If you're involved in a slip and fall case -- as someone who was injured, as an owner of property where someone fell, or even as a witness -- at some point you may be called to have your deposition taken. In this article, we'll explain how depositions work in the context of discovery in a slip and fall case, and the kinds of information that you may be asked to provide.
First things first. A deposition is a question-and-answer session that takes place under sworn oath, usually at a lawyer’s office.
Almost any party or witness in a lawsuit can be required to give a deposition. Many depositions are set up by agreement of the parties, the witness, and the lawyers. But if a certain witness does not agree to give a deposition, he or she can generally be compelled to give one.
A deposition allows the lawyers to pin down the party or witness as to an exact story. After the deposition is taken, there will be no surprises at trial when it comes to that person's testimony.
The plaintiff’s deposition in a slip and fall case -- and in any personal injury lawsuit -- is very important because it allows the defense attorney to meet the plaintiff in person and find out how good a witness the plaintiff will make. It also allows the defense attorney to find out everything that he/she needs to know about the plaintiff’s background and exactly how the injury happened.
A deposition in a slip and fall case is the plaintiff’s first opportunity to sit in front of the defense attorney and explain just how the accident happened. If the plaintiff does a good job at the deposition, the plaintiff’s lawyer will generally be able to get a reasonable settlement. But if the plaintiff does a bad job at the deposition, a good settlement may not be in the cards. Let’s take a closer look at the types of questions that a slip and fall plaintiff might see at his/her deposition.
Every defense attorney asks deposition questions in a different order, but generally the first set of questions will be about the plaintiff’s background. The defense attorney will ask about the plaintiff’s educational background, family background, military background, where the plaintiff has lived for the last ten or fifteen years, and work history.
The questions may get very probing, and the plaintiff may feel uncomfortable answering. The plaintiff may wonder what these types of questions can possibly have to do with a slip and fall accident. For better or for worse, defense attorneys in most states are allowed to ask these questions. If the plaintiff’s lawyer thinks that the defense attorney is truly going too far, he or she will speak up and make an objection for the record, but, in general, these questions are allowed.
Another similarly exhaustive set of questions will be about the plaintiff’s medical history. This is where the questions can really get invasive. A plaintiff who has broken his/her wrist in a slip and fall may end up answering such questions as: “Tell me about every hospitalization that you have ever had in your life" or “What is the name of every health care provider that you have seen in the past fifteen years?”
Again, for the most part, these questions are legal. A good plaintiff’s lawyer, when preparing the plaintiff for the deposition, should discuss these questions with the plaintiff and prepare the plaintiff for what is coming. If you have real problems with questions like these, discuss them with your lawyer so you can develop an appropriate strategy for the deposition.
This is where the defense attorney will get the details on how the fall and resulting injuries occurred. Generally, the lawyer will ask the plaintiff to give a narrative of what happened, and then will ask follow up questions for the next hour about every single aspect of the accident. So, for example, if the plaintiff fell down the stairs, questions could include:
And so on, until you can’t stand it anymore. That's one of the reasons a good plaintiff’s lawyer will go through all of these questions and many more when preparing a client for deposition, so there are no surprises
The last set of questions will focus on the plaintiff’s injuries and damages. The defense attorney will ask about the plaintiff’s diagnosis, prognosis, medical treatment, medical bills, health insurance, lost time from work, and lost wage claims. The attorney will also ask about how the injury affected the plaintiff’s home life, relationships, and worldview in general. Ultimately, the attorney wants to know how the plaintiff was affected and changed as a result of the accident. (Learn more about Damages in a Personal Injury Case.)
A defendant’s deposition will focus on the defendant’s maintenance and upkeep of their property. In addition to standard background questions, the plaintiff’s lawyer will generally ask:
Learn more about Proving Fault in a Slip and Fall Case.
A witness’s deposition in a slip and fall case generally focuses on:
Bias is very important in assessing the reliability of a witness’s testimony. If, for example, the witness is a close friend of the defendant, that witness is probably going to be biased, and the plaintiff's attorney will shine a spotlight on that.
For more about what to expect, check out our Timeline for a Slip and Fall Case.