Monday, March 1, 2010

How to be a Good Witness- Part III

At trial in Pittsburgh, credibility is everything.

Many personal injury lawyers forget to impress this upon plaintiffs. Always tell the truth during a deposition and at trial. Omissions and lies almost always come back to bite.

Equally important to creating credibility is that you and your lawyer review the pleadings and any discovery responses previously provided to opposing counsel. Inconsistencies between written answers and deposition/trial testimony damage credibility. Good personal injury lawyers review all discoverable material with their clients before a deposition.

I recently deposed an expert doctor in a Pittsburgh personal injury law case. Before the deposition I had sent opposing counsel various interrogatories (discovery questions). One question asked for the identity of any medical expert the defendant had employed. A name was provided. When I deposed the doctor I had a feeling that he had only recently come to be involved in the case. I asked when he had been hired by the defense. He provided a date that was many months after the date listed in discovery. When confronted about this he became indignant and was clearly annoyed with me but even more so with defense counsel. Because the doctor had not reviewed the case pleadings and discovery responses he was caught of guard by my question. The doctor answered honestly, but his and/or the defendant’s credibility was immediately in question because of the inconsistent statement. When it comes to a jury deciding who to believe, credibility is paramount.

This was a relatively minor point but is a good illustration of why it is so important to know what you (or the attorney representing you) have produced to the other lawyer.

I have been on the other side of this uncomfortable situation as well. When I first started out, I made the mistake of giving my client a copy of all of our discovery responses. I just told them to review it. In several instances the client definitely did not review the answers. As a result they gave testimony contradictory to their previous written answers. This was a credibility “no no” that could have been easily avoided. Now, I always make a point to sit with the client and review each prior answer. We discuss what it says, what it means and what questions it could draw from opposing counsel.

Knowing all the information that is in play will help your credibility and your case. If you don't have it, ask for it. If you are given it, review it.

Please see my other posts on How to be a Good Witness:
Part I
Part II

The law firm of Ackman and Levine posted a good article on giving good testimony here. Share this post :
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  1. Really good information, Attorney Lupetin. I have a question about being a "witness." Can people be a witness after the fact? A relative of mine recently slipped on ice, while she was alone. She hobbled a block home, where many people witnessed her obvious pain (and many co-workers witnessed her feeling fine 15 minutes before). Are these people any good as supporting witnesses?

  2. As I see it, all witness testimony if given after the fact. So yes, the people you describe would be terrific witnesses for your relatives case.

    One caveat- disinterested witness testimony makes a bigger impact than does testimony from a friend or family member.

    I hope this helps and that your relative is OK.