If you had a car accident and your claim has failed to settle, necessitating a lawsuit, the legal proceedings may involve a deposition. That is, the defendant’s attorney might depose you or your witnesses. Your lawyer may also depose the defendant or their witnesses.
Normally, deposition is one discovery method in a car accident lawsuit others include requests for document production, admissions, and interrogatories. Discovery happens at the initial stages and may or may not lead to settlement. If the claim doesn’t settle, the lawsuit progresses to other stages such as mediation, trial, and appeal.
A Quick Overview of Deposition
After a car accident, you have a right to seek compensation for any injuries you might have sustained. While, in most cases, claims settle before trial, there are a few cases that end up in a lawsuit, as it may be with you. As both sides prepare for the lawsuit, they may exercise their discovery rights, including deposition and the others we have highlighted above.
During deposition, the deposing lawyer asks interrogative questions to hear your version of the events and gain deeper insight into the case. Among other things, it helps them frame their strategies for a quicker trial.
There are two types of deposition oral and written.
This involves interviewing the deponent (in-person) by the opposing attorney. However, oral depositions can also be held remotely via teleconference, phone, etc. Scheduling remote depositions follow similar procedures as in-person, and the deposing attorneys must organize the means for all parties to access the proceedings.
Parties present during oral deposition include the witness (deponent), attorneys from opposing sides, and a court official for administering oath and recording proceedings.
The deposing attorney may also request submissions through written form. In this case, they supply the deponent with questions, which they answer in writing.
However, many lawyers do not prefer written depositions because they cannot ask clarifying questions. For this reason, they consider them less helpful.
While the depositions are purely for discovering the opposing side’s evidence to prepare responding submissions, in some instances attorneys may admit them in court:
- If you offer contradicting testimony in court
- If you cannot testify in the court
Assuming the defendant’s attorney wants to depose you, your lawyer should prepare you beforehand. Since your testimony is under oath, you must answer the questions honestly. The questions may inquire about your personal information, an account of the accident, your health status before and after the accident, your injuries and their impact on your life, etc.
While these might sound pretty straightforward, prior coaching by your attorney is essential to ensure you do not harm your case. For instance, giving information outside of what the question requires may attract follow-up questions that could reveal case-compromising information.
Generally, the lawyer will inform you of the dos and don’ts of giving sworn testimony to ensure you’re well prepared for the proceedings. But that should happen before the deposition. Once you start sharing the testimony, they cannot coach you. Nonetheless, their presence is crucial as they can object to out-of-order questions.
What Happens After a Deposition
Once you have given your testimony, several steps follow. Depending on your presentation, the insurance company may or may not offer a better settlement.
If you agree to the offer, they will write you a check for the damages, and the case will close. But if you do not accept the settlement, the claim will proceed to the other stages of the lawsuit. Throughout the process, you may still receive more offers until the court finally decides the case. On the other, the insurance company might choose not to give you an offer and wait for the court’s decision.
To help you understand how the deposition may affect your case, let us look at each of the after-deposition steps in depth.
#1. Preparing the Transcript
One of the court reporter’s roles during deposition is to record the proceedings. They usually use electronic sound recording equipment and later on transcribe the audio into a written report. Sometimes they may also use a stenotype to type the proceedings in shorthand then translate them to English later.
Preparing the transcript might take several weeks to finalize. Once ready, the courter reporter will send the document to your attorney as well as the defendant’s attorney.
#2. Reviewing the Transcript
Once your attorney has a copy of the transcript, they will review it. They may require you to go through the transcript together so you can pick any errors or misstatements.
During the review, the lawyer may employ tools to help them analyze the transcript thoroughly. If the testimony reveals a need for more evidence (either additional testimony from you or a witness), the attorney will organize for another deposition.
#3. Deposing Attorney’s Verdict
After reviewing your testimony, the deposing attorney will report back to the insurance company on their findings.
Their report may discuss issues such as:
- Your testimony’s credibility – During your deposition, the lawyer will be keen to establish your arguments’ credibility. If they believe you exaggerated the testimony, they will report on that. One of the ways they may test your testimony’s credibility is by comparing it to other evidence documents, such as medical reports.
- Your physical condition – The attorney will observe you keenly to establish whether you suffered the injuries you claim to have. If they believe otherwise, they will relay the information to the insurance company for further action.
Overall, if the attorney believes your testimony is honest, they may convince the insurance company to offer you a better settlement. Otherwise, if the deposition raises doubt, e.g., about your health condition, the insurance may request you undergo an independent medical examination (IME).
With IME, the insurance seeks to obtain an independent medical opinion about your health from a physician of their choice. While you might get a genuine evaluation from the doctor, in some cases, the insurance might instruct the physician to downplay your injuries or link them to other causes.
However, your lawyer should help you navigate this step by preparing you. For instance, you should be careful about revealing information about your past health conditions, as the doctor can twist it and link it to your injuries, thereby minimizing your claim.
Assuming the insurance company gives a better offer, your attorney will help you evaluate it to determine whether the compensation is fair. If the settlement is sufficient to cater to your damages, and you accept it, the insurer will pay you and close the case.
But if the compensation is inadequate, and you reject the offer, or the insurance company declines to provide a settlement, the case will proceed to the next stage.
After the deposition and other discovery processes conclude, the case will enter the next phase mediation. This is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) conference whereby a neutral third party will mediate or oversee the settlement negotiations.
The mediator will listen to both sides during the negotiations as you provide evidence to support your demand/offer. The process will involve a back and forth of offers/demands until you come into an agreement. But if you fail to agree, the case will move to trial.
In most personal injury cases, the insurance companies do not allow the claims to reach this stage. Instead, they try to settle them before they go to trial. This is because they know if the plaintiff’s attorney presents a strong case and the court rules in their favor, the liability increases significantly. Not only do they stand to pay for the full settlement amount, but the litigation costs as well.
However, if the case gets to this point, your attorney will prepare their submissions, organize evidence, and get the expert testimonies ready. Then, during the trial, you will take the stand before the jury and give an account of the accident, the injuries you sustained, the treatment journey, and how the injuries have impacted your life.
If your lawyer had deposed the defendant and any of their witnesses, they would be keen for any contradicting testimony they make before the jury. In case their court admissions contradict their deposition, your attorney may produce the initial statements to contest their testimony.
Once the jury listens to both sides, they will make a verdict. The ruling may favor any of the parties. If they rule against you and still want to pursue the case further, you may appeal their decision.
During the initial trial, your attorney must take time to present all the relevant evidence and witness testimonies. This is because if you lose the case leading to appeal, you cannot table new evidence or submit witness testimony. The appeals court only reviews the facts presented in the trial court and rules based on the proceedings.
Essentially, each party will submit a written brief, framing the issues the court should consider. In your attorney’s appellate brief, they will give arguments about applicable laws and demonstrate how the trial jury misapplied the law, leading to the unfavorable ruling.
The appeals court will then analyze the proceedings of the lower court (pleadings, transcripts, judicial discussions, etc.) for legal errors. If the court finds a reversible error in the jury verdict, it may reverse the ruling.
If the court rules in your favor, either at the initial trial or the appeal stage, it will then likely award you damages. Mainly, the compensation will depend on various factors such as the extent of your injuries, property damages incurred, the effect of your injuries on your current and future life, and in some cases, the degree of the at-fault driver’s negligence.
Generally, you can recover two types of damages compensatory and punitive damages.
As their name suggests, these damages seek to reinstate the victim to the financial state they would be in if the accident did not happen. They comprise economic damages and non-economic damages.
Economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages, property damages, etc., while non-economic damages represent non-quantifiable losses such as pain and suffering.
Medical expenses – Medical expenses will constitute both current and future treatment costs, such as; fees for doctor’s appointments, medication, rehabilitation, travel costs to and from the hospital, etc.
Lost wages – If the injuries have caused you to stop working, the insurance will compensate you for the lost wages. You may also qualify for future wage loss compensation if you get incapacitated and cannot return to work.
Property damages – You may also receive compensation for repairing or replacing your car, depending on the extent of the damage.
Pain and Suffering – Based on the level of your injuries, the court will determine an appropriate amount equating to your physical pain and emotional distress.
Wrongful Death Damages
If you’re pursuing compensation for a loved one who died in a car accident, the court may award:
- Medical expenses after the accident
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Financial support for dependents
- Emotional anguish for the bereaved family members
Though rare, the court may grant punitive damages if it finds out the at-fault driver was grossly negligent and wants to punish the driver and warn other reckless drivers.
A Car Accident Lawyer Can Help You Through Depositions
A deposition can determine the fate of your case. Consult an attorney before agreeing to a deposition, as the attorney can coach you on what you shouldn’t say to avoid harming your case. Essentially, what happens after a deposition depends on your presentation. Whether the case settles or proceeds to other stages mediation or trial relies heavily on your sworn testimony.
If you’re preparing for a deposition or you were deposed and wonder what will happen next, we hope this article has enlightened you. Nonetheless, no matter the stage of the lawsuit you are at, if you do not have a car accident attorney yet, hire one for handy legal counsel and better representation.