I recently attended the depositions of a couple clients who faced questioning about their lives by insurance lawyers. These depositions were really not intended to get to the “truth” of anything. The lawyers wanted to see our clients and hear their story as a means of valuing their cases. An insurance adjuster sat in on the questioning, likely trying to figure out how much money their claims were worth. That is, after all, the job for an adjustor.
Don’t get me wrong – there was nothing unusual about this. Although this blog spends most of its time addressing criminal case issues, my practice includes personal injury claims, wrongful death claims, contract disputes and civil rights matters. In those civil cases we get the opportunity to fully explore each person’s story through discovery, including depositions. Depositions provide the opportunity to evaluate the people we will oppose in court if the case is tried.
What struck me as I watched these proceedings was the simplicity with which their story can be told. Both of our clients were injured. They had been hospitalized and received medical care. Their medical costs continue today as their primary concern going forward. When it came to explaining how their injuries had impacted their daily lives, each had a simple explanation that was unique to their circumstances. For example – “I am less productive. I need time for the medications to work in the morning so I can safely drive to work. I can’t function as a manager….” Simple.
Each case is a story. What is behind the claim? Who is really responsible for the case? What actually happened, and why? How much money can make the plaintiff whole? Can he or she be made whole?
If you are headed for a deposition, I suggest these three things:
First – just keep it simple. Answer the questions you are asked. No reason to go wandering off into the never asked land.
Second – undersell, don’t oversell. No crazy claims about hair loss resulting from an auto collision or pain in your hip resulting from an injury to your arm. Claims that go too far simply make your case more difficult to settle or win.
Third – be truthful. I listened as our client told the insurance lawyer that she did not know what the doctor thought about the cause of a seemingly unrelated condition, and I cheered. Just a little cheer and to myself. Here was a woman who clearly was not trying to game the system and include unrelated issues. That added to her credibility in ways that likely scared the adjustor.
At the end of the day, a solid deposition can make or break your case, so be cautious.