Workers’ Compensation: De-stressing depositions in contested cases

I used to give weekly depositions on the status of patients who were referred to me for the resolution of contested workers’ compensation cases.

When a workers’ compensation claim is litigated, human resource, occupational health and safety professionals often are subpoenaed to testify to help shed light on disputed aspects of the case. Usually their testimony is given in the form of an interview in which attorneys for both sides ask questions in the presence of a court reporter. The witness is asked, under oath, about recollections, decisions and opinions on the issues at hand.

Giving a deposition can be a stressful experience. Here are seven lessons to help minimize anxiety and improve performance:

  • You are not in control. Depositions are a procedural method used to gather information. They have specific rules. I found that accepting I was not in control nor responsible for conducting the deposition de-stressed the event.
  • Be yourself. The attorneys are trying to gather information about your role and how you operate within a larger system. There is no need to try to transform into a more knowledgeable and sophisticated person for purposes of the deposition. Be who you are, no more and no less.
  • Use the power of not knowing. Recognize that in any question-and-answer session, the power is with the questioner. It was an empowering moment for me was when I decided that “I don’t know” was a perfectly acceptable answer.
  • Seek clarification. Listen to what the attorney says and identify the exact question he or she is asking. If you have any uncertainty, restate the question or ask the attorney to repeat the question before answering.
  • Be succinct. Resist the temptation to elaborate. In general, keep your answers short (“Yes,” “No,” “I don’t know,” “I’m not certain,” “I don’t remember”). It is the attorney’s job to tell the story.
  • Remain detached. Try to see the deposition as a game. Run a play-by-play commentary in your head. Be alert to emotional manipulation. When you begin to view such tactics with detached amusement, you begin to master the process.
  • Don’t try to be the judge. In many circumstances, you will have strong feelings about how the case should be resolved. Unless asked, avoid stating your opinion. You have your job to do and the judge or hearing officer has his or hers.

UL’s Medical Director Dr. William Newkirk elaborates on this advice in the summer edition of Tracker, our quarterly journal for occupational health and safety professionals.