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By: Richard A. Cook, Esq.

Wishing you heartfelt greetings of sanity, happiness, and paralegal euphoria on this rather fabulous Wednesday, which just happens to be a “snow day” for many of us! You’ve arrived at the place of deposition enlightenment. Today, Attorney Richard Cook is here to share several important elements one should consider when preparing for a client’s deposition. Whether it’s you doing the preparation festivities or the esquire, someone will certainly need to dredge up the earth in search of diamonds…or dirt, and we’ve got our money on you! And even if it’s not you, you sure will look smart when you’re putting diamonds or dirt in front of your attorney for review in anticipation of the big event.

Here’s Rich to tell you more.

Reprinted with permission from The Barrister’s Toolbox: www.thebarristerstoobox.com.

Note: While this post is written specifically for cases involving injuries, you could also use these tips for other types of cases by applying logic.  Perhaps instead of medical or historical records, you are concerning yourself with transactional documents or preparing a chronology of events in lieu of a medical chronology. Regardless of case type – this article offers some great tips!

An important aspect of your case is your client’s deposition. A case’s value turns on the credibility and likeability of your client. As a former insurance defense attorney, the most important aspect to the evaluation of a case’s value was the deposition of the Plaintiff. Oftentimes, insurance companies are reluctant to make any significant offers of settlement prior to the client being deposed. Your client’s credibility impacts what value, if any, a jury will attribute to subjective complaints. Preparation is not something that should be overlooked or left to chance.

Obtain Historical Medical Records
The prior medical history of a Plaintiff can seriously undermine a case’s value and the client’s credibility. It is important to obtain all significant prior medical history from a client. If you don’t, the defense attorney will. Without a full medical history, a client is prone to make misstatements and create fertile ground for purposes of impeachment at the time of trial. Likewise, expert witnesses will be unable to address and deal with any potential weaknesses you might have as a result of any pre-existing medical condition or prior injury. While it is tempting to limit your pretrial production of records to those postdating the injury, it is better to do the investigation yourself ahead of time.

Prepare a Medical Chronology
Clients are often ill-equipped based upon education and background to review and analyze their own medical records. By providing your client with a detailed medical chronology ahead of their deposition, they have an opportunity to refresh their memory regarding past illnesses and injuries, and avoid making misstatements at the time of their deposition, or worse, at the time of trial. In addition, by reviewing the past medical chronology with your client, you can address responses to the resolution of prior symptoms and/or problems.

Review Criminal and Traffic Citation History
As the credibility of your client is a paramount concern, it is important to investigate your client’s own criminal and/or traffic citation history. Under Indiana Rule of Evidence 609, crimes of dishonesty or those which are inherently dangerous can be used for purposes of impeachment at trial. Likewise, evidence of prior traffic citations can help identify prior auto accidents and other relevant information. The failure to truthfully admit such information leads to easy impeachment material, which can undermine your case’s value.

Prior Lawsuits and Claims
It is important to promptly identify any prior litigation your client may have been involved in as a litigant. The prior proceedings can create a ready resource of impeachment through the use of pleadings, discovery responses and depositions. Failure to identify such easily verifiable information can also make it appear as if your client is a liar. The prior litigation also provides background information on your client, as well as claims of pre-existing injuries.

Prior Motor Vehicle Accidents
This is another area which is easily verified and can provide fertile grounds for purposes of impeachment, as well as help a defense attorney develop alternative causes for your client’s injury. Oftentimes, clients will forget more minor injuries and motor vehicle accidents, to their detriment. This lack of recollection by your client will be interpreted as an outright obfuscation of the truth. There is nothing worse or more expensive than finding out for the first time at trial that your client has failed to disclose that which is undeniable. A source that can be utilized to find prior accident in the Indianapolis metropolitan area is:

http://www.indystar.com/data/public_safety/accidents.shtml

Review Your Client’s Answers to Interrogatories and Discovery Responses for Accuracy and Completeness Prior to the Deposition.  Assuming you have followed through on the other matters outlined above, you want to double-check your client’s answers to Interrogatories prior to the deposition so that you can identify and correct any mistakes prior to the time your client is deposed. If there are any inconsistencies or mistakes, and you bring them forward, it takes the sting out of the incorrect answer prior to the deposition and verifies that your client is interested in the truth. Two inconsistent statements under oath as to any material matter is arguably perjury.

Witness Statements
Review any other witness’ statements with your client to avoid needless inconsistencies. If there are inconsistencies, identify those, and make sure that you have a plausible explanation for the discrepancies.

Don’t Violate the Laws of Physics
A favorite tactic of a defense attorney is to detail a client and show that their version of the events is physically impossible for one reason or another. Everyone has probably heard the story of how Abraham Lincoln won an acquittal as a result of having a witness for the state indicate that they were able to see the defendant in the moonlight, only to later learn that there was a new moon that night.

Likewise, in an auto accident, defense attorneys will often ask how far away a vehicle was when the Plaintiff began some maneuver. They will then ask the Plaintiff how long it took them to do the maneuver, and see if the answers are plausible and can be consistent. For example, if your client says that the other vehicle was ¼ mile away when they began their turn, and that they completed their turn in 1-2 seconds when the collision occurred, they now have made the offending driver the fastest qualifier in Indy race car history. It is important to go through the details with your client ahead of time, and make sure their estimates of time, speed and distance are internally consistent. In this regard, it is important to remember a basic formula: Miles per hour x 1.47 = feet per second

Other areas to check which are readily verifiable are things such as the weather conditions at the time of the accident, the physical locations of objects and buildings, and when applicable, the duration of traffic lights.

Have Your Client Revisit the Scene of the Accident
As noted above, it is important to make sure that both you and your client have a clear understanding of the physical layout of the accident scene. If at all possible, you should travel to the scene of the accident with your client and review the events and location where the events unfolded. If this is not possible, an acceptable substitute is to conduct a virtual tour of the accident scene utilizing Google Maps and its aerial and street views.

As mentioned in the opening of this article, your client’s deposition is a critical factor in evaluating the client’s case. The case’s value turns on the credibility and likeability of your client, so prepare them, and prepare them well.

Richard Cook graduated from Purdue University in the Economics Honor Program in 1979 and obtained his Juris Doctor degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1982. Following law school, he served as a federal law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division.  In 1984, Richard began working as Deputy Prosecutor for the Lake County Indiana Prosecutor’s Office and from there, served as Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. There he handled a number of complex criminal matters and  jury trials.  While there, Richard received the Chief Postal Inspector’s Special Award and a letter of commendation from the U.S. Attorney General for his work prosecuting a major money order fraud scheme being perpetrated out of the Indiana State Prison system.  Since leaving the U.S. Attorney’s office in 1989, Richard has focused primarily on civil work and is currently a member of the firm Yosha Cook Shartzer & Tisch in Indianapolis.  Richard is also a member of the ITLA and the ABA.

Richard also hosts a legal blog: http://the-barristers-toolbox.com/  Check it out!

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What’s that, TPS readers? Is that your attorney beckoning you from the periphery via sound waves? Was that your name that just flew down the law firm corridor in a serious tone of panic, confusion, and esquired bewilderment? Did you hear that subliminal request for a file, an answer to an important question or deep-seeded yearning for the immediate completion of a miracle? Time to swing back into action…as though you ever left it! Go show ‘em your mad, crisis-diffusing, paralegal-ninja skills. We know you got ‘em!

We’ll see you on “Fun Friday!” Until then, save the legal planet. We’d follow Rich’s advice on this one — Plan, prepare and prevail. We know you will!