Depositions are sworn testimony, given under oath, by a party to a lawsuit. While a deposition can be held anywhere, they are often held in an attorney’s office. Although a judge is not present, statements – that is to say, the “deposition” — are recorded by a stenographer and sometimes are recorded by video camera as well.
Who can be deposed in a medical malpractice case?
The person offering testimony (called the “deponent”) may be either the plaintiff or the defendant. In a medical malpractice case this may include:
- the person claiming an injury
- the doctor who examined him or her
- the doctor (or other medical professional) who is alleged to have caused the injury
However, people other than plaintiffs and defendants may be deposed. In short, anyone with information relevant to the circumstances of a lawsuit can be deposed. Some of the types of people who can be deposed include:
1. Doctors and other medical personnel not named in the lawsuit
Thus, while the doctor against whom a medical malpractice suit has been filed is a likely person to be deposed, other doctors (or other medical personnel with information relevant to the lawsuit) may be called to offer sworn testimony in the form of a deposition.
2. Custodians of medical records
The people who were responsible for handling medical records may be testified so as to establish (or refute) that proper care was taken of relevant medical records.
Witnesses can include not only people who witnessed the injury but also any subsequent treatment.
Purposes and uses of depositions in medical malpractice cases
There are many purposes and uses for depositions. Below are some of the most common:
Learn more information
The main purpose of a deposition is to allow the questioning party to learn more about the circumstances involved in a lawsuit.
Depositions may be given to experts who will form an opinion relevant to the lawsuit.
Those who give testimony at a deposition are advised that any consistencies between statements in a deposition and statements offered during trial may be used to call into question or diminish their credibility.
What to do if you are called to be deposed
Many people who are called to be deposed are already represented by legal counsel. Such people should follow the advice offered by such counsel. If you don’t have legal counsel, you may wish to obtain it. In any event, those who are asked to given sworn testimony are advised to follow these guidelines:
Find some quiet time to recall the incident in question. If you made any notes at the time of the incident, review those.
Think before answering
When answering a question, taking a moment to collect your thoughts is a good idea. Here are some strategies you should follow:
- Wait for the question to be completed. Don’t start answering until the question has been completed.
- Wait five seconds, or however long you need to compose your thoughts.
- Don’t guess. If you don’t know the answer, say so.
- If you don’t understand the question, ask for the question to be repeated or asked in a way that you understand the question.
- If the question really seems like two questions, say so, and ask the questioner to pose only one question at a time.
Answer each question truthfully and fully. But … see the next point!
Answer only the question that has been asked
It is human nature to want to offer a full context for your answers or to anticipate other questions. Most of us, even in a formal situation like a legal deposition, are inclined to be helpful and we believe that telling everything we know will be appreciated and/or speed up the deposition. In a deposition, however, the best strategy is to answer only the question that has been posed. The attorney asking the questions has organized the questions to methodically obtain the information they require.
A simple example is the following: if you are asked for your first name, give just your first name – not your first, last and middle name. The attorney will then ask for your last name. And so forth.
People, even attorneys and others who are familiar with depositions and other legal proceedings, find depositions to be an intense and exhausting experience. If you find yourself getting tired, respectfully ask for a short breaks.
The law firm of Hal Waldman and Associates hopes that you and your loved ones are never the victim of medical malpractice. We have been helping people injured by medical malpractice for more than 30 years. Call us at 412-567-4655 for a quick consultation so that we can quickly help you determine if you would benefit from legal counsel. The call is free and puts you under no obligation. We want to help you!