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When Should You Misrepresent the Facts at a Deposition? Never!

Suppose that, as a result of an automobile accident, you developed severe, persistent migraine headaches. Suppose further that, although you’d had headaches before, you’d never had them with the severity or frequency with which you were getting them after the accident. If questioned about your history of headaches at a deposition—an out-of-court, under-oath examination by an attorney—would you tell the truth about them? The temptation to lie is obvious: A jury might believe that, because you’d had headaches before, there was no causal link between your current headaches and the automobile accident. Any legal professional will tell you, however, that lying at a deposition is not an option, and that by making misstatements of material fact, you risk having your case dismissed. Indeed, it’s the practice of a seasoned personal injury attorney to meet with his clients prior to deposition in order to prevent this from happening.

A Recent Example from the Florida Courts

In the 2013 case of Gautreaux v. Maya, the plaintiff, Ms. Tia Gautreaux, began suffering migraine headaches after she was injured in an automobile accident. However, she had a prior history of headaches, having complained about problems with her sinuses to her doctors, and these headaches were a documented part of her medical history. While at a deposition—for which she may have been ill-prepared—Ms. Gautreaux decided, for whatever reason, to lie about her history of headaches, claiming that she’d never experienced them before. She did something similar on a medical intake form for a doctor she saw after the accident. During the discovery process—a phase of litigation in which parties must turn over documents, witness lists, and other information to each other—Ms. Gautreaux’s medical history was produced to defense counsel. They quickly discovered the deception, and recalled her for a second deposition. At that deposition, Ms. Gautreaux claimed that she had “misunderstood” or been “confused” by the question about her history of headaches, though it was obvious to all involved that she’d misrepresented her medical history.

The defense therefore brought a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that—by failing to reveal critical information about her medical history—Ms. Gautreaux had lied not only to the opposing side, but to the very judicial body from which she sought relief. The trial judge agreed, and dismissed the case with prejudice—meaning that, as a result of her misrepresentation, Ms. Gautreaux’s case was over and she would receive no compensation for her pain and suffering. Had Ms. Gautreaux simply told the truth—and had her lawyer met with her to explain the importance of always telling the truth when under oath—the case would have been allowed to proceed. As it turned out, an appeal to the Florida Court of Appeals allowed the case to be reinstated, since—as the court noted—dismissal for fraud on the court is warranted only in the most extreme cases. Deception or even outright lying, the Court held, were better dealt with on cross-examination or through sanctions for abuse of the discovery process. Nevertheless, the damage was done: Ms. Gautreaux and her counsel had surely lost credibility in the eyes of the judge, and her misstatements would be brought up on cross-examination, severely undermining her believability in the eyes of the jury.

Good Counsel Will Help You Prepare

Experienced counsel can tell you that, even if you think a fact is bad for your case, lying about it is never worth the potential consequences of dismissal, loss of credibility, or harsh cross-examination. If you want a lawyer who’ll make sure you know what to do at deposition, contact the experienced personal injury practitioners at Gary Roberts & Associates, P.A.

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