When people think of legal matters, their minds automatically go to court proceedings. Many people do not think about the steps necessary to make it into a courtroom for trial. Even if your attorney files a lawsuit in your car accident case, many steps must happen before both parties can reach an outcome. Civil procedure rules require the parties to take action and meet obligations on the path to a possible jury trial.
One critical step of the litigation process is known as discovery. In discovery, attorneys use an essential method called a deposition to gather vital information to build the case and determine where they stand in relation to the adverse parties. Once a deposition is over, what happens next? This depends on the circumstances of your lawsuit, and your car accident lawyer can provide this specific advice to you.
Keep reading for more information about depositions and what they lead to in a car accident case.
When you suffer injuries in a car accident, you can exercise several legal options. While you can file a claim with your insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company, you also have the right to file a personal injury claim in many situations.
Because your car accident falls under personal injury law, your lawyer can file a lawsuit against the other driver and seek compensation in civil court. There are two ways that your car accident lawsuit will end: through a settlement offer or a trial verdict.
A settlement offer is an amount of compensation that you and the insurance company agree to out of court. Instead of proceeding to a trial, the insurance company can offer to pay you a lump sum payment that should be enough to cover the damages from your accident. The insurance company might make a sufficient offer up front or following rounds of negotiation with your car accident attorney. If you feel that the settlement offer is insufficient to cover your damages, you have the right to either negotiate for a higher amount or refuse it altogether.
When you and the insurance company cannot reach a mutual agreement regarding a settlement, you can take your claim to trial to seek total compensation. In a trial, your attorney must present sufficient evidence to the judge or jury to support your claims. Claims at issue might involve the liability of another party or only the damages you deserve.
Before trial, your lawyer must share requested evidence with the at-fault party and their insurance company. This happens during the discovery phase of litigation, which is usually the longest part of the process. One legal tool that can be particularly critical in discovery is a deposition, which is highly common in car accident lawsuits.
One reason why the discovery process takes a long time is because of depositions. A deposition is a method that attorneys from both sides can use to get answers from all parties or witnesses in the lawsuit.
In a deposition, a person (the deponent) answers a series of questions under oath related to the accident. The opposing lawyer questions the deponent while their lawyer is present. Depositions do not have to happen inside of the court. In fact, they often occur in a law office or a conference room. However, the answers are still under oath, so deponents must answer all questions honestly and under penalty of perjury.
The purpose of a deposition is for the attorneys on both sides to gather as much information from the opposing side as possible related to the car accident. All parties involved can provide a different perspective on how the car accident happened. A deposition gives everyone an idea of what each party or witness will say at trial.
All parties’ statements in their depositions can serve as evidence for their testimonies at trial. Lawyers can use deposition transcripts to set the record straight if a party’s story changes. Attorneys can also use depositions to determine how witnesses will act if they testify at trial.
A lawyer will ask a witness a series of questions about the events of the car accident. A court reporter will record the witness’s statements word for word. The option to conduct a deposition over video is there for witnesses who are too injured to participate in person or cannot be in town to attend.
Lawyers for both parties should be present during the deposition. However, if you are the subject of the deposition, your lawyer’s role will be limited during the deposition, as this is not a full trial.
The opposing attorney can ask a broader range of questions during a deposition. Although your lawyer has the right to object to some questions, witnesses have to answer all questions. The objections might come into play if the case makes it to trial.
The length of a deposition can vary. Some depositions can take a few minutes, while others can take multiple days. Regardless of the time, all witnesses must answer the questions in a deposition as carefully and honestly as possible. The answers they give will help determine the outcome of a car accident claim.
Depositions provide both sides of a car accident claim several benefits. Each side can learn all the facts and witness statements before a trial. This helps both parties avoid surprises that can further prolong the trial or potentially jeopardize your case.
Another benefit is that both sides can better prepare for the upcoming trial using the facts presented in the deposition. Unlike what happens on court television shows, trials rarely involve shocking revelations that alter the course of the case. This is because both sides can gain the necessary information in depositions and through other discovery tools.
If you are a plaintiff, defendant, or witness asked to participate in a deposition, you must participate. Sometimes witnesses receive subpoenas to a deposition, even if they are not a party to the claim. Witnesses can object to a subpoena; however, they have to sufficiently tell the courts why they should not have to undergo a deposition. This is rarely successful.
If the other party asks you to participate in a deposition, you will not go into the deposition blindly. Your car accident lawyer will give you a general overview of what to expect and the rules to follow in a deposition.
Some of these rules to keep in mind include:
It can be stressful to provide an accurate and honest answer to some questions in a deposition. Regarding car accident claims, some of the most difficult questions to answer are those related to speed, time, and distance. People generally do not remember the accurate time or speed and distance traveled. Because the opposing attorney knows this, they will offer a series of questions to the witness and ask the witness to provide their “best estimate” of these questions.
One of the best ways to answer these questions is to just state what you know to be true. If you truly do not know the answer, it is okay to state that you do not know in the deposition. There is no penalty for stating you do not know an answer to a question if that is true. Your lawyer can provide advice on this matter.
You also want to ensure that you are listening to the opposing attorney and allowing him or her to finish the question before answering. One of the most common issues in a deposition is anticipating a question and answering too quickly. You might provide information the other lawyer did not plan – or know – to ask about. This can give them an advantage in the overall case in some situations.
While these are some tips about depositions, preparing for a deposition with your attorney is the most important thing. The deposition plays a critical role in the rest of your case, so you want to avoid any errors.
Once all depositions are over, the next step is to wait for the transcript. Every proceeding must have an accurate recording verbatim by a court reporter. Following the deposition, the court reporter may take a few weeks to prepare a legible transcript.
Both parties will receive a copy and have the opportunity to carefully review the transcripts. Your lawyer can take time to ensure that all the information is accurate and correct mistakes. This is key because the information in the deposition plays a role in subsequent steps of litigation.
Each lawyer also has the opportunity to determine how the deposition will affect the claim. Your lawyer can assess the good and bad factors associated with proceeding to a trial in light of the depositions and advise you on the best course to take.
While depositions can play an important role at trial during witness testimony, they can also help a claim resolve before it reaches the trial stage. Once the respective lawyers have all information from depositions and other discovery methods, they will assess the strength of the evidence on both sides.
Often, a deposition signals to the insurance company that you have a strong case and will likely win at trial. The insurance company might then decide to make a favorable settlement offer. You want your lawyer to prepare you and other witnesses to ensure you properly demonstrate your knowledge and testimony at depositions. This can help convince the insurer that it does not want to take the case before a jury and instead make a fair offer. You can accept the offer and conclude your case without entering the courtroom.
If you have a deposition, it means you are in the middle of car accident litigation, and you should already have a skilled car accident lawyer handling your case. If you have not yet filed a claim, your first step should be to hire the right attorney. There is always the possibility that a car accident case will head into litigation, and you need proper legal representation when this happens.
A lawyer will often lead to a successful settlement without requiring a lawsuit. However, should your case proceed to the civil court system, you want a legal professional with extensive litigation experience who knows how to conduct depositions and use them to your advantage.
Preparing for a deposition can be overwhelming, and many things happen in a car accident case before the possibility of a deposition. To give yourself peace of mind and ensure that someone is protecting your best interests, you should seek the assistance of a lawyer.
A lawyer can assist with every aspect of your car accident claim, from the insurance claim to the settlement phase to post-deposition. The outcome of your deposition will determine the route your car accident claim will take. You do not want to leave such an important step in your claim to luck or chance.
Contact a car accident lawyer to discuss your case so you have the best chance of receiving full compensation for your losses. They will know what steps to take with insurance companies or in civil court to seek the best outcome possible in your case. Consultations are always free, so reach out today.