California Law: Car Accident Deposition

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Anyone involved in a serious car accident in California is likely to face a deposition, a type of interview where an attorney asks you questions and you respond under oath. It's essential to know how a deposition works to be ready for the questions you might be asked and to understand why depositions are so important in car accident litigation.

How a Deposition Works

The process of gathering evidence for a case in California is called "discovery." There are a number of ways a party to a lawsuit can gather evidence to support their claims, including written questions called interrogatories, requests for admissions and requests to produce documents. A deposition is a type of discovery that you don't answer in writing. You have to appear in person and answer questions under oath.

Depositions are usually held in the offices of the attorney for the other party. That attorney arranges for a court reporter to be present to administer the oath and then record all the questions, answers and asides exchanged during the deposition. The deposition testimony is transcribed and put into booklet form. Each party gets a copy.

So after the deposition, what's next? Once your deposition is taken, you are more or less locked into your story. You'll have a chance to review the transcript and offer corrections to your answers, but these will be identified as corrections, making your testimony less believable. If the case goes to trial, the other attorney can also point out any differences in your trial testimony and your deposition testimony.

Read More: What Is a Deposition in a Divorce?

What Questions Will Be Asked?

A wide range of questions will be asked during a car accident deposition. They usually begin with personal information like name, address, age and occupation. They may cover education, work experience and criminal background, if any. You can also expect questions about your driving record and any other car accident litigation you've been involved in.

Another important area of inquiry will be the details of the car accident. The attorney will likely walk you through everything that happened, from the weather that day to your activities before the accident to how the accident occurred. You will be asked about matters like car speed, car lane positions and the actions of the other car.

Finally, in a car accident deposition you will be asked about damages to your car and to yourself. Expect to detail doctor's visits and medical treatment as well as lost work, medical bills and pain and suffering.

Why Is a Deposition Important in a Car Accident Case?

Most car accident cases settle outside of court in California. That is because California requires that all drivers get insurance to cover any damages they cause. While the drivers involved in a car accident may be eager to go to court and blame the other driver for the accident, insurers are simply interested in the bottom line: resolving the case as inexpensively as possible. They prefer not to spend money going to court.

As evidence and witness testimony comes in, a clearer picture may emerge of what happened in the car accident, allowing insurance companies to come to a financial settlement with the injured party without going to trial. Evidence like police reports, skid marks and physical damage to the vehicles tell part of the tale. But the testimony of the people involved is also very important.

Insurance companies evaluate your case based on what you say in your deposition and how you say it. If you appear honest, forthcoming and well-prepared, the company attorney may feel you will be a good witness and sympathetic to a jury. A deposition will help them figure out what your cases is worth in terms of settlement.

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About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.