
The Charlotte, NC lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced personal injury lawyers. They are available to discuss your personal injury with you and help you navigate the legal process if there is a legal claim. If a deposition is necessary, they will help you prepare and represent you throughout the process. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.