BE PREPARED: A Good Motto for Boy Scouts and Deponents
By John B. Corbally, Esq.
In a workers’ compensation case the deposition is most often the first time that opposing counsel will meet the injured worker. It is important for the claimant to be well prepared to make a favorable and credible impression on defense counsel. This can be done by taking few basic steps to better prepare claimants for their testimony. An often overlooked aspect of the deposition for claimants is appearance. The client should dress neatly and as professionally as possible for the deposition. A neat appearance brings credibility to a client. Make sure the claimant is aware of the legal issues of his/her case in detail prior to giving testimony. The claimant should understand what that law says about the factual issues at hand. Discuss competing case law on the issues and make certain the claimant understands how the law applies to facts of his case and which facts to emphasize during the deposition. Try to create a narrative of the case that the claimant can keep in mind during the testimony and remind him/her that everything answered should fit in with the overall narrative theme of the case. Make sure the claimant reviews an outline of questions likely to be asked at the deposition. Taking away the mystery about the questions to be presented will make the claimant relax and appear more confident giving testimony. Be sure to address difficult or uncomfortable questions prior to the deposition. Many times compromising facts or circumstances can be minimized if dealt with effectively at the deposition. Make sure claimant knows the basic details of the injury such as the date, day and time along with who was there. Stating the injury occurred “one day last August” is not convincing. Make sure the claimant is able to give specific details about when the injury occurred, how the accident happened and name all body parts injured as well as how the work activity caused the injury or aggravation. This is particularly true with injuries resulting from repetitive use. Review this with the client in mock question and answer sessions if need be. Make sure the client reviews the medical records and is familiar with the information that is in the reports and the basic chronology of medical care, including care from any prior injuries. Show the client the records and the key information contained therein and be sure to show them any documents likely to be made exhibits to the deposition. Having the claimant familiar with the documents and the “hot spots” of information will enable him or her to answer more effectively. Finally, the basic rules always apply. Be truthful. But remember, many claimants are simply not skilled at giving clear or persuasive testimony. Assist them with language and terms to express what they mean. Many times awkward expression can be manipulated by defense counsel to impeach credibility. Remind claimant that he or she should never guess at an answer as if the he or she knows it to be true. Also, remind them to simply answer the question that is asked and do not volunteer information. These are just a few steps that can be taken to improve the quality of the deposition testimony given by claimants. The time taken at preparation is well worth it. In the end, having defense counsel leaving with a favorable impression of the claimant and a sharp, clean and concise transcript is a good first step to the just resolution to the claim.