Part 3 in a series discussing the process of litigation in patient care lawsuits
by Karen Zulkowski DNS, RN, CWS
How do you act when giving a deposition? It’s not something we covered in school. As I said last month, you probably won’t remember the plaintiff (patient). You may have only taken care of the person once or twice or when they were your patient. They may have gone back and forth to ICU and different units, or between the hospital and nursing home, so you had limited contact with them.
You are allowed to read your part of the medical records to review what you did. The expert witnesses get to read the entire medical record and everyone’s depositions. Often this involves the records from different hospitals, nursing homes, and home health.
Here are some tips on what to do during a deposition:
- Always tell the truth. You are not the only one being questioned, and it is all right to say you don't remember something.
- Listen carefully to the question. If you don't understand something, ask for clarification. Sometimes questions are double negatives and can be confusing, such as "is it not true..."
- Take time before you answer. There is no hurry, so think about what you are going to say.
- Expect interruptions. The facility attorney may say “Object to form” or “Asked and answered.” The judge will make decisions in these instances, but don’t worry about it. Usually, you will then be allowed to answer the question.
- Do not volunteer information. Just answer the questions. We all want to teach the attorney or explain ourselves, but you don’t want to say something that isn’t correct. Don’t try to explain or quote someone else. Stick to the facts as you know them.
- Be verbal. Yes or no. Head shakes or “uh huh” is not going to work. The written transcript of what you say is just words, not body language.
- Wait for the person questioning you to finish before you answer. We tend to anticipate what is going to be asked, and want to jump in immediately with the answer.
- Be polite. Some depositions I have done have been rather contentious. The attorneys may start yelling at each other and you may feel intimidated. Just concentrate on what you are saying and answer to the best of your knowledge.
- Ask for breaks. You can say you need a break at any time and it will be granted.
- Bring materials asked for. You may be asked to bring your CV, notes you made about the case, etc. If so, bring 3 copies, one for each side’s attorney, and 1 that will be marked as an exhibit and goes with the transcript of your deposition.
- Do not converse with the opposing council. After the deposition is over, do not chat with the plaintiff’s attorney. Remember, the other attorney is your legal enemy. Do not let his or her friendly manner cause you to drop your guard or become chatty.
- Finally, don't be afraid. While it is an intimidating process, you are only going to talk about your part in the patient’s care and your background. The experts hired on both sides have to testify about the overall standard of care, and make the case why or why not the pressure ulcer happened.
If you have done a deposition before, please post what you were asked. Next time I’ll give some examples on what to expect during questioning.
About The Author
Karen Zulkowski DNS, RN, CWS is an Associate Professor with Montana State University-Bozeman, teaches an online wound course for Excelsior College, and is a consultant for Mountain Pacific Quality Improvement Organization. She has served as a Research Consultant with Billings Clinic Center on Aging, and was the Associate Director for Yale University’s Program for the Advancement of Chronic Wound Care.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of WoundSource, Kestrel Health Information, Inc., its affiliates, or subsidiary companies.
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