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Your Jones Act Deposition



Deposition Prep Overview

This video discusses how to give a great deposition in your Jones Act case. It will cover the best deposition tips, tricks, and strategies to help you handle your deposition. Jones Act law cases are different from other cases and you need to be prepared for your deposition.

The first segment of this video discusses general deposition tips and advice to help you. The second section explains in detail why a company lawyer will be asking you certain questions. This lets you understand your deposition and how to prepare best for the questions at your deposition. The third section goes into typical tricks and traps a company lawyer will use against you in your jones act deposition.

Key Points

  • Don’t have a casual, friendly conversation with the other attorney during your deposition.
  • Answer only the questions they ask. Don’t volunteer extra information.
  • Don’t try to convince the other side to believe you. You won’t be able to change their mind.

Common Deposition Pitfalls and Traps

  • Leading questions and putting words in your mouth
    • Watch for phrases like “isn’t it true” or “wouldn’t you agree”
    • Slow down the question and reword them in a way that makes sense
    • “Sir, I don’t know if I’d word it like that.”
  • Asking the same question twice
    • They’ll do this because you answered the question too well the first time and they’re hoping to trip you up by asking the same question again.
    • Stick to your first answer.
  • Making assumptions in the questioning
    • They’ll ask a question that already assumes an answer.
    • For example, they may ask, “Well, did you ask for help before moving that equipment and hurting your back?” The attorney is assuming that a) help was readily available and b) that you didn’t ask and that’s why you were hurt.
    • If a deposition question makes you uncomfortable or is making assumptions about what happened, stop and ask yourself what the attorney wants to achieve. What answer are they trying to get from you?

Deposition Video Transcript

0:04 Hello, I’m maritime attorney Tim Young. Our office here in New Orleans has prepared literally hundreds of clients for their Jones Act and maritime law depositions. In this series of videos, I’m going to walk you through a very short outline of how we prepare our clients. Now, I can’t guarantee that every maritime attorney is going to prepare clients the same way for their depositions, but what this series of videos will show you is, in my opinion, a very good, very rough outline of how you should be prepared before your deposition for your Jones Act or maritime case.

0:35 I also want to tell you that these videos are very brief; they’re meant just to give you an outline, a very basic overview of the issues that we prepare our clients for before their Jones Act and maritime depositions.

0:49 Now, typically we will spend at least an hour to an hour and a half, sometimes two hours with a client preparing them before their deposition, and the reason we do this is their depositions usually last at least two hours, sometimes four or five hours long in connection with their Jones Act or maritime case. So, in our view, it’s necessary to spend at least an hour together sometimes up to two hours in order to prepare you for your maritime or Jones Act deposition.


An Overview of Deposition Principles

1:16 The first thing I want to talk with you about in regard to your Jones Act or maritime claim deposition is just a general overview of the deposition. I want to give you a few ideas about the deposition and things to keep in mind. These are basic principles and we usually start a conversation with our clients, preparing them for their depositions, with these general principles.

Principle 1: Do NOT Have a Conversation During Your Deposition

1:36 The first overall principle, it’s very important to understand this, is that your deposition is not a conversation with the company lawyer or the insurance lawyer. Your deposition is that company lawyer/insurance lawyer coming to our office asking you very specific questions and you giving very short, direct, and honest answers to only those questions. And what I say sometimes to our clients is 364 days out of a year it’s great to be gregarious and to have conversations and to engage people and to talk with them back and forth. That’s human nature, that’s how friendly people interact. Your deposition is not a day to do that. Your deposition is a day to simply come into the office. We will prepare you ahead of time. You listen to the questions and you answer only those questions.

2:24 I also say to some of our clients and I don’t mean to scare them when I say this or intimidate them but it’s a little bit like you’re being called in to the local police station or the principal’s office and they say we need to just ask you a few questions about what happened. Now if you’re pretty smart, you’re not going to go in there and just have a long conversation and volunteer a lot of information. You’re simply going to listen to their questions. You’re going to give honest answers. You’re going to keep them very short and you’re going to get out of there as soon as you can. That’s basically the tone and the general attitude you should have about your deposition.

Principle 2: You Do Not Have to Volunteer Extra Information

2:55 Another big idea about your deposition and overall idea is that your job is not to volunteer information or feel the need to get your entire side of the story on the record. If the company lawyer/insurance lawyer does not ask you the right questions during your deposition, there’s no obligation that you volunteer information. He may come in and only ask you questions for 20 minutes and leave and you don’t want to be chasing them out the door saying, wait a minute I still want to tell you about this and that that you never asked me about.

3:25 The purpose again is just listen to the question answer that question only and don’t volunteer or feel the need to put your entire story on the record.

Any Evidence Can be Used in Court, Even if Not Discussed in the Deposition

3:37 You can use anything in court outside of your deposition, even if he didn’t ask you the right questions. What I mean by that is, you are not limited to just what you said in your deposition when you go into court. This is why if the company lawyer doesn’t ask the right question, you can go into court and explain, “well, sir, you never asked me about that and I’m free to tell the jury of the judge all about that issue. You just never asked me about it.” So, keep in mind it’s his job to ask the right questions. It’s your job only to answer those questions.

Principle 3: Depositions are Not for Convincing the Other Side

4:07 The last thing I want to talk to you about overall with the deposition (and this is very, very important to understand) is your deposition is not a time when you’re supposed to convince the company lawyer and the insurance lawyer of anything. In all likelihood, you will never convince him of your side of the case. He will leave your deposition thinking he’s right, just like he will think he’s right at the end of your case, usually.

Your Case Will NOT be Hurt if the Company Lawyer Doesn’t Believe You

4:29 So, people really get into trouble and I see them lose ground in their deposition when they start trying to argue with the lawyer trying to convince them. They try to volunteer information. They feel like their case is going to be hurt if the company lawyer doesn’t truly believe them. Well, that’s not the case at all. We tell our clients the purpose of the deposition is for you to come in and answer his questions, put your words down on paper that the transcriptionist will be typing up and simply get your side of the story on paper based on the questions he asked you. If he doesn’t like the answers, if he doesn’t sound like he believes you, that’s his problem. Your job is simply to answer those questions and get your answers to his questions on the record.

5:10 Again, remember: don’t volunteer information; don’t feel like you’re having a conversation with a lawyer. That’s not the best way, we feel, to do depositions, and the third really important thing is do not think like you’re gonna convince them of anything. Your job, again, is just to answer only the questions he asked. If he feels like he doesn’t believe you or he makes sounds like he doesn’t believe you, or he may even tell you “I don’t believe you,” your job is not to convince them of anything. You can just say, “sir, I’m sorry you don’t believe that. That’s my answer.” That’s the best way to handle the overall tone of your deposition.


Understanding the Motivation Behind the Deposition Questions

5:45 In your maritime and Jones Act case, when you give your deposition, the company lawyer is asking a lot of questions. We prepare our clients by having them understand why the lawyer is asking questions to you to begin with. We feel like it’s best if you have an understanding as to what’s important during your deposition that way you can know basically why he’s asking you certain questions and you can understand where he’s coming from. That’s a lot easier, in our view than trying to guess every question he may ask you and having you know those ahead of time.

6:19 There’s going to be two very important parts of your maritime and Jones Act case. We usually draw a little chart like this for our clients and we walk them through it during their deposition preparation with us.

How Negligence Plays a Role in Your Deposition and Case

6:30 The first major part of your case under Section 1 here is the negligence in the case, and this has to do with: did the company do anything wrong, and what percentage fault was the company at causing your accident or injury. The second part to understand, too, is that, under maritime law and the Jones Act, the company can actually try to prove that you did something wrong or that you were at fault in the case. So, typically, we’ll show our clients that you need to understand that you do have to prove the company did something wrong and what percentage, and be careful because the company lawyer will be trying to blame you for the accident.

7:07 When we prepare clients for depositions, when we go over the accident, those are the two main issues we’re going through with them. When the company lawyer takes your deposition in a Jones Act/maritime case, he will be going through these exact same issues with you. He will basically do the reverse where he’ll want to say that you’re at fault in the case and he’ll want to defend and say the company did not do anything wrong. So, when you’re talking about your accident during your deposition, this is what’s going through his head. Every question he asked you can usually be pinpointed to either him trying to show they didn’t do anything wrong or him trying to show you did something wrong.

How Damages Affect Your Deposition and Case

7:44 The second major section or second major part of your deposition and the reason they ask you the questions has to do with damages in your case. Now under a Jones Act and maritime case, typically there’s three very large categories of damages. And I have written these out here.

The 3 Categories of Damages

  • The first one is pain and suffering for your injury.
  • The second one are medical costs for your injury, and
  • The third one is wages or loss of wages or benefits for your injury.

Determining Pain and Suffering Damages

The pain and suffering is pretty obvious:

  • it’s how serious your injury is,
  • how seriously that affects your day-to-day,
  • if you’ve had surgeries,
  • how bad your level of pain is on a daily basis

Medical Costs

8:20 The second category here, medical cost, a lot of times during your deposition, you’re not going to affect these too much. These typically will deal with what doctors recommend for you. Typically during your deposition , hey will ask if you want certain treatment done or not. Because if you’re not going to have any treatment done, the company will not need to pay for it.

Lost Wages or Loss of Fringe Benefits

8:39 And then the third issue down here that we talked about were wages or loss of fringe benefits. This typically in a Jones Act or maritime case can be a very high dollar amount. A lot of times offshore jobs pay extremely well and if you’re injured and you can’t go back to work on an oil rig or on a vessel, typically you’re going to lose a lot of money. Even if you do find work back home, typically that work will pay a lot less.


Two Sides to Every Story

9:03 When we prepare our clients, we try to explain to them that there’s two sides to every story. During your deposition, it’s usually no different than that. Typically you will have your testimony, in your opinion, about what your pain and suffering is. You’ll have your opinion about your medical cost and whether or not you want to go through the procedures. And, again, the big third item is you’ll have your opinion about your wage loss and whether you can go back offshore or not or go back to work on vessels, and if you can’t, how much you’re going to be limited to making on land.

9:34 At the same time, when the company lawyer is going through all the questions in your deposition, he wants to try to argue his side of these. He wants to try to say that maybe your pain and suffering is not as bad as you would say it is. He typically goes through with you your medical treatment. He’ll try to discourage you from saying that you want any type of treatment. Typically, I’ve even seen them try to scare clients where they say, “you know that’s a very major procedure but you sure you want that done?” And what the company lawyer is hoping is that you say, “well, you know, I really may not have it. I have to think about it.” Because if you say that, then under their side of this argument, they’re going to put on here zero dollars for medical cost because you may have testified that you’re not even sure if you want a procedure done or not.

10:18 The third area here is one of the biggest ones during your deposition and that it again involves wages. The company lawyer will go through with you during your deposition your entire background. Now he may be a nice fella and friendly, but, frankly, he doesn’t care too much about your background outside of that deposition. The reason he’s asking you…

  • how far did you go in school,
  • what type of job did you have in the past,
  • how much did you make at those jobs,
  • what can you physically do now,
  • where do you live,
  • what kind of jobs are in your area,

…all of those questions go right here to this third category of wages. He wants to try to argue as best he can that maybe you can go back to an old job that paid well. Maybe you live in an area that has a lot of opportunities. So, even if you can’t work offshore again, you can go get a high-paying job at home. When he’s asking you about what your limitations are, he wants to argue there’s as few as possible so that he can put you back to work at a high, high paying job.

11:16 So, remember when you’re going through the questions with the company lawyer, typically the accident all revolves around section one here. He wants to say the company didn’t do anything wrong and that you were at fault. When he’s going through these elements with you and, a lot of times if you know to be looking out for these and to be listening for these, we’ve actually had clients afterwards who tell us, “that’s exactly what he was asking me. You know every question that company lawyer asked me. I knew exactly why he was asking me that because I understood all of this.”

11:46 So, understand the pain and suffering is going to be an element in your case, medical cost, and wages. Every single question that company lawyer asks you we can pigeonhole into one of these areas after your deposition. And if you know this going in, a lot of times it makes your deposition easier for you to answer the questions, because you understand why he’s asking you the questions.


Common Deposition Pitfalls and Traps

12:08 I want to talk to you a minute about common pitfalls and traps during your maritime or Jones Act deposition. There’s a lot of tricks and pitfalls and traps that the company lawyers set for you, a lot of tricks that they use during your deposition. I want to talk with you about three of the main ones that we see all the time in our client depositions.

Trick 1: “Leading” Questions or Putting Words Into Your Mouth

12:25 The first one is a lot of times the company lawyer will ask you questions that are called “leading” questions. What this means is he’s basically trying to put words in your mouth and some people say, “well, that’s easy. I know that. I’ll be able to handle it.” Let me give you examples.

Example: Isn’t it True You Were Given a Safety Manual?

A lot of times they’ll say stuff like

  • Isn’t it true you were given a safety manual before your accident?
  • Isn’t it true that you went to two weeks of training before your accident?
  • Isn’t it true that there were four other people standing around the rig floor that you could have asked for help?

Reword the Questions to Take Charge of the Deposition

12:56 Now, when you hear terms like “isn’t it true” or “wouldn’t you agree,” what the company lawyer is doing there is asking you a leading question, but more importantly he’s in charge of the way he’s wording it. And we recommend to our clients to slow those questions down, and if you’re not comfortable with the words that he picked in the way he’s trying to put them in your mouth, that a real good thing to say to him is “sir, I don’t know if I’d word it like that.” And you can do that. You can control the question and turn it back on them. Sometimes he’ll say he one needs a yes or no to that question, and we disagree with that. It’s up to you to choose how you answer his questions.

13:34 So, if you get stuck with leading questions, a lot of times it’s a good idea to simply reword what he’s trying to put in your mouth. Because I guarantee you he’s going to word it the best way you can for him and the worst way he can for you. A lot of times with leading questions it’s good just in your head to start off by saying, “I don’t know if I’d word it like that. Let me say it a little differently,” because that gives you control of the question and the answer that you’re giving.

Trick 2: Asking the Same Question Twice

13:39 Another big pitfall and another trap that these company lawyers use when they take your deposition is to ask the same question twice. And these are very basic tricks. Anybody who’s ever given a deposition in a Jones Act or maritime case has gone through this. Usually when the company lawyer does that, it’s because you answered the first question in a real good way for your case.

Stick to Your First Answer

14:22 So, what he’s doing is coming back around and taking another shot at the question because he wants to try to get a different answer. If your lawyer’s sitting with you during the deposition (which he should be a lot of times), he’ll interrupt. I know we have in the past and will actually say “he’s already answered that question when he told you this this and this.” And what that does is it puts back on the record how you answered it the first time. So, just keep in mind that if you get asked a question twice, usually it’s because you gave a good answer the first time. If you can remember that answer, usually it’s best to stick to that first answer.

Trick 3: Assuming the Answer in the Question

14:55 The last pitfall or trap that company lawyers use and this is very technical and very sophisticated. The last pitfall and trap that they use against you is to try to ask a question that assumes the answer in the question. Let me give you a real simple example of this, which actually happened last week in a case we’re handling.

Example: Assuming You Could Have Prevented Your Injury by Asking for Help

15:15 Our client was asked if he asked for help before he moved a lot of heavy rigging and ratchets on a barge on which he was working. Well, the trick in the question and the way it came up in the deposition is “Mr. Client, did you ask for help before you moved all this?” and then the next question was “As you were moving it, you realized how heavy it was. Did you stop and go ask for help?” And then the next question was “you know right before you got hurt moving it, did you ask for help?”

15:42 Well, the trick in all that was our client earlier in the deposition had explained that help wasn’t available. He was out on the barge by himself. He had actually tried to wake someone up in the tug who didn’t come out to help him. Well, our client, unfortunately, was getting pressured by the company lawyer and we were there with them and objected and handled it well, but the company lawyer was trying to get our client just to say “no, I didn’t ask for help before I picked them up. No, I didn’t ask for help as I moved them.”

16:07 See, the company lawyer was assuming in that question that help was available. And if you kind of understand that, as you’re getting asked the questions, [you can ask yourself]:

  • Is this company lawyer assuming something about this question that makes me feel uncomfortable?
  • Is there something about this question that doesn’t sound fair to me?

16:25 And that was a situation in our clients case. It wasn’t a fair question because help wasn’t available to him, but that company lawyer kept coming back to it again and again and again, because what he wanted was a transcript in court where he could go show the jury and say “this person is going to admit he didn’t ask for help as he moved it.” And he wants to make it very short and sweet, a yes or no answer to that question.

16:48 So, be real careful if the company lawyer is asking you questions that don’t sound fair, and if they don’t, you want to kind of ask yourself “is there something tricky” or “is he assuming the answer in the question” when he’s asking it to you.

Pitfalls Recap

  • So, remember, definitely be careful of leading questions. He’s trying to testify for you, when the company lawyer does that.
  • Be very careful, if he’s asking questions twice, usually it means you’ve done a good job answering the first time.
  • And the third thing is be real careful of unfair questions or tricky questions where he’s kind of trying to play word games with you. He may be assuming an answer in the questions he’s given you.

Conclusion

17:27 I really hope that this information about how you may be prepared for your Jones Act or maritime deposition has been helpful. Now, I want to let you know again, I want to remind you that this is a very short video. We typically spend anywhere up to two hours with our clients. In our cases, we’ll actually go through a very large binder of materials with our clients. This material typically includes the accident report (if one was done), a lot of times the investigation reports (which will have usually ahead of time), before the deposition. We’ll go through your medical records with you. A lot of times we’ll have most or all your medical records by the time you give your deposition. We go through those with you. Vessel logs, safety logs, job safety analysis, any type of documents that we think the company may ask you about during your deposition, we always want to go through those with you or at least discuss them with you before you give your deposition. That’s something to keep in mind also.

18:21 If you have any questions at all about your Jones Act or maritime deposition, give us a call. We really do want you to understand your rights, your choices, your options. We have sat through so many depositions when the company lawyers ask unfair questions, they asked leading questions. They come into the deposition not wanting to know what happened but they come into the deposition wanting to win their case and prove what they want to say happened. And we see that right away. Hopefully, this video is going to prepare you where you’ll see that as you go through your deposition and you’ll know how to handle it a little bit better after watching this video.

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