During the course of your workers’ compensation case, you may be asked to give a deposition. The odds are that you’ve never been deposed before. This means that the fear of the unknown, combined with the fear of making a serious mistake and jeopardizing your chances of obtaining benefits, can cause worry, stress, and anxiety. However, there is really nothing to fear. A deposition is generally viewed as a routine legal proceeding used for discovery purposes.
In this article, we’ll look at what happens at a deposition. We’ll also look at some basic deposition dos and don’ts. Finally, we’ll look at some of the more common lines of questioning that typically occur during a deposition.
An Applicant’s deposition is nothing more than the testimony of an injured worker given under oath. It’s similar to testimony that would be given in court, except that a judge isn’t present and it occurs in an informal setting such as a conference room in an attorney’s office or in a court reporters office instead of a courtroom.
The main reasons for taking an injured workers deposition are most often:
If you are represented by an attorney, before your deposition your attorney will usually schedule a time for the both of you to meet for a pre-deposition conference. This pre-deposition conference is generally to assist in preparing you for your deposition, including going over the the deposition process and ground rules in more detail so that you have a better idea of what to expect.
Usually, the only people present at the deposition are you, your attorney (if you are represented), the attorney for your employer’s insurer, and a court reporter. However, on rare occasions a designated representative for your employer may also be present. Once everyone is settled, the court reporter will have you raise your right hand and give you an oath that you will swear to tell the truth.
The attorney for the insurance company will then ask you a series of questions to obtain information about your industrial accident, claimed injuries and any related symptoms and problems you are experiencing, where you have treated along with your medical and employment history. In addition, they may also ask you about other things that might be relevant to your case and the issues involved, such as whether you have had any prior injuries or workers’ compensation cases. Your attorney is present to advise you and object on the record to any questions he or she might consider improper. Breaks can be taken when necessary and the atmosphere is generally not confrontational. In fact, the majority of attorneys working for workers’ compensation insurers will adopt a conversational tone while asking you questions. However, it should be kept in mind that it is still a legal proceeding and that despite the relative informal surroundings where your deposition is being taken, the testimony you give still has the same force and effect as if you were testifying in a court of law.
With the above in mind, it is also important to remember that you are under oath during the deposition. Lying under oath is perjury and perjury is a crime that can result in fines and imprisonment. It is also unlawful under Insurance Code § 1871.4 to make or cause to be made a knowingly false or fraudulent material statement or material representation for the purpose of obtaining workers compensation benefits. A person who is found to violate this section could be fined up to $150,000.00, imprisoned or both. Therefore, it is very important that you tell the truth during your deposition.
There are certain ground rules that govern every deposition. It is important to understand these rules. A good understanding of how to conduct yourself during the deposition will make everything move steadily toward resolution, as well as help your case by allowing you to give your testimony clearly and in the best possible light.
The court reporter is there to preserve a record of everything that was said under oath. This means that they cannot record or make note of nonverbal responses, such as a shake or nod of the head. Also, try to avoid sounds sometimes used to indicate negative or affirmative responses, like “uh uh” or “uh huh”, since those can be confusing. Every question should be answered with a clear yes or no. If either a yes or no would not quite be accurate, then you can explain your answer further so that it is accurate. Likewise, you should not point to body parts as a part of your response. Instead, verbally indicate the body part that you are referring to, such as “my left knee” or “my right hand”.
If you answer a question at a deposition, it will be assumed that you understood that question. Therefore, if you are the least bit confused about a question or a word that they have used, ask for clarification of either the question or word before you answer. It is perfectly acceptable before you answer to say “I’m not sure what you’re asking” or “Could you please rephrase the question?”or “I don’t understand what that word means, could you explain what it means so that I can try to answer the question?” The attorney will then ask the question in a different way or explain to you what the word you don’t understand means so that you can try to answer the question. If for any reason you still don’t understand either the question or word they have used, keep asking the attorney to clarify until you do understand what’s being asked.
It is far preferable for you to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall” in response to a question if you don’t know the answer rather than to guess. If you provide an answer by guessing without any real knowledge of whether your guess is right or wrong, your guess becomes your testimony regardless of its accuracy. Remember, a deposition is not a test. You’re not being scored on how much you know. Everyone wants an accurate record, so if for any reason you don’t know something, say so.
You should always wait for the attorney to finish speaking before you answer their question. There are two reasons for this. First, waiting until the attorney is finished allows you to hear and understand their full question before you answer. Second, the court reporter cannot record two people talking at the same time, and therefore you do not want them to be put in a situation where they have to elect to take down what one person is saying over the other person. Therefore, always put a brief, one-second pause between the time the attorney finishes speaking and beginning your answer. Again, the parties to your deposition want an accurate record.
Most deposition questioning follows a fairly predictable formula that may include:
Every deposition starts with several routine questions. You will be asked to identify yourself by name. You will be asked your address, whether you are a citizen of the U.S., and whether you are married or have children. You will be asked if you’ve taken any medication today or if you are under the influence of alcohol. You will be asked if you reviewed any documents in preparation for the deposition. These are all routine questions asked to establish identity, criminal background if any, and state of mind.
You will likely be asked a series of questions about your previous employers. These questions will include company names, supervisor’s names, job title or duties, whether you were ever injured while on the job there, and the reasons you left.
You will be asked questions about your prior medical history; specifically whether you suffered any previous injuries, either on the job or otherwise. You will also be asked whether you have ever been involved in an automobile, motorcycle, slip and fall, or other type of accident. If you have, you will be asked questions about any injuries that resulted. The insurance company most often will have already obtained your medical records prior to the deposition and will be familiar with your past medical history prior to the deposition.
Even though workers’ compensation is “no-fault”, there will be some questions about how you were injured at work.
Again, the insurer will have access to all your medical records prior to the deposition. Therefore, questions about your medical treatment following the accident are for the purposes of evaluating your skill as a witness and to prevent you from changing your testimony regarding medical treatment at a hearing. There will likely also be questions about your current physical condition and activities.
Workers’ compensation attorney Todd R. Tatro understands that suffering an on the job injury can be a life-changing experience. Let Mr. Tatro help you by utilizing his 30+ years of experience with workers’ compensation law to help you with your case and to prepare for your deposition in order to try and obtain the benefits that you’re entitled to. Contact Mr. Tatro’s Office at (559) 431-0123, or via the internet on his contact page.