Losing Control of a Client During a Deposition
There are going to be occasions when you do everything you could or should have to prepare your client for a deposition, and they can’t help themselves but to make a mess.
A couple of years ago I was defending a trucking case in which my truck driver was an awfully rough fellow. He had a pretty significant criminal history, had been in-and-out of drug rehab (which hadn’t had much effect), and at the time of the accident involving my case, he had been on a crystal meth bender for a couple days while at a motorcycle rally. Our only saving grace was that the plaintiff was every bit his equal. She was a prescription drug addict who had been kicked out of pain management for selling her pills to a friend.
It soon came time for my client to give his deposition. I met with him in advance for longer than normal, and I really put the screws to him in preparation. There was no way that all of the things could be true that he told me occurred after the accident – anything from the plaintiff shuffling bottles of alcohol from her car to a fellow going by the name of Peacock, to the state trooper showing up on the scene with a teenage girl in his car (not his daughter). But my client told the same story every time. And there’s something to be said for consistency.
My parting words to him on the day of his deposition were to tell the truth and only answer the question that was asked. It was a horror show from the jump. After about 20 minutes of either snide, sarcastic responses, or what can only be described as word vomit (in which he used 50 words where 4 would have sufficed), I requested that we break for a few minutes. We stepped out. I went over the rules and instructed him to lose the sarcasm. We went back in. And picked up right where we had left off. Another 20 minutes later, we stepped out again and had the same conversation. With the same result.
This went on for a bit. The only silver lining was that he told the same implausible story during his deposition that he had been telling me for months. After the deposition ended and he left, I went back in to the plaintiff’s attorney and apologized for my client’s behavior. He responded, “No need to apologize. That’s going to play great for the jury.” I knew he was right.
Coming out of that experience, I felt then and continue to feel now that I had done everything I ought to have done to prepare my client for his deposition. Of equal importance, I had done my diligence to also prepare the insurance carrier for any potential outcome. He was just a wild card. He couldn’t get out of his own way. But this wasn’t an aberration. It’s who he was at his core. And I wasn’t going to change that … even for just a couple of hours.
Within a couple of weeks, we were able to settle the case at a discount. The plaintiff didn’t make any better of an appearance at her deposition than had my client.
This wasn’t the last of my unfortunate interactions with this client; his dog and I also had an old-fashioned stand-off.
Photo by Tit Bonac.