When a Florida personal injury law suit is filed and served on behalf of anybody who has been in a serious accident, the insurance company will schedule the claimant’s deposition. A deposition is a conversation or interrogation between a lawyer and a witness. The witness swears to tell the truth in his or her answers to any question that is asked. This process is commonly referred to as “testifying under oath.”
For most, this will be their first time in a deposition or giving sworn testimony. The conversation is recorded by a trained and licensed court reporter; who transcribes every single word spoken by the lawyers and the witness. The dialog is then printed into a little book called the deposition transcript.
The questions and answers can and most likely will be used at trial. Most depositions are video-recorded as well; frequently, the tape is played at trial so that the jury can not only hear the answer, but they can also see how the witness responded.
In Florida accident cases, depositions traditionally take place at a lawyer’s or a court reporter’s office. However, they can occur just about anywhere the party or the court chooses. I have been a Miami PI lawyer for 22 years; and I estimate that I have taken and defended hundreds, if not thousands, of depositions. I have had depositions in doctors’ offices and waiting rooms, movie theaters and even at the Uruguayan Embassy in Montevideo.
The number one rule I tell my clients before their deposition, is to tell the truth. It sounds so simple but it is actually frighteningly complicated. Many personal injury claimants somehow believe that a “slight embellishment” of the facts will enhance the value of their case. Or, they simply underestimate the investigative resources of the insurance industry to fact check.
I have watched firsthand as clients destroy a legitimate case by misstating an irrelevant fact. Occasionally it is an intentional lie, which might lead to the dismissal of their case and could also subject them to criminal prosecution. I wrote about this recently in my blog for the Huffington Post, “Did Lance Lie Strong”.
Occasionally, the misstatement is made by mistake. The witness may have answered a question truthfully, but simply misheard or misunderstood the actual question. This is very common in South Florida because many of our clients do not speak English. In these cases, certified translators are utilized. However, even then, the translation of the question or answer may not be accurate.
I take a lot of time to prepare my clients for their deposition. Over the years I have found that the more preparation a client receives, the better their deposition performance will be. Once, early in my career, I had a slip and fall case in Orlando against Disney World. My client was an elderly lady who had to fly to Orange County for her deposition. I picked her and her son up at the airport and prepared her during the drive and over a long lunch.
When I was convinced that she understood the ground rules of testifying and was prepared, I drove her and her son to the Disney lawyer’s offices for her deposition. Shortly after we began I could tell she was not following my instructions. So I stopped the deposition to speak with her and her son. I explained to them that she was not answering the questions appropriately. Her son then told me her hearing-aid battery had died and she was simply answering yes to every question because she could not hear and was embarrassed.
If you are currently filing a lawsuit in Florida for any kind of injury, I strongly urge you and your lawyer to spend several hours preparing. And remember, always tell the truth and if you use a hearing-aid take extra batteries.