10 Tips for Hitting a Home Run at Your Personal Injury Deposition
As a personal injury plaintiff, the personal injury deposition is far and away the most critical phase in your entire case aside from the trial itself. And since most injury cases settle long before a jury is ever sworn in, your deposition might end up being the only opportunity you have to “tell your side of the story.” With that in mind, here are 10 useful tips from a Chula Vista injury attorney to help you be the most effective witness possible:
1. Prepare in Advance
Regardless of how tedious it may seem, it’s crucial to meet with your lawyer before the deposition in order to prepare for what you’ll face on game day. Your attorney will probably want to conduct this prep session at least one or two days prior to the actual deposition date. (In the worst case scenario, you’ll meet with him/her a couple hours before the deposition begins). Keep in mind that several weeks or months may elapse between the date of your accident and the date you are actually deposed about it. Regardless of how much time has gone by, opposing counsel will question you as if the event is still fresh in your mind. As such, it’s important that you and your attorney review everything in detail so as to jog your memory.
Besides going over details of the incident itself, you and your attorney must spend time reviewing all of your medical records as they relate to the injury or injuries in question. This includes names and addresses of medical providers, approximate dates of treatment, medical examinations/scans (MRI, CT scan, X-rays, etc.), physical therapy, and anything else that may be relevant. Be especially aware of information in your records that refers to pre-existing injuries or conditions. Always speak with your attorney regarding any prior/similar complaints in your medical history so that you will be prepared when opposing counsel questions you about them.
2. Look Your Best
Try to present yourself in the best way possible at the deposition table. This may be the only time you’re in the presence of your opponent’s lawyer. Rest assured that opposing counsel will use this opportunity to observe you and gauge your potential effectiveness as a witness at trial. Depending on the situation, you may wish to consider concealing tattoos and/or removing non-traditional body piercings. When in doubt, a good rule of thumb is that you should dress the way you would dress for an interview.
3. Be On Time
Do everything necessary to ensure that you will arrive at the deposition location on time (or early, if your attorney requests it). If you’ve never been to the venue, consider familiarizing yourself in advance by making a practice trip to the location.
4. Don’t Interrupt or Speak Over Opposing Counsel
At many points during the deposition, you may feel the urge to begin speaking your answer to opposing counsel’s question before counsel has finished asking it. No matter how strong this urge, do your very best to resist! This will ensure that the transcript is clear and easy to follow. It’s important to understand that the rhythm and pace of a deposition is slower and more disjointed compared to that of a regular conversation. Take your time and speak slowly.
As a related point, do your best to remain courteous and polite to everyone at the deposition table at all times. This includes the attorneys, the court reporter, any translators, and everyone else present.
5. Review Any Exhibits Before Testifying About Them
During your deposition, opposing counsel may show you certain documents (“exhibits”) and then begin asking you questions about them. Before testifying on the record about any exhibits, be sure to actually review the substance of the document itself.
6. Follow your Attorney’s Instructions at All Times
Depending on the nature or form of opposing counsel’s question, your attorney may decide to raise an objection or instruct you not to answer the question as asked. Whatever your attorney advises you to do, your best bet is to follow his or her instructions. Avoid arguing with your attorney or engaging in conversation with him or her at the deposition table as this will appear in the transcript.
7. Make Sure You Understand the Question Before You Answer It
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a deponent is trying to answer a question that you don’t understand. Whenever confused by a question, your best bet is always to ask counsel for clarification- not to speculate as to what he or she meant. By making sure you fully understand the question before answering it, you reduce the risk of volunteering extraneous information. Once you verbalize an answer it becomes a permanent part of the record.
8. Stick to the Question Asked (Don’t Volunteer Information)
Your responses should be very narrowly tailored to the specific questions that are being asked by opposing counsel. If possible, try to limit your answer to one sentence. Remember- it is opposing counsel’s job to extract the information from you.
9. If You Need a Break, Ask for One
Be mindful of your own personal needs so that you remain comfortable during the entire deposition process. This will allow you to perform better as a witness. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for a break if you need to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, or take a breather. You can also request a break to go outside and speak with your attorney.
10. Tell the Truth
This is perhaps the most important tip of all. Whenever giving testimony at a deposition- as a plaintiff, defendant, or any other kind of witness for that matter- be mindful of the fact that you are under oath at all times. That means you will be expected to testify truthfully and accurately to the best of your knowledge. It also means that if you do not know the answer to a particular question, you should make that clear to opposing counsel. Never be afraid to use the words “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.”
If you would like to meet with an experienced Chula Vista injury attorney about injuries you suffered in an accident, call George Charles Heppner at (888) 503-6473 today.
How Insurance Companies Value Auto Accident Cases
You’ve been injured in an automobile collision; the other driver’s insurance company contacts you and wants to settle with you. How does the insurance company’s adjuster go about evaluating your claim? As an experienced San Diego auto accident lawyer, I can tell you the likely answer is: not generously.
People who have been in automobile accidents should be aware of the following: a) the adjuster will sound very nice and friendly (and probably is), but b) remember that it is in the adjuster’s best interest to pay you the least amount of money possible; c) since she does this for a living, she is probably more skilled at negotiating than you are; d) she likely knows the law better than you do; e) she owes you practically zero legal responsibility: Her loyalty belongs to the other driver and to the insurance company she’s working for—not to you; f) Most important: You would do much better having a San Diego auto accident lawyer represent you (the more serious the injury, the more crucial this is).
The adjuster will be most interested in two major components of your claim: damages and fault.
DAMAGES. You have a right to be compensated for losses caused by the accident, which include:
- Expenses for medical care and related expenses.
- Pain and suffering.
- Future pain and suffering likely to occur.
- Lost income caused by the accident, including time lost to attend doctor visits or therapy.
- Income reasonably likely to be lost in the future.
- Damage to property.
- Physical disability.
- Some types of emotional injury.
- Services, such as house-keeping or baby-sitting, necessitated by your injury.
Loss of consortium. Be aware, too, that someone other than you may also have been damaged as a result of your injury, and that person may have a right to compensation as well. Your spouse, for example, may have a claim for the loss of your companionship and services—called an action for “loss of consortium.” In California and some other states, this remedy is only available to spouses and registered domestic partners of the injured party; a child, for example, would not have a cause of action for the loss of consortium of a parent in those states.
FAULT. Of course the adjuster will be anxious to determine who was really at fault in the accident. The adjuster will carefully examine the facts to evaluate comparative fault—that is, the relative fault of both drivers in the collision—and to determine to what degree the accident was your own fault. This concept, known as comparative negligence, will be used in attempting to assign to you as great a percentage of fault as possible. Any compensation to you, either by way of settlement or by an award by a court, will be reduced by the percentage that you yourself were at fault. Among the states there are various approaches to comparative negligence; they fall into three general categories:
Pure Contributory Negligence. This rule says: if one’s own negligence in any way contributed to the accident, that person cannot recover damages. Only five jurisdictions still follow the Pure Contributory Negligence rule: Maryland, District of Columbia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia.
Modified Comparative Negligence. Most states follow this rule: One who is 50% or more responsible for the accident cannot recover at all. (There are some slight variations of this rule.)
Pure Comparative Fault. California, as well as several other states, follows this rule. It simply says that a person’s compensation for an injury will be reduced by the degree to which that person was at fault, whatever it may be. Thus in theory one could be 99% responsible for the accident and still be entitled to be compensated for 1% of one’s damage.
Whatever rule applies, it is a virtual guarantee that the adjustor will try to attribute as much fault to you as possible.
What should you do? Get medical treatment as soon as possible. If you do not seek medical treatment, the adjustor will not believe that you have been injured, and will not take your claim seriously. Keep track of you medical bills, your medical visits, and lost income. And keep notes on your pain, suffering, and disability, and what your doctor tells you. Be sure you have contact information for any witnesses. As soon as possible, take photographs of the scene, and photographs of damage to your vehicle.
But perhaps the most important thing is: Contact a lawyer as early as possible; the sooner the better. Ideally, do so before having any communication whatsoever with the other party’s insurance company. Then, simply refer them to your lawyer. You have little to lose–personal injury attorneys are generally compensated by a percentage of whatever is recovered. Thus–no recovery, no fee. If you try to deal with the insurance company yourself, you may unwittingly make mistakes–mistakes that will be irretrievable, that can have devastating consequences. It is a virtual certainty that a lawyer can resolve the matter more efficiently, and with better results, than you can by yourself.
To speak with an experienced San Diego auto accident lawyer, call George Charles Heppner at (888) 503-6473, today.
Texting While Driving
Our Chula Vista Car Accident Attorney Weighs in on Texting While Driving
The law on texting while driving in California
These days, most Californians have smart phones, and, despite the known safety risks, it is extremely common for people to use those phones while they are driving their cars. You might not have known this, but it is against the law to make a phone call or send a text message while driving in your car in California unless you are using a hands-free device. These violations can lead to hefty fines, as well as increased liability if you injure someone in a car accident. Laws against texting while driving in California are also meant to include other text-based communications such as emails, instant messaging or manually entering information into your GPS. These laws can apply even if you are at a red light or stuck in traffic.
The current fine for texting while driving in the state of California is $20 for a first offense and $50 for any subsequent offense. However, when all of the court costs are included in this calculation, it can become as high as $76 for a first offense and $190 for a subsequent offense. Texting and driving, in addition to being dangerous, can be very expensive.
Distracted driving information and research in the United States
Distracted driving, which includes text messaging while driving, is a major cause of accidents leading to personal injury, and even death, in the state of California and around the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, texting while driving can increase your risk of a car accident by up to 23 times over driving without distractions. These accidents have had a devastating effect in the United States. In fact, more than 435,000 people were injured or killed in car accidents caused by distracted driving in 2014 alone, and the numbers keep going up as more and more people buy smart phones. It is because of high numbers like this that 44 states in the United States, including California, have enacted laws against texting and driving to try and reduce this risk.
Other forms of distracted driving are associated with an increased number of accidents, such as talking on the phone, talking to your passengers and even eating and drinking. However, texting and driving is considered one of the most dangerous forms of distracted driving because it takes a driver’s eyes and attention off the road for an average of five seconds or more, which is more than enough time for a catastrophic car accident to occur. Texting is an action that uses your hands, your eyes and your mind at the same time, and this can greatly increases your risk of not responding in time to a changing traffic signal or another dangerous situation on the road. The Centers for Disease Control conducted a survey on distracted driving and found that about a third of drivers in the United States send texts or emails while driving their cars.
Crash statistics have also shown that very high numbers of drivers in their teens and twenties, an age group that has admitted to using cell phones and particularly to text messaging in vehicles more than older drivers, tend to suffer the highest proportion of fatal accidents as a result of texting while driving. For this reason, teenage drivers are subject to even more stringent cell phone laws in the state of California and are not even allowed to use their cell phones with a hands-free device.
How texting and driving might affect the outcome of your personal injury case?
When looking at fault for a car accident in the state of California, distracted driving such as texting while driving is considered to be an example of driver negligence. This means that when an insurance adjustor, a judge or a jury is determining who was at fault in a car accident, the fact that one or both of the drivers was texting and driving may be used as evidence of who caused the accident. California is a comparative negligence state, which means that both drivers can be at fault to different degrees, so if you are texting while driving through an intersection and someone who is driving too fast hits you, you may receive less compensation for your injury because you are found to be partially at fault for the accident.
If you are one of the growing numbers of Californians who has been injured in an accident by a driver who was texting, contact George Charles Heppner today at (619) 235-4300 or (888) 503-6473 to speak with a Chula Vista car accident attorney you can rely on.
San Diego Injury Attorney Explains: What to Expect at an “Independent” Defense Medical Examination
When you bring a personal injury case in the state of California, the defense or insurance company has the right to request that you undergo an “independent medical examination” or IME. Don’t be fooled by the title. The examination is anything but independent.
What is an independent medical examination in a personal injury case?
The independent medical examination is a medical exam by a physician the defense has hired to assess your physical condition and injuries. The defendant in your case may be trying to prove that your injuries are not as severe as you claim, or may just be trying to see what the extent of your injuries are to determine an appropriate offer. However, it is important to remember that this exam is being conducted by a doctor whose job is to try to limit the amount of money that will be paid to you and not by an independent doctor. Your San Diego injury attorney can guide you through this process in the way that will be most helpful to your case.
How does this examination work?
The defense has the right to one physical examination by an independent medical examiner, and the defendant or insurance company is required to pay for that exam. The physician must be properly licensed to conduct the examination and practicing in an area that is relevant to your injury. The defense must serve your attorney with written notice 30 days prior to the examination. The examination must not feature any invasive or painful testing or other procedures, and the examination must be within 75 miles of your home. Sometimes exceptions may be made about the number of exams, the location or the tests, but only with special permission from the court, based on very particular circumstances.
The written notice of the medical exam should specify the scope of the exam (i.e. what will be done in the exam), as well as the time, the place and the identity of the doctor performing the exam. Your attorney will review this document and determine if he should object to its terms. If the details of the examination seem reasonable, you will be expected to attend the exam as noticed. If they do not, your attorney will discuss this with the defense and the court until an agreement is reached. You have the right to object prior to the examination if there are issues with the terms, as long as you do so within 20 days of the time the defendant gives notice of the examination. If there is an objection, your attorney will send it to the defense attorney in writing.
Remember that just because you have not agreed to the terms, this does not mean you will not have to take the medical exam later. Your attorney and the defense attorney will negotiate with each other or through the court to reach an agreement, and you will be required to take the exam after an agreement has been reached.
Some things to remember when attending the examination
Don’t forget that this exam will be conducted by a doctor whose job is to look for holes in your case. It is not an “independent” physician, but a defense physician.
The defense physician is required to only conduct an examination that is relevant to your case and the specific injuries you claim the defendant has caused. If you are suing for an injury to your foot, the physician is not allowed to examine your shoulder unless there is some specific reason that relates to your foot injury.
You are permitted to have a witness present for the examination, like your attorney or a representative of your attorney, to make sure the physician is not doing things outside the scope of the notice and your agreement with the defense. This is always a good idea, since the doctor who is examining you is hired by the defense.
In many cases, you will give an oral history of your condition to the doctor, but this is not required. This is not your doctor. He or she is not examining you to treat your condition or help you get better. You do not have the same rights to confidentiality that you have when you meet with your own doctor. Your attorney will discuss this matter with you before the exam. You are not required to sign paperwork given to you by the defendant’s doctor. You are, however, required to be honest if you choose to answer questions or give a history.
How the IME will be used in your case
The doctor who performs your independent medical examination will prepare a report for your case, which your attorney will request a copy of. This doctor will often testify about this examination and report in a deposition or trial, where your attorney can cross-examine the doctor about the examination and findings.
To discuss this and other aspects of your case with a trustworthy San Diego injury attorney, call George Charles Heppner at (888) 503-6473.
A Brief Tutorial on the Discovery Process from a San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer
How does discovery work?
Once your lawsuit has been filed and the defendant has filed an answer, the next step in your case is to complete the discovery process. In discovery, the Plaintiff and the Defendant will ask for and exchange documents and information that each side believes will be helpful in proving their side of the case. You are obligated to answer all questions asked and provide all documents requested that do not conflict with the attorney-client privilege or another valid legal objection. Your San Diego personal injury lawyer will help you by determining what those privileges are and objecting to requests in accordance with the local rules of procedure.
What is your role in the discovery process?
Hopefully, at this point, you have already provided the attorney with all the documents and information that you believe would help or harm your case. If you think of something you have not yet provided, tell your attorney and provide it. What will happen next is that the Defendant will send your attorney some documents known as “written discovery”: This typically consists of three documents: 1. Interrogatories; 2. Requests for Production and 3. Requests for Admission.
In the interrogatories, the Defendant’s attorney will ask you to answer a series of questions about your case. For your part of this, you should fill out a response to each question as thoroughly and as truthfully as possible. Sometimes there will be questions you do not want to answer. Answer them anyway. Your attorney will use your answers to create responses to the interrogatories, and he will also object to some of the questions and keep those answers private to the extent that the law allows him to do so. You can review the responses before your attorney submits them to the other party, and any questions or concerns you have about the information you have provided can be addressed at that time.
In the requests for production, the Defendant’s attorney will be asking for documents that are relevant to your case. Many of those documents will be those that you have already provided, but there may be some you have not thought of. If you do not have anything that is relevant to a request, you are not required to produce documents that do not exist. Try to gather any documents that you have that are responsive to the requests, and the attorney will explain which will be produced and which might be considered privileged or objectionable for some other reason.
In the requests for admission, the Defendant’s attorney will ask you to admit a series of facts that are relevant to the case. An example might be: “Admit that the accident occurred on 9:00 p.m. on October 3, 2016.” Sometimes the sentence is true, and you will admit that unless your attorney has an objection to that request. Sometimes the sentence is not true, and you will deny it.
Remember that your attorney is probably not going to produce all of the answers and documents that you provide to the Defendant, so you do not have to hold back when you are giving your answers to the attorney. In addition, certain personal information that you do not wish to share, like your social security number, can be redacted by the attorney for your security.
You may also be helping your attorney to prepare the same types of written discovery documents to deliver to the Defendant’s attorney. In this instance, you can help move the matter forward by thinking of questions or documents that you think might be relevant to your case, and remembering facts that might help your attorney in forming the Request for Admission.
What is a deposition, and how does it work?
A deposition is an in-person form of discovery that normally occurs after the written discovery has been completed. In a deposition, you are asked to give sworn testimony that can be used for or against you in your court case. This testimony will be taken down by a court reporter and made into a book that becomes a written record in your case. Don’t be nervous – your attorney will spend some time coaching you and telling you what to expect before the deposition happens. The most important thing to remember when giving a deposition is to be truthful, because it is sworn testimony and a lie during sworn testimony can sometimes lead to criminal charges. Your attorney will also be able to take depositions of Defendants and other witnesses to help your case.
Help your attorney as much as possible
The information obtained in discovery is often the meat and potatoes of your case, so be sure to cooperate as much as possible with your attorney’s requests and questions!
Call San Diego personal injury lawyer George Charles Heppner at (888) 503-6473 for an evaluation of your personal injury case.