How to Handle a Deposition in Your Workers’ Comp Case
Learn what happens in a deposition and how to conduct yourself.
Many injured workers will have their depositions taken at some point in the worker’s compensation process. A deposition is a recorded statement in which a witness answers various questions under oath. Because insurance carriers often depose injured workers as a matter of routine, it’s likely that you will be called to testify in one of these question and answer sessions.
If the thought of being grilled by a lawyer makes your stomach churn, this article may offer some comfort. Being prepared and knowing what to expect can take most of the sting out of the deposition. And, when it comes to workers’ comp cases, depositions are rarely the dramatic events portrayed in movies. More often than not, the lawyer taking your deposition will be polite and courteous, rather than confrontational and aggressive.
What Happens at a Deposition
The deposition will probably take place in a conference room at a law firm. (If the insurance company scheduled your deposition, which is typically the case, the deposition will most likely take place at its lawyer’s office.)
You can expect at least a handful of people to be in attendance: you, your lawyer (if you have one), the lawyer taking your deposition, and a court reporter. The court reporter’s role is to make a written transcript of the deposition, so that it can be used as evidence in the case.
Even though the deposition takes place in an informal setting, you will be testifying under oath, just as if you were in a courtroom. This means that you must answer each question truthfully and to the best of your knowledge. Before the deposition begins, the court reporter will “swear” you in and have you verify that you understand your obligations to be truthful.
The lawyer taking your deposition may begin by giving you a brief overview of the deposition process and general guidelines to follow. After that, the lawyer will begin asking you a series of questions about the following topics:
- Background Information. This includes your name, date of birth, address, educational background, and work history. You might also be asked about whether you have a criminal history or have filed workers’ compensation claims in the past.
- Prior injuries. You may be asked about any prior injuries or accidents that you’ve had. The lawyer will want to know if there is anything else that might have caused your injuries that is not work-related.
- How the accident happened. Because workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, questions about how the accident happened are usually limited. But, you should expect more detailed questions if your injuries happened over a period of time, such as with carpal tunnel or other repetitive stress injuries.
- Treatment. You will be asked to go through your treatment history in detail, from your first doctor’s visit to any subsequent treatment you have had.
- Current limitations. The lawyer will also ask you about any current limitations that you have as a result of your injuries. For example, if you still can’t lift heavy items or operate certain machinery, this is something you should mention. These questions are especially important because any lasting physical or mental limitations will make you eligible for a permanent disability award.
Guidelines to Follow
There are certain ground rules that you should follow when having your deposition taken. By following these dos and don’ts, you will ensure that your deposition goes smoothly and your claim is portrayed in the best and most accurate light possible. Here are some general guidelines:
Listen and wait before answering. It’s important to let the lawyer ask a complete question before you begin to answer. There are a few reasons for this. First, the question might be different than you think it is. Second, the court reporter needs to type everything verbatim, which will be difficult if you and the lawyer are talking over each other. And third, if you have a lawyer, you need to give him or her the opportunity to object to an improper question before getting into the answer.
Give oral responses only. In everyday life, it’s natural to answer questions with a head nod or an “uh-huh.” But in a deposition, the court reporter needs to type down your responses, which can be difficult if they are nonverbal. Remember to always answer “yes” or “no” and to verbalize things instead of pointing to them (for example, “my left arm” instead of “this arm”).
Don’t volunteer information. During questioning, you might feel the urge to give a long-winded answer or offer information that you think is important. But, one of the most important rules of a deposition is to only answer the question that is being asked. If you can answer a question with a “yes” or “no,” you should do so. If there is something that needs clearing up, your lawyer will have an opportunity at the end of the deposition to ask you clarifying questions.
Avoid guessing or speculating. Make sure you fully understand the question before answering. If a question is confusing, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the lawyer to repeat the question or rephrase it. Or, if you don’t know the answer to a question, it is fine to say “I don’t know.” And, if the question calls for a specific number (for example, how many months you were in pain), you should give an estimate or range (for example, 6-9 months).
Don’t share attorney-client privileged information. While the lawyer has a lot of leeway in asking you questions during the deposition, he or she cannot ask about confidential discussions that you had with your lawyer. If this happens, your lawyer should step in and object. But, remember not to offer this information in your answers just in case.
Maintain composure. It’s important to be polite, calm, and clear when answering questions. The lawyer will be sizing you up, in part, to see what kind of witness you would make. If you come off as a reasonable and credible person, you will fare much better in your case. If you feel yourself getting agitated during the deposition, you can ask to take a break so that you can collect yourself before resuming.
After the Deposition
Once the deposition is over, you will get a written transcript and an opportunity to make any necessary corrections.
The Role of an Attorney
If your claim is in dispute, you should consider hiring an attorney to represent you. If you hire an attorney, he or she will attend the deposition with you and make sure that nothing improper goes on. Your attorney will be there to object to illegal questions, make sure that things stay civil, and otherwise protect your interests.