Understanding the Professional Liability Claim Process: Part 5, Trial and Testimony

/ / Counselors and Therapy, General, Home Care Physicians, Management, Medical Directors, Professional Liability Insurance

Our series on understanding the claim process is intended to give you a basic knowledge of the legal process and guidance that can help you if you find yourself in a position of defending a malpractice claim.

In Part 5 of our series, we discuss what to expect when preparing for trial and testimony.

Part 5: What to expect in trial preparation and testimony

The prospect of testifying at a trial can seem daunting, but your attorney can prepare you to minimize surprises and help you become more comfortable with the process.

Before the Trial

You and your attorney will have a meeting or series of meetings to help you get ready for your testimony. Your attorney will know what information he or she feels is important to convey to the jury, and the purpose of your meetings will be to make you ready to testify effectively. You will probably rehearse your testimony and take part in a staged cross-examination. The goal is to make sure that you are prepared for any question that may come your way during the trial.

Trial Demeanor

During the trial, everything about you will be open to judgment. It’s important that you dress neatly and professionally and behave calmly and respectfully. Speak clearly and distinctly and look your questioner in the eye while he or she is speaking and as you are replying. Be polite and courteous, even if someone speaks to you in a confrontational or harsh manner.

Answering Questions

When you are asked a question, listen to the entire question and take a moment to think before you reply. Answer the question completely and stop there; do not volunteer any additional information beyond the scope of the question. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay to say so. If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification. When you do know the answer, speak confidently and stay away from qualifying phrases such as “I guess” or “I think.” Finally, if the opposing lawyer insists on a “yes or no” answer to a question that cannot be answered that way, it’s all right to say that you can’t answer the question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Your best approach is to answer questions truthfully at all times, even if parts of the truth are less favorable to your case. When you’re telling the truth, you don’t have to worry about memorizing parts of your testimony or “keeping your story straight.” Consistency is very important and inconsistencies in your testimony can make you vulnerable during cross-examination.

Stay Relaxed

It may be easier said than done, but you will find the trial and testimony process far less taxing if you can stay relaxed. The whole point of the pre-trial preparation is to help you be familiar enough with what you are going to say that you can be yourself and convey your testimony in a straightforward and conversational manner.

Our article series on understanding the legal process includes these informative topics:

Part I: License/Certification Scrutiny
Part 2: Summons, complaints & subpoenas and attorney representation
Part 3: What is the discovery process?
Part 4: What to expect when giving a deposition