How to Give Effective Deposition Testimony: The 10-Step Guide

If you are a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit, you will likely be required to give deposition testimony. Though not held in court, this is a sworn testimony under oath as part of the discovery process prior to trial or arbitration.

The deposition process demands that the plaintiff answer a wide variety of questions asked by a defense attorney. It can be nerve-racking, exhausting, and even upsetting. To ensure the best result for your case, we recommend following these tips to perform well during your deposition testimony:

1. Dress Presentably

You don’t necessarily have to “dress up” for a deposition, but you do want to present yourself in a positive light. Business casual is usually a reliable guideline for both men and women. Cover any visible tattoos, and avoid distracting attire, accessories or hairstyles. If you are unsure of what to wear, ask your attorney for advice.

2. Minimize the Narrative

As the victim of another party’s error or neglect, it’s understandable that you want to tell your story and make yourself heard. However, try to get out of this mindset and focus on giving honest, direct answers to the precise questions being asked. The more commentary you provide, the more opportunities you give the defense ask follow-up questions, create contradictions and put your credibility into question.

3. Pause Before Each Response

In everyday conversation, it is perfectly normal to anticipate what someone is asking and to respond before they finish their question. In a deposition, however, it’s best to take a moment before answering a question. We recommend doing this for several reasons:

  • To fully process the question and ensure you understand it.
  • To give your attorney a time to object to the question if necessary.
  • To formulate and articulate a response.
  • To allow the court reporter to accurately transcribe the exchange.

If after a moment of pause you don’t understand the question, ask the defense attorney to repeat and/or rephrase it.

4. Be Succinct

Again, only answer what you’re asked. Do not feel the need to validate, justify or volunteer information. Doing so will only extend the deposition and possibly hurt your case. Look the opposing counsel in the eye to show sincerity and poise.

5. Don’t Guess

There is often a notable gap in the time between an accident and a deposition due to the many formalities that take place during the litigation process. It’s reasonable to assume that you may forget certain details of the incident. If you don’t know or don’t remember a fact that is being asked of you, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to say so. Giving an inaccurate guess could damage your case.

That said, there will be times when you are expected to be able to “estimate” time, distance, speed or other factors. If you feel comfortable giving an estimate, state your answer as a range (e.g., “20-35 miles per hour”) to give yourself some leeway. If you estimate that you were going 20 miles per hour and you were actually going 32 miles per hour, it will be more of a talking point for the defense than if your actual speed had fallen within a 20-35-mile-per-hour range you provided.

6. Don’t Look It Up

We have all become accustomed to finding answers on the fly using Google. For example, if you’re asked to give an office location and you don’t know the exact address, your instinct might be to say, “Let me look it up” as you pull out your phone. A deposition is not the time for you to do this! The opposing counsel is entitled to what’s in your brain, not what’s in your purse, pocket or phone.

7. Ask for a Break

The deposition is not a marathon or test. You are in complete control of what you need in order to focus, especially as you become fatigued or anxious to move on with your day. If you would like to take a bathroom break, snack break, or simply want to talk to your attorney, finish answering the pending question and then ask to be excused briefly. Everyone involved wants your best testimony.

8. Be Mindful of Your Demeanor

One of the understated aspects of a deposition is appearance. The defense—and possibly an insurance adjuster, investigator or anyone else attending—will be analyzing your overall body language and credibility. They want to know whether you’re someone with whom the jury will sympathize and reward. Your demeanor will also be part of the defense attorney’s writeup, so avoid being adversarial, defensive or rude.

9. Articulate the Impact

To conclude the deposition, the opposing counsel will usually ask how your life was affected by the accident. Be prepared for this question beforehand, because it can be surprisingly difficult to answer with specific examples after several hours of testifying. Clients often freeze up, only to realize all the things they should have said in hindsight.

When you’re injured, it can have a ripple effect on virtually every aspect of your everyday life. Are you unable to do the things you love? Do you need to hire help that wasn’t required before? Your answers set the foundation for the non-economic damages that are so pivotal in a personal injury case.

10. Answer Truthfully

Above all, honesty is the only way to make it through this process. Between the many documents compiled, questions asked, answers repeated and penalty of perjury, it’s imperative that you are 100% honest, 100% of the time.

If you have been injured in an accident and believe another party is at fault, contact the Law Offices of Belgum, Fry & Van Allen for a free case evaluation.