I’ve heard plaintiffs’ depositions in injury cases described as “beauty contests.” This is because the deposition of the plaintiff in an injury case is often the defense attorney’s first chance to see the plaintiff.
This is essential to get an accurate evaluation of the plaintiff’s likelihood of success at trial because of the plaintiff’s appearance, manner of speaking, command of details, and likeability all impact the jury. This is true especially regarding pain and suffering damages. The jury is unlikely to make a large damages award to a plaintiff that doesn’t appear likable or believable.
Careful preparation can keep your client from falling on her face at a deposition. As a group, injury lawyers are prone to forget that the average person does not understand how the litigation process works.
First, I always make sure that the client has a firm understanding of the purpose of the deposition, and the likely topic areas. Normally, the deposition has three parts, which I like to call Background, Facts, and Medical/Damages. I explain the kinds of information that is usually included in each part.
Second, if there are facts crucial to the litigation, I make the client aware of these areas. The client should get a copy of her Answers to Interrogatories, medical records and bills, and any other important documents. This way the client knows the contents of any prior statements made in discovery or contained within the medical records. I also make sure the client gets to read the defense medical examiner’s report if there is one.
Third, I explain the expected attire. So far I have had no one be offended by this. Most people who are unfamiliar with the legal process are uncertain about what to wear. I make sure the client has the address of the location of the deposition, and that they have my cell phone number in case of any last-minute changes.
I think the attention paid to these issues helps clients make a better presentation at the deposition. It also sets a good foundation for getting the client ready to testify at trial.