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Deposition of the property owner in a slip and fall personal injury case

Deposition of the property owner in a slip and fall personal injury case

What is a deposition?

After a lawsuit is filed, the parties to the lawsuit engage in a process called “discovery.” This is a fact-finding process in which each party tries to uncover what the other party knows, or claims to know, about the events giving rise to the lawsuit. As part of this discovery process, the parties take depositions. A “deposition” is like an interview that is given under oath. Your personal injury lawyer interviews the person/entity you sued, and that person is sworn to tell the truth, under penalty of perjury. If you are suing a company or place of business, the owner of that company or a high-ranking official or other employee will answer questions on the company’s behalf.

Sample questions your personal injury attorney might ask at the slip and fall defendant’s deposition

Below you will find two dozen topics and related questions that your personal injury lawyer might ask in the deposition of the defendant in your slip and fall lawsuit. These questions use the following terminology:

  • The “plaintiff” is you – the person who filed the slip and fall lawsuit.
  • The “defendant” is the person or entity you sued.
  • The “deponent” is the person answering the questions, either on behalf of the company/place of business you sued, or on his or her own behalf.

1. Background on deponent and employer

Your personal injury lawyer likely will begin the deposition by asking for personal background data. The goal is to get enough identifying information, and a personal address (not the employer’s address), so that the deponent can always be found if he or she leaves the employment and moves before the trial.

If the defendant is a business (i.e., if the slip and fall occurred in a place of business), ask:

  • Deponent’s exact position with the company?
  • When he or she was first employed with the business?
  • All positions held and when?
  • Generally, what were the duties of those positions?
  • To whom did the deponent report?
  • Who reported to the deponent?
  • What were his/her duties generally?

Company background data:

  • Exact company name.
  • Nature of the company’s business—what does it sell or what service does it provide?
  • How many employees are in the entire organization?
  • How many locations or premises where it does business?
  • At the location of the slip and fall, on the accident date, how many employees worked there?
  • What were their duties?
  • Who was in overall charge?
  • Who was the shift manager in actual charge of the premises at the time of the slip and fall?
  • Was there a safety supervisor in charge of the company’s safety program?
  • Was the safety supervisor in charge of this specific accident site?

2. Specific identification of place, product, and date

  • Confirm the slip and fall accident date as stated in the complaint.
  • Is the deponent aware that this case involves a claim that you (the plaintiff) were injured in a slip and fall accident on this specific date at this specific place?
  • Review any photos of the place, product, or items before or after the accident date.
  • Review any diagrams of the place where the slip and fall occurred, as it was on the accident date.
  • Identify the product or item involved. [If your personal injury lawyer has the actual item involved in your slip and fall, then it should be identified as such. Otherwise, a photo or other specific description will do.]

3. Obtain defendant’s records

Your personal injury lawyer will ask the deponent to hand over all of the following in his or her possession:

  • The company’s reports and records regarding the slip and fall accident that is the basis of your lawsuit.
  • All applicable written materials regarding the product, premises, or items.
  • All written memos of inspections of the place, product, or items before the accident date.
  • All written memos of inspections of the place, product, or items after accident date.
  • All written memos of changes in the premises at the applicable location after the accident date.
  • All electronic messages and records regarding the product, premises, or items.

4. Defendant’s involvement in the premises or property

  • Describe the premises in question.
  • Describe the company’s involvement in the premises (e.g., owner, lessor, occupier, possessor, maintenance provider, inspector).
  • When was this involvement started or acquired?
  • What was the status of the company’s interest on the accident date?
  • What documents reflect the company’s interest and involvement with the premises on the accident date (e.g., insurance policies, inspection reports, contracts, and advertising materials)?
  • What is the day-to-day involvement by the company in the premises?
  • Was there any agreement for use or occupancy by others?
  • Was there agreement (and was it written or oral) with others concerning: repairs; maintenance; cleaning; inspection; safety?
  • Who was in charge of the premises at the time of the slip and fall injury accident?
  • Who was in charge of the operations at the premises at the time of the accident?

5. Design of the premises

  • Design of the premises: who, what, when, why?
  • Identify the building standards involved.
    • Governmental building codes.
    • Company rules or policies on building design.
    • Safety [Safety always should be a design factor.]
  • What was considered, or relied upon, in design decisions regarding the safety of persons on the premises?
  • Specific design defect alleged in this case (e.g., in your slip and fall case, you personal injury lawyer might ask about floor design, type of flooring, finish products, cleaning, and surface protection).

6. Construction of premises

  • Persons involved in constructing the premises:
    • General contractor.
    • Project manager.
    • Defendant supervision.
    • Major subcontractors.
    • Subcontractor or suppliers on specific defect alleged in this case.
  • As to each of the above:
    • Exactly what did they do?
    • When did they start and finish?
    • Obtain all construction plans and specifications. [These may reveal design defects or may be useful to enlarge and show the jury, exactly where the accident occurred.]
    • Obtain all building and construction permits.
    • Did construction follow the design plans?
    • Was a safety evaluation of the premises ever done during the design or construction or afterwards?

7. General type of activities on premises

  • Describe generally the activities on the premises.
  • Was the activity on the accident date something that was common or expected?
  • What does the company manual (or other written policies) say regarding the expected activities, storage, or movements involved in this case?
  • What oral instructions were given to employees for activities, storage, or movement?
  • Obtain written materials regarding general activities, storage, or movement: industry standards; regulatory laws; company policies.

8. Maintenance

  • Maintenance of the premises:
    • Who did it?
    • What did they do?
    • When did they do it?
    • Why did they do it?
  • Were there any oral instructions to employees regarding maintenance?
    • By whom?
    • To whom?
    • When?
  • Are there applicable industry standards, regulatory laws?
  • Are there reports to or from the government?
  • Are there internal company reports or forms regarding maintenance?
  • Are there computer emails or databases showing maintenance?
  • Produce all written materials regarding maintenance.

9. Inspections

  • When was the company on the premises?
  • When was the deponent on the premises?
  • Could the company have seen the condition involved in the accident if the company had wanted to see it?
  • Could the deponent have seen the condition involved in the accident if the deponent had wanted to see it?
  • Regarding the condition, what did the company actually see?
    • When was it seen?
    • Who saw it?
    • Were any records made of it?
    • To whom was it reported?
    • When was it reported?
    • What was done about it?
  • Regarding the condition, what did the deponent actually see?
    • When did he or she see it?
    • Did he or she make any record of it?
    • To whom did he or she report it?
    • When did he or she report it?
    • What, if anything, did he or she do about it?
  • Safety inspections:
    • Who is supposed to do safety inspections?
    • Were any done?
    • What are company policies?
    • What is actually done?
    • Where are the inspection records?
    • What do the records show?

10. Knowledge of the dangerous condition

  • What is the company’s experience in dealing with this type of premises?
  • What is the deponent’s experience in dealing with this type of premises?
  • What is the company’s participation in the specific premises in question?
    • Designing?
    • Constructing?
    • Controlling activities?
    • Repairing?
    • Maintaining?
    • Cleaning?
    • Inspecting?
    • Warning occupants of safety hazards?
    • Keeping records of injuries on the premises?
  • What is the deponent’s participation in the specific premises in question? (See the foregoing list.)
  • Did the company have knowledge of the condition involved in this case by:
    • Actual knowledge of the company?
    • Participating or knowing?
    • Designing?
    • Constructing?
    • Controlling activities?
    • Repairing?
    • Maintaining?
    • Cleaning?
    • Inspecting?
    • Warning occupants of safety hazards?
    • Keeping records of injuries on the premises?
    • Prior similar incident or prior claim?
    • Reports or complaints to the company?
    • Circumstantial indications of knowledge (“should have known” of condition), e.g., metal was rusted, or employees were always having to do special pickup of area, etc. showing condition had existed for some time?
  • Did the deponent have knowledge of the condition involved in this case by any of the means listed above?
  • Did the defendant post any warnings? [If so, then your personal injury attorney will ask questions aimed at getting the deponent to admit that he or she, or the company, knew that danger existed on the premises.]

11. Corrective action after knowledge, but before the accident date

After the company had knowledge of the condition involved in this case, but before the slip and fall accident:

  • Was any construction done, or were repairs made, to eliminate the hazard?
  • Was any maintenance done to eliminate the hazard?
  • Were any safety devices and guards put in place?
  • Were any warnings of the hazard given?
  • Were any instructions about the hazard given?
  • What reasonable steps could owners, occupiers, or possessors have taken from a human-factors standpoint to prevent the accident?

12. Foreseeable hazard and existence of duty

  • Are people normally expected to be on the premises?
    • Customers or clients?
    • Repair persons?
    • Handicapped persons?
    • Elderly?
    • Children?
  • Can it be expected that some persons may be distracted?
  • Can it be expected that some persons may be confident of their safety when on the premises?
  • Can you foresee that someone would get hurt if . . . ? [Here, your personal injury attorney will ask questions specific to the circumstances in your slip and fall case. For example, “Can you foresee that someone would get hurt if the light was not good enough for that person to see water on the floor?”]
    • Lighting?
    • Reflectivity?
    • Distractions in building design?
    • Distractions in displays by owner?
    • Distractions in activities?
    • Maintenance of premises?
    • Wear and tear?
    • Condition of premises?
    • Weather?
    • Premises design? (E.g., there is a staircase but no railing.)
  • Were there inspections of the premises that showed the hazard could exist? (E.g., lights would burn out in the hallway, so the hallway light would be dim.)
    • If no, then your personal injury attorney will ask: Why did the company not want to make inspections that would show dangerous conditions?
    • If yes, then your personal injury attorney will follow up with the questions from the “Inspections” section of this checklist, above.
  • Did the company know that the hazard existed? (E.g., lights in the hallway were burned out on the day of the injury.)
  • Did the deponent know that the hazard existed?
  • Did the company know that the hazard could exist? (E.g., lights could burn out in the hallway.)
  • Did the deponent know that the hazard could exist?
  • If not, should the company/deponent have known of the hazard? (E.g., “You know that lights in the hallway do burn out over time, don’t you?”)
  • Did the company ever do or see a hazard evaluation study or a safety evaluation study regarding the premises or activity condition involved?
  • Did the deponent ever do or see a hazard evaluation study or a safety evaluation study regarding the premises or activity condition involved?
  • Does the deponent agree that the company has duty to protect the plaintiff from injury?

13. Foreign objects or strangers involved

  • Were there any foreign objects not usually on the premises involved in this injury?
  • Were there strangers or persons not normally on the premises?
  • What did the company know about foreign objects or persons on the accident date?
  • What did the company know about foreign objects or persons before the accident date?

14. Plaintiff’s status and notices

Remember, in the language of a lawsuit, you are the “plaintiff” – the person who filed the lawsuit, claiming a slip and fall injury. Here, your personal injury lawyer is asking the deponent what he/she knows about your presence on the premises the day of the accident.

  • Purpose of plaintiff’s being present on the premises.
  • Defendant’s actual or constructive knowledge of plaintiff’s presence. [Your personal injury attorney will try to establish that (a) you were invited or otherwise were properly there; and (b) the defendant knew you were there.]
  • Plaintiff’s limitations or difficulties on the premises. [Here, your personal injury attorney will ask the deponent to consider your limitations or difficulties on the premises the day of the accident (e.g., you are color blind; you have only one eye and no depth perception; there was no salesperson to pull a stocked item off a high shelf), and then inquire whether the company should have expected that a person on the premises might have this limitation or difficulty.]
  • What items on the premises – other than warning notices – did the company give the plaintiff that would have been:
    • Visual danger cues.
    • Audible danger cues.
    • Distractions to plaintiff’s attention.

15. Warnings before injury

  • Was the condition that caused this accident open and obvious (patent) or not open and obvious (latent)?
  • Were there warning signs? What type and form?
  • Were personal warnings or oral or written instructions given to the plaintiff?

16. Accident and injury

  • Describe the accident. [With this open-ended question, your personal injury attorney is asking for a detailed, narrative response from the deponent.]
  • Is that all the deponent knows about the accident?
  • Is there anyone else who knows about the accident?

17. Reports and conversations immediately after injury

  • Who were the witnesses who reported the injury or accident?
  • Were any written or electronic reports made?
  • What was said immediately at the accident scene or by the first reporter?
  • What conversation did the deponent have (a) with the plaintiff and (b) with anyone else?

18. Post-accident investigation

  • Was there a post-accident inspection of the premises?
  • Is there an accident investigation or report?
  • Is it the company’s ordinary practice to make an investigation/report even if litigation is not expected?
  • Did the deponent review the report or other notes prior to the deposition?
  • Have there been tests to duplicate the accident or condition?

19. Corrections by owner or occupier of premises

Did the owner or occupier of the premises take “subsequent remedial measures” following the accident? That is, did the owner/occupier take steps to remedy the condition that led to your slip and fall after the accident occurred?

  • When was dangerous condition corrected?
  • How corrected?
  • By whom?
  • What was the cost?
  • Conformity to building codes and industry standards?
  • Photographs of the corrections?

20. Other similar events

  • Similar premises?
  • Similar slip and fall accidents?

21. Limit surprises at trial

  • Is there any person we have not discussed today that was a witness to:
    • The accident?
    • The plaintiff’s activities on the premises?
    • Maintenance of the premises?
    • The condition of the item or product involved on the accident date?
  • Does the deponent have any opinions about the cause of this slip and fall injury accident that we have not talked about today?

22. Limit defenses

  • Did the plaintiff act as the deponent would expect persons on the premises to act?
  • Was it reasonable for a person with the plaintiff’s physical or mental limitations to have been on the premises at the time and place in question?
  • Should the plaintiff have known there was a hazard or danger? Why? How?
  • What probably caused the accident? [With this question, your personal injury attorney will explore all the legal defenses raised by the property owner/occupier (the defendant in your slip and fall lawsuit), and ask if the deponent has any facts that support that defense.]

23. Get deponent to admit plaintiff’s injuries

Your personal injury attorney will describe your injuries to the deponent and ask:

  • Did you see the plaintiff’s injuries?
  • If not, do you know the injuries plaintiff received?
  • How do you know about the plaintiff’s injuries?
  • Do you have any reason to believe the plaintiff was not injured on the premises?

24. Documents and items to be the subject of examination

In most instances, a request to appear at a deposition and give testimony includes a request to bring documents relevant to the case. Before the end of the deposition, your personal injury attorney will confirm that the deponent brought all the requested documents to the deposition, and that each of the documents has been reviewed. A careful personal injury attorney will always ask:

  • Have all documents subpoenaed been produced?
  • What documents did the deponent review in preparation for his or her testimony?
  • Are there any documents relevant to this slip and fall injury accident that have not been produced here today?

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