Your Malpractice Advisor: Eight Things to Never Do at Your Deposition

Ilene R. Brenner, MD


October 26, 2010

In This Article

Answer Carefully

Never answer compound questions. If a question has 2 or more parts, do not answer it. Your attorney should object to this question. But if that doesn't happen, you must state that you can't answer because there are multiple questions being posed in that question. Ask for a clarification so that you can answer 1 part at a time. Make sure you know exactly what question you are about to answer.

If a question is preceded by a long-winded statement, wait for the end of the statement/question, then ask for clarification as to what the question was. Your answering that question may imply your agreement with the statement made just prior. Don't get sucked in by this common tactic.

Don't skim over the labs: Often times you are asked about the lab values; eg, "Doctor, please review the CBC [complete blood cell] count and tell me what you think is normal or abnormal." If you are asked to give your opinion on the CBC, don't just hit the highlights. Go through each element, including the mean corpuscular volume (MCV), in excruciating detail. And make sure you know what MCV and other less commonly used abbreviations stand for.

For instance you could say, "The white count is barely elevated at 14, the MCV (Mean Corpuscular Volume) is normal, the MCH (Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin) is slightly low, the MCHC (Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin Concentration) is normal, the left shift is barely elevated at 76, the eosinophils are normal..." A plaintiff's attorney who might be trying to make it seem that a CBC count has worsened from 1 visit to another, could be stymied if in fact only 1 value worsened and some actually improved. However, if asked directly about 1 particular value, just answer directly to that 1 value.

Don't respond to double negatives. Sometimes a plaintiff will inadvertently (or purposefully) confuse you by asking a question that contains a double negative. You may think you understand the question, but before you know it, you have answered it wrong.

Q: It is my understanding that not stabilizing the patient is an EMTALA violation. Wasn't the patient unstable upon transfer to the other hospital?

This is where keeping it simple can actually hurt you. If you answer with a simple "yes" or "no" as advised earlier, you might answer "no" when you mean "yes." For instance, in this example, you will likely answer "no." This is because in conversation it seems like a simple question because your ear ignores the contraction as a negative. When you separate the contraction to "was not," the double negative becomes apparent. When you cancel them out, the question ACTUALLY says, "was the patient stable upon transfer..."

Now your answer is clearly, "yes." So which is it, "yes" or "no?" This is very confusing; therefore, to avoid these issues, try one of these types of answers:

A#1: Yes, the patient was stable upon transfer.
A#2: I don't understand your question.
A#3: I can't answer yes or no the way you've phrased it.

The deposition can make or break your case. Any insecurities you have will come out. Go over your case with your attorney until all of your doubts disappear and you are truly confident. If you present a strong, professional front, the plaintiff's attorney will realize that you will also make a formidable opponent on the witness stand. You might get lucky and get your lawsuit dropped or dismissed; however, if not, you will at least set yourself up well for your trial.


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