How Depositions Work in a Truck Accident Case
We've all seen movies and television shows where witnesses are placed on the stand in a courtroom, and, through piercing questions delivered by the attractive lawyer, they admit to all the bad things they've done. Unfortunately, Hollywood isn't always an accurate representation of how the court system actually works. In fact, most of the testimony collected in truck accident cases cases occurs out of court in formal interviews called "depositions."
But make no mistake about it. A deposition is more than a procedural component to your case. In fact, most truck accident cases are either made or broken by the testimony evidence that comes out of the many depositions taken in the case. There is simply no greater to tool to get everyone to put their version of events on record, so having an attorney who knows how to win in depositions is a big factor in winning your truck accident case.
Questions answered on this page:
- What is a deposition?
- How does a deposition affect your truck accident case?
- Who's interviewed in a deposition?
- Is it possible that I could be interviewed in a deposition?
What is a deposition?
Witnesses to accidents, as well as those with specialized knowledge who might help the jury understand complex issues (known as expert witnesses), have information that both we and the defendants need. Let's say a woman witnessed your accident and told the police that the truck driver swerved into you from another lane. This is obviously key information for our case and the trucker's, but her statement to the police is not usually admissible in court because it's "hearsay." So, even though this witness already went to bat for you when speaking to the police, her statement is of little evidentiary value until it gets put on the record.
To facilitate this, courts allow us to "depose" witnesses prior to trial. This usually happens in a lawyer's office in front of a court reporter who takes down everything the witness says. The person providing testimony is sworn in and informed of their obligation to tell the truth. Attorneys representing both sides are allowed to ask witnesses virtually anything relevant to the case, but, if an attorney gets out of line, is "fishing" for information, is badgering the witness, etc., than the other attorney can object to the line of questioning, just like in trial.
So, it can be said that a deposition is perfectly analogous to the cross examination that takes place in the court room, only it's done outside of the presence of the jury so that the lawyers can zero in on the important stuff. That way, when the case goes to trial, rather boring and mundane facts are not paraded out in front of the jury. The jury instead gets to see sort of a "greatest hits" of testimony from the depositions, played on video. Then, the same witnesses who were deposed may get put on the stand just to clarify or add to what was said in the depositions.
Using the example of the woman who claims to have seen your accident, here are just some of the issues we'll ask her about beyond the basic facts of what she saw:
- Where she was when the accident happened. It's important to know her exact location. If she were right behind you, she would have had a clear view of the accident. If she were across the street or driving passed, her vantage point perhaps wouldn't have allowed her to have gotten an accurate look at the accident. This could create an opening for one of the lawyers to ask the jury to view her testimony skeptically.
- Her mental and physical state at the time. If a witness was of sound mind and body, then they're plainly more credible than someone who was experiencing a severe mental illness or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Whether she has any potential biases. If the woman is related to you, that might cast doubt on her story. Or, if her husband works for the same company as the truck driver, that could impact whether a jury believes her.
That's just scratching the surface. Most depositions will consist of hundreds of questions, presentations of exhibits, and all manner of open-ended explanations by the testifying witness. The reason so much effort is put unto depositions in a truck accident case is because the information that comes out of the depositions is so important.
There are many people who will be deposed in a truck accident case, yourself included.
The list of people whom we'll want to depose depends on the facts of the case. But in virtually every case, the following classifications of individuals will be placed under oath and questioned:
- The truck driver. Unless he's passed away due to the accident, the most obvious person to question will be the man or woman behind the wheel of the truck. We'll want to know his background, whether he had consumed any illicit substances, and his recollection of events. We'll want to know his opinions of how the truck performed, whether it had had any maintenance issues, and how we was supervised. Moreover, it has been our experience that most truck drivers are good people and don't cause accidents. The ones who do cause accidents, however, are usually never willing to admit any wrongdoing. So the deposition is a really good chance to display to them the evidence we have against them, to which they usually become defensive, indignant, or start trying to lie their way out of the situation. As you can imagine, such behavior has an impact on the jury and therefore affects the value of your case, and the deposition is a good chance to record this behavior.
- Trucking company staff and management. We'll want to ask questions of the driver's supervisor, the company's safety director, and potentially anyone else at the company with relevant knowledge about the accident or their practices. Of particular concern is whether or not the truck driver was punished. The sad reality is that most trucking companies don't punish truck drivers when they cause an accident. If that's what happened in your case, we want that on the record.
- "Fact witnesses." We want to depose anyone who saw the event happen so that we can have their story on the record (these people are called "fact witnesses"). In some cases, we'll even depose the police officer who worked the scene to get his or her impressions. The defendants will invariably also want to depose these witnesses.
- Accident victims and/or their family members. It is also important for the victims to be deposed. In some cases, the victims we represent will remember what happened and be able to serve as fact witnesses. But, more often, they are only deposed to provide more of a "victim impact statement." Another way to look at it is to say that, early on in the case, we depose the defendant truck driver and his coworkers, witnesses to the accident, and expert witnesses who can testify about technical matters. Those depositions are all taken to establish fault in the accident. Once fault is established, however, it's time to determine the value of the case, which is based on how bad the victim suffered. So, when the defendant's lawyers make it clear that they want to depose our clients, that is usually an indication that they know we're going to beat them and they're looking to settle.
Getting useful evidence from a deposition is an art and a science, and one that takes lawyers years to master.
When you've been doing this kind of legal work for 25 years as we have, you get pretty good at getting the info you need from a deposition. You learn how to ask the right questions in the correct way to make sure you're getting the most accurate answers possible. We don't let the trucking company's lawyers bully us around---we get the truth. If you've been hurt, or lost a family member because of a negligent 18-wheeler driver, call us now at (855) 326-0000.
Related Articles for Further Reading:
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- Holding Intoxicated Truck Drivers Accountable for the Injuries They Causes
- Common Truck Wreck Fact Patterns: Underride Collisions