You’ve been preparing for your day in court for months now, and the day is finally here. You’ve been warned by your attorney to stay calm and respectful in court, and to repeat your testimony as accurately as you can. But you’re still nervous about what the opposing attorney will do in court to protect his client—and if he gets you off-balance, you could very likely help him destroy your case.
Three Major Personal Injury Testimony Mistakes to Avoid in Court
Unfortunately, your fears are well-founded. Plenty of witnesses trip over their words on the stand, allowing opposing attorneys to discredit them and deny them their rightful settlement. Here are three ways you can hurt your case on the stand:
- Not answering the question you are asked. Do you know what time it is? If you answered “afternoon,” “3 p.m.,” or even looked at the clock, your case is at risk. Too many witnesses ruin their depositions by trying to be too helpful to the attorney asking questions. A seemingly simple question can reveal many different facts, so you should only give the specific information you are asked for. So if you are asked if you know the time—and you do—state “yes.” If the attorney wants to know more, he must ask for it.
- Allowing yourself to be bullied. Witnesses are often encouraged to cooperate with opposing attorneys. While you should always be polite and respectful, you should not allow the attorney to pressure you into giving an answer that isn’t completely correct. If an attorney is pointing you toward the answer he or she wants, do not give in if the answer is inaccurate. If he repeats the question several times, stick to your answer; consistency will only strengthen your case.
- Filling in the blanks for the opposition. Opposing attorneys ask questions that are designed to get information that will help their client. In a sense, they are trying to get one side of the story—and witnesses often object to this type of questioning. They think that the jury will base its decision on the facts presented by your opposition, so they offer additional information to fill in the blanks. When you are on the stand, do NOT attempt to argue your case or present your version of the facts. Anything you say becomes part of the record, and the attorney can ask follow-up questions about any facts you offer. For example, imagine you are asked whether an event took place on a particular day. You respond that you are sure because you went to a friend’s birthday party that same day. The attorney may follow up by pointing out your attendance at a party is inconsistent with your testimony that you were “unable to move” after an accident.