Required Skills for the Best New York Personal Injury Attorneys
The taking of a deposition is one of the most important tools that a personal injury attorney has to win a case and encourage a settlement. A deposition is the pre-trial taking of a persons testimony under oath which is recorded by a court reporter, and sometimes a videographer as well. The deposition usually takes place in an office of one of the lawyers, or the court reporters office. A deposition involves an attorney asking questions of a person, named the witness, and often showing documents to the witness to inquire about those documents. A deposition has several purposes. By asking questions of the witness before the trial, the attorney is gathering evidence and preparing the case for trial. Generally, there is only one opportunity to take the deposition of a witness and you will not get a second bite at the apple if you remember another question to ask the following day. If the witness leaves the country, dies, or in some other way is unavailable at the time of trial to be called as a witness, the transcript of the testimony may be used in lieu of the witness. The attorney representing the witness generally must allow his client to answer all questions to be asked unless they are palpably improper, having nothing to do with the case, or infringe upon some privilege.
For example, some attorneys spend hours asking the witness questions in a construction accident case that barely have any relevance to the issues in the case, wasting the one opportunity they have to gather pertinent information. Other attorneys rush through the deposition, covering the basics but failing to inquire about the details that could make or break a case, such as in a car accident case. The best personal injury attorneys have over 10 years experience taking depositions and have learned what is important and where to focus the questioning. In essence, the attorney is playing the role of a detective when asking questions. The attorney is required to be respectful of the witness, but is entitled to follow up about answers that do not add up. It is not often that a witness is caught in a lie during a deposition, but often an experienced lawyer can tell when a witness is not being forthright.
In some cases, the culmination of deposition transcripts and other evidence can support that party making a motion that asks the court to decide fault as a matter of law. Many cases are won even before the trial when an experienced attorney makes a motion for summary judgment that relies upon the testimony taken at the depositions. Preparation is the key for all litigation work, including the taking of depositions. A careful attorney will have researched the law and the facts of the case to know what areas to inquire about during the deposition.
Sometimes an attorney at the deposition will try to block answers of the witness without a proper basis. Some attorneys improperly coach the witness or suggest answers. A personal injury attorney needs to be ready to deal with both the difficult witness and the obstructive opposing attorney. Getting into an argument can divert the focus of the deposition and gathering of evidence, often the plan of the obstructive attorney. The experienced attorney understands that everything said is being recorded, allowing the obstructive attorney to dig his own grave with insults and obstruction when a motion is later made to compel the witness to return.
An important skill when taking a deposition is carefully listening to the answers of the witness. Sometimes attorneys hardly listen to the answers and just want to get through a list of prepared questions. Highly important information can be obtained by follow up questions, especially when an answer appears to be vague or does not directly answer the question.
Showing a witness and inquiring about photographs, accident reports, signed statements, and other records is also very important when taking the deposition of a witness. In construction accident cases, the records often involve daily work records, photographs, and accident reports. In car, pedestrian, or truck accident cases, the repair records, photographs, accident reports, and signed MV-104s are important documents to use when questioning. Documents should be marked for identification and whenever possible, have a witness authenticate the document as a business record made and maintained in the regular course of the business practice.
When choosing a New York personal injury lawyer, it is important to consider the skill level and experience of the lawyers. It takes years of preparing for trials and taking jury verdicts to understand and appreciate what questions to ask at a pre-trial deposition.