How to Survive a Deposition
Receiving a notice of deposition can be one of the most terrifying and stressful events in a nurse's entire career. This article contains valuable advice on how to survive the deposition process with reputation and license intact.
Dana merritt, age 37, has worked as a registered nurse in the same nursing facility for the past seven years. This nursing home, like many all across the country, is chronically understaffed with too few nurses and nursing assistants to adequately care for the residents.
Dana is looking forward to a relaxing day off after three grueling consecutive shifts in which she struggled valiantly to keep up with the care demands of the 25 frail elderly residents under her charge.
As she sorts through her mail while taking sips of morning coffee, her peace and solitude are abruptly intercepted by a notice of deposition from the clerk of court. Trying not to panic, dana shakily opens the envelope, carefully examining its contents.
She is horrified to read that her sworn testimony is required concerning circumstances surrounding a resident death that occurred nearly two years ago in the facility. The decedent's family has filed a malpractice lawsuit against the nursing home and dana is being called as a witness since she cared for the resident during the time in question.
A notice of deposition states that a person must appear at a certain place, at a certain time, and on a certain date to give a sworn oral statement. This process consists of a face-to-face meeting of the witness (or deponent) with the plaintiff's attorney and other parties for a question-and-answer session.
The deposition typically takes place in an out of court setting, such as an attorney's office, without a judge present. The deponent is placed under oath to answer questions while a court stenographer makes a verbatim transcript of the testimony. The deposition is part of the discovery process that takes place before an actual trial.
How should a healthcare professional such as Dana prepare for a deposition?
First and foremost, you should hire a lawyer to represent you, since your reputation, nursing license, and substantial sums of money may all be on the line. Your attorney should preferably be a lawyer who specializes in nursing malpractice cases. Prior to the deposition, your attorney should thoroughly prepare you to testify by discussing possible answers to anticipated questions. Questions often relate to your educational background, professional experience, job duties, and what happened during the dates in question. You should appear neat and well-groomed in tasteful and conservative clothing, such as a business suit. You should not wear anything casual or provocative. At a deposition, you are being judged by your articulate words, confident body language, and professional appearance.
What are some rules to follow during a deposition?
- Be a careful, thoughtful, and prepared witness.
- Always tell the truth. if you do not know the answer to a question, simply state that you do not know the answer.
- Take your time and listen very carefully to each question. if you do not understand a question, ask for clarification. if you need to review records before you give an answer, ask to do so. read carefully the documents you are shown before answering the questions. think about your answer before you speak.
- Limit your answers. be very narrow and specific. answer only the question that you are asked. do not volunteer any information.
- Do not speculate, guess, or assume an answer to any question.
- Take a break if you need one. avoid fatigue. it is during periods of fatigue that you are more vulnerable to being tripped up by the opposing attorney.
- Listen to your lawyer, especially to any objection. if an objection is made, stop talking and do not answer the question, unless your lawyer gives you permission to do so.
Even though it was an immensely stressful ordeal, dana successfully went through the deposition process by carefully following the rules described above. She appeared professional, was articulate and credible, and kept her composure throughout. Her license and reputation remain intact.Last edit by Joe V on Jan 9, '15
VickyRN is a certified nurse educator (NLN) and certified gerontology nurse (ANCC). Her research interests include: the special health and social needs of the vulnerable older adult population; registered nurse staffing and resident outcomes in intermediate care nursing facilities; and, innovations in avoiding institutionalization of frail elderly clients by providing long-term care services and supports in the community. She is faculty in a large baccalaureate nursing program in North Carolina.
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Nurse Educator; from US
Specialty: 16 year(s) of experience in Gerontological, cardiac, med-surg, pedsJun 30, '12Cannot emphasize too much about getting your own lawyer. This is why all nurses should have a malpractice policy. This is inexpensive insurance for our own protection.Jun 30, '12Quote from merleeDitto. Those who find themselves in this situation without their own coverage will have the choice of hiring their own attorney out of pocket or being advised/represented by their employer's attorneys -- who are protecting the employer's interests, not the individual nurse's.Cannot emphasize too much about getting your own lawyer. This is why all nurses should have a malpractice policy. This is inexpensive insurance for our own protection.Jun 30, '12Agreed! I'm facing an upcoming deposition myself, not for anything I've done or not done, but because I'm one of two witnesses to a case in which someone I've worked for was accused of harassment and assault by a woman he fired for poor performance. Thank you for this tutorial---I know next to nothing about all this, and even though the company's attorney is briefing us on how to handle it, it's still pretty intimidating.Jun 30, '12I had to do this once when I was doing Infection Control. The one thing that has stuck w/me (in addition to memories of abject terror and the occassional nightmare) was that you should PAUSE before replying to a question to give your lawyer time to object to it. Sometimes, that makes the question go away.
Also, if you're not sure, before responding, you have the right in a deposition to "confer" w/your lawyer, and that is "off the record". Very helpful.
Do NOT use this as an opportunity to "educate"--it'll bite you in the rear. Answer the exact question: "Can you tell me your age?" "Yes" (don't say anything after that).
If ever there was a time for a drink after work, this would be it. AFTER the deposition, not before!! A few prayers wouldn't hurt either. I think I had my whole family on their knees.Jun 30, '12along with the excellent summary above, attorneys know that nurses like to explain, to teach. resist the temptation. answer only what they ask you.
if they ask for a yes/no answer and it is not possible to give one, say so.
if asked about a hypothetical situation, preface your response by saying, "in this hypothetical situation..." so they can't say later that this is what you said you would have done in this situation.
they will ask you the same question a dozen different ways-- in deposition, there is no judge to tell them to knock it off because you have already answered it. just keep saying the same thing, in the same words, over and over. they will eventually figure you can't be flustered into being inconsistent-- inconsistency is bad.
say your answer clearly. do not nod, shake your head, say, "um-hmm," etc. you may be videotaped at deposition and that can be helpful to the transcriptionist, but clear speech is better.
you will get a copy of the transcript from your attorney to check for typos, mistranscription, etc. and sign off on. you can amend it, but you cannot add new information or expand on what you said.
anytime you want to take a break, say so. they cannot tell you no, and your attorney may have some pointers for you before you go back in.
anything you bring with you can be entered into evidence, so do not bring anything other than your license and identification. leave your cell phone (with all its contacts, calendar, texts...) locked in your car. if you do bring anything at the request of your attorney, take it with you when you go out of the room for break...because if you don't, the other side can and will pick it up and use it.Jun 30, '12The attorneys made it plain and simple: "yes, no, I don't remember". Anything more, only if necessary.Jun 30, '12Quote from elkparkYou ain't said nothing but a word! *LOL*Ditto. Those who find themselves in this situation without their own coverage will have the choice of hiring their own attorney out of pocket or being advised/represented by their employer's attorneys -- who are protecting the employer's interests, not the individual nurse's.Jun 30, '12Quote from caliotter3That is now to do it!The attorneys made it plain and simple: "yes, no, I don't remember". Anything more, only if necessary.
I don't recall and or I don't remember are classic fall backs because it does not leave one open to perjury or any other antics like being treated as a hostile witness