Depositions are a part of most slip and fall litigation cases. The answers given by the deposed party can impact a case in a meaningful way. For this reason, it is important for a victim to know the nature of the questions that will be asked of them, under oath, so they can answer them in an informed and honest manner.
Premises Liability Lawsuit: Depositions are Part of the Process
Being hurt in a slip and fall in a local grocery store, restaurant, fast food franchise, or other commercial establishment often means the business establishment failed to do something to protect their customers. Meaning, the business was negligent and, as a result of their negligence, the victim was injured on their property.
Unfortunately, when an at-fault party does not accept responsibility for their actions, or denies a claim or makes a lowball offer to settle, then a victim may have no alternative but to file a premises liability lawsuit in order to recover the compensation needed to make them whole again.
A key aspect to many slip and fall lawsuits is the testimony given by the victim in their deposition. In all lawsuits, (personal injury or otherwise) depositions are an important part of the discovery process.
What Should A Plaintiff Expect At Their Deposition?
Over the years, we have heard time after time the general line of questioning asked by defense lawyers for these commercial defendants. Lawyers for big companies like Publix, Walmart, and other grocery stores, for instance, are well versed in what to ask victims who have fallen down at their client’s property.
Today, we are sharing some of what we’ve seen and heard, so a slip and fall accident victim knows what to expect at his or her deposition.
Even though the victim is the party filing the lawsuit for compensation, the defendant is allowed to take the victim’s deposition.
It is rare for a personal injury plaintiff not to be deposed. The defense wants to know the victim’s side of the story, and they want to size up the victim: how good of a witness will the victim be? Will the jury be impressed with the victim’s demeanor?
The key strategy for the defense here is not whether or not to take the victim’s deposition, but when to take it.
- Should they take your deposition first and then spend discovery time to find ways to poke holes in your testimony?
- Or, should they wait till the end of the discovery period and then try and trip you up with all of the information they were able to gather?
Different defense attorneys will have different strategies. Your attorney, especially one with years of experience dealing with slip and fall litigation, will likely have some guidance here on what you can expect from the defendant’s particular legal counsel.
Will The Deposition Be Used At Trial?
Your deposition is essentially the taking of testimony in an informal setting outside of the courthouse. It is a question and answer process. Your lawyer is present, sitting beside you, and he or she can voice objections on the record just as if you were sitting on the witness stand.
The deposition does not replace the victim taking the stand during the trial. During the trial, where a victim testifies in court, all of the victim’s depositions answers can be used against the victim in open court. This is why the best advice we give to clients is to be honest.
For more on discovery, read: Grocery Store Slip and Fall; How to Prove Your Claim
What Kinds of Questions Will A Slip And Fall Victim Be Asked? (Sample Deposition Questions)
Here are examples of slip and fall deposition questions that you can expect to be asked by the defense lawyer who is representing the owner of the business or property where you slipped and fell.
Consider the following questions carefully, because there are reasons for each of these queries to be asked.
Did you see anything on the floor before you had slipped?
If you saw debris or spills on the floor before you fell, then that fact may bolster their argument that you were at fault in the accident.
Was there anything impeding your vision of looking at the floor?
If you say you couldn’t see the walking path, then they will ask you why not. Was this further negligence by the defendant, or did a third party contribute to the accident? Was a display set up by an outside vendor blocking your view? Were you carrying something that blocked your view?
Did you see anything on the floor prior to your slip and fall?
The same rationale here as question number 1. Notice that the lawyer is free to ask the same question with different wording.
What were you looking at?
If you weren’t paying attention to where you were going, then they may have an argument that you were at fault for falling down in the first place.
Were you looking where you were going?
Same as above.
What did you see?
This is a key question. The defense wants to narrow down your story and version of events on what happened to cause you to fall down.
What clothes were you wearing on the day of the slip and fall?
Sometimes, clothing can hamper your ability to move and walk and this can be used in an argument that you were at fault for the fall.
What shoes were you wearing at the time of the slip and fall?
Same as above. For details here, watch our video: How do the shoes I am wearing affect a slip and fall?
Do you take medication and, if so, for what ailment?
Many different drugs and medications can hamper your perception and motor skills. Even over the counter remedies for colds, coughs, and the flu can contribute to a fall. The defense will be trying to find out if drugs contributed to your fall.
Did you take the medication on the day of the slip and fall?
Same as above. Here, they are looking for facts on the medications you were taking during the 24 hour time period before the fall. Some drugs have long-lasting effects, and it is through discovery that the defense can learn of your prescriptions as well as non-prescription medications.
What were the side effects if the medication?
If you answered yes to taking any drugs or medications, they will want to learn about the side effects. They will also research the drugs themselves for what the drug manufacturer acknowledges as side effects of the drugs.
How big was the object?
If you tripped and fell, they want your story on what caused you to trip and will ask you to describe it.
Do you know how long the object was on the floor before you slipped and fell?
Same as above. If you knew the hazard was there, then they may argue you were at fault for not avoiding it.
Do you know how the object got there?
If you know how it got there, then maybe there are others to blame for the accident.
What did Publix or Walmart or other Defendant’s employees do to the condition after the fall?
This is gathering the story of the accident from your perspective immediately after you were hurt. They want to know if steps were taken to deal with the danger after the event.
Did you or anyone take pictures of the fall?
If you or someone else took photos or videos of the accident scene / event, the defense has a right to get copies.
Did you sign anything?
The defense will want to know if anyone presented paperwork to you at the time of the accident, including the store employees. If so, the defense will ask for copies of these documents.
Did you fill out an incident report?
The defendant will want to read what your story was in this incident report, to see if it jives with your pleadings and your testimony. Things that don’t jive help the defense argue against your right to damages in full, or in total.
Did the employee or store manager say anything about the condition that caused the slip and fall?
The defense will want to know if there were any statements made at the time of the accident where their agents or representatives gave “admissions against interest” – in other words, said things that admitted the defendant is to blame for what happened.
When was the first time you realized the substance which caused you to fall?
The defense wants to know your side of the story on what happened, and they want to try and build an argument that you are to blame if you knew of the hazard and failed to avoid it.
Did you notice any marks or liquids on your clothes after the slip and fall?
After a fall, your clothing may contain clues as to how the accident happened and was caused. For instance, if you slipped due to a bottle of spilled olive oil in the grocery store aisle, then your clothing will likely have olive oil from where you fell.
Were there any employees visible at the time of the fall?
This question goes to liability; if there were clerks or employees nearby then why hadn’t they fixed the danger or warned you about the risk?
Who came and attended to you?
This is more gathering of information from your point of view. The defense lawyer needs to know which of his client’s employees were there to help you, and what they did – from your perspective.
Did any employee say anything? If so, did you get their name?
The defense attorney will want to know if you have identified clerks, employees, and agents of his client and what they may have said to you about the accident, among other things.
What Else Does The Defendant Learn At A Slip and Fall Deposition?
In a slip and fall case, the deposition of the accident victim is one of the major parts of the lawsuit. In some instances, the defense may make an acceptable settlement offer shortly after a plaintiff’s slip and fall deposition if things go badly for the defendant.
For all slip and fall accident victims, it is important to understand that their deposition is the first chance for the defendant’s lawyer to meet them and evaluate the plaintiff for issues like credibility and if the victim presents well (is the victim likable and sympathetic?)
Slip and fall victims tell their side of things as they answer the defense questions over the course of the deposition. This may take several hours, even an entire day.
However, at the end of the Plaintiff’s slip and fall deposition, the defense attorney will not only have a much better idea of the facts of the accident but also of the accident victim and their personal presence.
How Does A Personal Injury Lawyer Help?
Florida law does not require an accident victim to hire a personal injury attorney to represent the victim in their claim against the store or business establishment that caused the victim’s accident. A victim can represent himself or herself, even at the deposition.
However, most accident victims and their families find that the accident aftermath is overwhelming enough without having to deal with defense lawyers and insurance adjusters. No victim wants to be re-victimized by an insurance company or defense lawyer.
A good piece of advice if you or a loved one are injured in a slip and fall and are unable to settle your case, is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including what to expect at a deposition and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
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Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
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