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Questions to ask a careless driver during pretrial testimony in a car accident case here in New York

You have been involved in a car accident in New York. You're contemplating bringing a lawsuit seeking compensation for the harms and losses you suffered because of another driver's carelessness.

Today I want to share with you some sample questions I would ask during pretrial testimony when I have an opportunity to question the careless driver. You should know that questioning a witness during pretrial testimony is known as a "deposition." It is also known in legal circles as an “Examination before trial.”

Background Information:

  1. Mr. Jones, you have owned your car for the last 5 years, correct?
  2. There were no mechanical problems with your car on the day of the accident, true?
  3. The brakes worked fine?
  4. The horn worked?
  5. The car accelerated when you put your foot on the gas?
  6. When did you last take your car in for service?

Driver Physical History:

  1. Do you wear eyeglasses?
  2. Do you wear contact lenses?
  3. Have any difficulty with your hearing?
  4. Ever experience dizziness or blackout?
  5. Did you taken any medication within 24 hours before the accident?
  6. Did you taken any nonprescription medication?
  7. Did you take any illegal drugs within 24 hours before this accident?

Weather:

  1. What was the weather like on the day of the accident?
  2. Did it rain that day?
  3. Did it snow that day?
  4. Is there anything about the weather that caused or contributed to the happening of this accident?

Speed:

  1. What was your speed as you approached the intersection?
  2. Did you maintain your speed?
  3. Did your speed decrease, stay the same or increase as you approached the intersection?
  4. When you were one quarter of a mile away from the intersection, what was your speed?
  5. Were you on cruise control?
  6. Were you listening to any music?
  7. Were you having a conversation with anyone in the car a quarter-mile before the accident?
  8. Did you have a disagreement with anyone in the car prior to the accident?
  9. Did you use your cell phone within a mile prior to the accident?
  10. Did you text anyone within that same period of time?
  11. Do you use your cell phone to read a text message?
  12. Do you have a hands-free device in your car for your cell phone?
  13. Were you on your cell phone at any time within a mile prior to the accident?
  14. When for the first time did you notice my client's car?
  15. When you saw her car, did you take your foot off the gas?
  16. When you saw her car for the first time, where was it in relation to the intersection?
  17. When you saw my client's car for the first time, did you put your foot on the brake?
  18. Did the car respond and slow down in response to you putting your foot on a brake?
  19. What was your speed at the time of impact?
  20. What part of your car made contact with what part of her car?
  21. Was there anything preventing you from seeing my client's car from the time you first saw it initially until the time of the impact?
  22. The road that you were on, was a two-directional road or one-way?
  23. How many lanes of moving traffic were there for your direction of travel?
  24. A quarter-mile before the accident, was this a straight stretch of road?
  25. Did the road curve to the right?
  26. Did the road curve to the left?
  27. Was the last quarter-mile prior to the intersection on an incline, decline or flat?

Timing:

  1. From the time that you saw my client's car, a quarter of a mile away, how long did it take you to get to the intersection before the impact occurred?
  2. From the time that you put your foot on the brake to slow down, how much time elapsed until the impact?
  3. How long did it take you to travel from when you first saw my client's car until you first arrived in the intersection?
  4. What color was the light as you were entering the intersection?
  5. As you proceeded toward the intersection and saw my client's car, did you ever hit the horn?
  6. Were your windows up or down?
  7. What happened to your car as a result of the impact?
  8. Where within the intersection did the impact occur?
  9. What side of the street did the impact occur on?
  10. At the time that you applied your brakes, what was your speed?
  11. At the time of impact, what was your speed?

Distance:

  1. From the time that you first saw my client's car in the intersection, how far did your car travel before the impact?
  2. Where were you been coming from?
  3. Where were you going to?
  4. Were you in a rush to go anywhere?
  5. Did you have a scheduled meeting or did you have to be anywhere at a particular time?
  6. Was there anything that prevented you from slowing your car down before entering the intersection?
  7. In the time that you applied your brake until the time of the impact in the intersection, how far did you travel?

These questions are merely samples of questions that I asked during pretrial testimony in a car crash case here in New York. There are many others. Questioning a careless driver in a car accident case can take many hours. It's critical that an attorney who is questioning the witness has a clear-cut strategy for locking the witness into testimony that they can later use at trial.

Pretrial testimony can be very useful during settlement negotiations as well as at trial. In every car accident case it is critical for your attorney to establish speed, time and distance. Typically, a careless driver will not know the exact speed they were traveling. Nor will they know the exact time it took them to go from one point to another. In many instances, they will not know the exact distance they traveled from one point to the next.

However, when we lock in the witness to all three elements of speed, time and distance it becomes possible to actually calculate many missing items. For example, if the witness knows approximately how fast they were traveling and how long it took them to get there, we can calculate the distance they traveled.

If they know the time it took to travel and the distance that they traveled, we can calculate their speed. Even if we don't know what the exact speed was, we can calculate a particular range.

This type of pretrial testimony is absolutely critical to proving a careless driver violated the basic rules of the road. An experienced attorney who handles these types of cases on a regular basis should have no problem whatsoever asking hundreds if not thousands of questions during this pretrial question and answer session.

It's not simply an opportunity to learn new facts during this examination before trial. Instead, it should be used to control the witness and demand specific answers to specific questions. If done properly, it will form the foundation of establishing that you are more likely right than wrong that the driver you are questioning was careless in causing and contributing to this accident.


Gerry Oginski
NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer