Nearly all physicians are doing the best they can for their patients. We all hope you’re never served with a malpractice suit, but sometimes things happen. We’re all human beings. When we make mistakes, we regret them and wish we could take them back. We feel bad about the error and any consequences the patient may suffer. But don’t let that allow you to make the mistake of letting your guard down during a deposition.
Your patient may very well only be trying to get fair compensation, but the patient’s attorney is nowhere near so noble. The attorney is out for your blood, your soul, your home, family, cars, present and future earnings, body parts and your firstborn child. It’s not personal. That’s his job — to be coldhearted and ruthless, to do anything and everything he can to win. If he can trip you up, fracture your confidence, or make you look incompetent, he’s going to do so. They train for this very thing, and then hone their techniques.
A deposition is supposed to be a fact-finding mission. In reality, it’s often the prosecuting attorney’s practice round with you. He’s going to try to set you up, and make statements that he can then bring up in court later. He’s also feeling you out, finding out what makes you tick and where your buttons are at, if he can get you rattled. No matter how cheerful you may both be during the deposition, he is the enemy.
One lawyer, in a recent article, outlined fifteen things to do to get you to slip up, to catch you off-guard. One technique he suggested was to skip over the usual “What’s your name?” and “What are your credentials?” questions and head right to the heart of the matter. The same attorney suggested asking nonsensical questions to tip you up, such as “Isn’t it true that you removed the wrong half of my client’s brain?” They’re also advised to try to push your buttons during the deposition, to find out if they can get you flustered and what triggers it, so they can use that in the trial itself. Any decent lawyer will have Googled you and found any documented skeletons you may possess.
The winning method in handling these questions is to start calm and remain so throughout the deposition. Listen to each question, remaining cheerful as you respond to that question calmly and precisely. If the attorney asks you about a certain detail, answer about that detail, but offer no other information without being asked. Don’t become argumentative or sarcastic, no matter what you see his question implying. Stick to the question asked, and answer that specific question politely, regardless of the implication. Remember, you had no ill intention. The attorney is trying to find ways to get you to say you that you were negligent or irresponsible. Don’t give him anything to work with.
Of course. your attorney should be present for any deposition, and you should not speak — on or off the record — to the patient’s attorney in any other circumstance. If the attorney should contact you, refer him (or her) to your attorney or insurance company, without giving any statement or reaction about the patient or case whatsoever.
The good part is that you’ve got your own attorney who is also an experienced professional. Your attorney will be familiar with these tactics and techniques, perhaps even a step or two ahead of the patient’s attorney. So relax. You’re in good hands. When faced with a deposition, stay calm and stick to the facts, remember that you had no ill intent, follow your attorney’s instructions, and you’ll do just fine.