There are two key parts to every personal injury case. The first part is the liability phase. This phase includes showing how the accident happened, who is responsible, and why the defendants are responsible. The second phase involves showing your damages. A large part of the damage claim involves verifying what injuries you have, what medical care you’ll need, your prognosis, and all the ways your injuries are making your life more difficult.
The person who verifies the scope of your injuries is normally your treating doctor. In traumatic brain injury cases, the physician who verifies your medical condition may be your neurosurgeon or a neurologist. If you break any bones, an orthopedist normally verifies the types of fractures you have and the scope of the fractures.
In many personal injury cases such as car accidents, premises liability accidents, and product liability cases, your physician will prepare a report that explains all your relevant medical information. In some cases, your doctor will prepare a supplemental report to respond to any issues raised by the defendant’s physicians. The report is normally included in our formal demand letter to the insurance company. If your case settles, there is not any need for your doctor to do anything further in your case – other than continue to treat your medical condition.
There are several reasons why the deposition of your doctor may be required. The first is that the defense lawyers want to question the physician as part of the discovery process, which normally is prior to any settlement discussion. The second is that the case does not settle which means we need to prepare your case for trial. Your doctor could testify in person at the trial. Alternatively, a video deposition of your doctor could be taken prior to trial – with the understanding that the video deposition will be displayed to the jury at the trial of your personal injury case.
Washington has specific rules and procedures for the timing, method, and use of video depositions. We can explain more during your free consultation, so you know what to expect.
What are the benefits and concerns about using a video deposition of a physician?
Usually, if a doctor is going to be deposed, a video deposition is used instead of using a written transcript of the questions and answers.
The main advantage is that a video deposition is less expensive than in-court testimony. Doctors normally charge for their time based on what they could reasonably be earning if they were practicing medicine. A video deposition can be done according to the doctor’s schedule. Normally a video deposition takes a few hours. If the doctor has to testify in court, the doctor will charge for the time he/she is testifying – and also the time he/she needs to get to the courthouse and to wait around until it’s time for the testimony. These additional factors (travel and waiting time) can add a lot of hours/money to the doctor’s fee.
A second advantage of a video deposition is that it can be easier for the doctor to access your medical records at his/her office if the doctor needs to review any records during the deposition.
The main hesitation with using a video deposition instead of having the doctor testify in court is that live testimony can generally leave more of an impression on the jury. Video depositions tend to sound more clinical. Also, if there are new developments in your medical condition and care since the date of the deposition, then the doctor needs to testify in person to address those new issues.
What questions are asked during the deposition of a physician?
A deposition of a doctor that is going to be used in court is different than the deposition of the parties and witnesses. In most depositions, the other side does the questioning. For example, if you injure your back in a car accident, the defense lawyer for the driver will ask you questions about the accident and your injuries. Likewise, we will ask the defendants questions about the accident.
With a deposition of a doctor, we, the plaintiff’s lawyers, are asking the questions – so that the doctor’s testimony can be introduced in court. When we are done asking questions, the defense lawyers have the right to ask questions similar to the way the questions are asked in court.
The first part of a physician’s deposition is to establish the credentials of the doctor. We will ask the doctor to state where he/she attended medical school, what type of medicine they practice, what licenses and board certifications they have, how long they have been practicing, and other relevant credentials questions.
The second part of a physician deposition is to ask the doctor about your medical condition and treatment. We’ll review with the doctor:
- When you first saw the doctor
- What diagnostic tests the doctor performed and the results of those tests
- What the physical and oral examination revealed
- What diagnosis of your injuries the doctor made
- What treatments the doctor recommended
- What treatments the doctor performed
- The doctor’s knowledge of any other medical care your received – such as surgeries, physical therapy, and psychological therapy
- Why each treatment was recommended
- The results of each type of treatment
- What additional medical care you will need – for the rest of your life
- The expected problems associated with your types of injuries
- The specific problems you’re having that the doctor knows due to your injuries
- The cost of your treatment
- All other relevant issues
We will review with the defense lawyers what medical reports and records can be stipulated to, so they can be presented without testimony at your trial.
Before the deposition, we will review with your doctor how depositions work and common issues that may arise. We generally recommend that doctors wait to answer until they fully understand the question, that they should answer the question but not volunteer information beyond what was asked (we can always ask more questions), and many other practical suggestions.
At Philbrook Law Office, our personal injury lawyers in Vancouver and Battle Ground, WA understand all the issues that help prove liability and maximize the among of your recovery. We do speak directly with your doctors to understand your medical needs. To discuss any personal injury claim, call us at 360-695-3309 or use our contact form to schedule a free consultation.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.