Cross-examination of a Personal Injury Plaintiff: What to Expect When You are On the Stand


We have all seen movies where under the intense and merciless cross-examination of a shrewd attorney asking surprise questions, the witness on the stand finally breaks down, and, sobbing uncontrollably, confesses to committing the murder.

But is that what you can really expect from cross-examination if you are the plaintiff in a personal injury case?

Will the opposing counsel browbeat you into admitting that the accident was all your fault if it was not, or that you are not as injured as you say you are?

Will you be sitting on the witness stand with that deer-in-the-headlight look because you are surprised by a series of damning questions that you never anticipated?

No. Of course not.

While it may make for good drama, cross-examination of the plaintiff in a personal injury case is not an exercise in frightening or harassing the witness.

Taking any case to trial is stressful for everyone involved, and being cross-examined by the defendant’s attorney can be acutely uncomfortable. But that does not mean that the cross-examination is a free-for-all in which you will be harassed and embarrassed.

There are rules to prevent abusive courtroom tactics and there are some things you can to do prepare yourself for your cross-examination.

Understanding the process can go far to helping you feel more prepared for your cross-examination.

Your Deposition Will Help Prepare You for Cross-examination

A major aspect of any civil case is the discovery phase. During discovery, both sides (plaintiff and defendant) are allowed to “discover” the evidence that the opposing party intends to present at trial.

The benefit to discovery is that it does away with “trial by ambush.” Both sides are allowed to find out what the parties’ expert witnesses will say, what evidence (photographs, police reports, medical reports, etc.) will be presented at trial, and what each party to the action —the defendant and the plaintiff and any witnesses —will testify to.

As the plaintiff in a personal injury action, it is highly likely that you will have your deposition taken. While this is conducted in an informal setting, you will be testifying under oath as to the facts of your case. Your Florida personal injury attorney will help you to prepare for your deposition.

At your deposition, the opposing party’s attorney will ask you questions. Essentially, although the scope of the questions may be broader ranging than those allowed at trial, and there is no judge present to intervene, having your deposition taken is quite similar to undergoing cross-examination at trial.

What this means, then, is that if your personal injury case does not settle (and most do) if you go to trial, you will already have some familiarity with the questioning process.

Direct Examination Comes First

Another point to consider when you are thinking about how to prepare for your cross-examination, is knowing that your direct examination will come first.

Direct examination is where your attorney asks you open-ended questions (essentially, “who, what, when, and where” questions) about your accident, that allow you to tell your story. For example, your attorney may ask, “What, if anything, did you observe?” Or, “What happened next?”.

Again, your Florida personal injury attorney will have prepared you for this long before you get to trial. With your attorney taking you through your story, you will have some time to get accustomed to being in court and answering questions. This is not to imply that you won’t be nervous or that giving testimony is court is not stressful. Rather, it just means that you will be “warmed up” so to speak before the cross-examination occurs.

The Purpose of Cross-examination

It can also be very helpful to understand what the purpose of cross-examination is.

While it is not to harass or embarrass the plaintiff, the overarching goal of cross-examination is to impeach and discredit the witness. This means that the opposing counsel will be asking questions designed to make you contradict your earlier statements, or that point out holes in your story. So, for example, if you did not seek medical care for your injuries, you can expect opposing counsel to make a big deal of that on cross-examination—insinuating, implying or just outright stating that the reason you did not seek medical care (or did not continue with medical treatment) was because you really were not all that injured.

That is why it is imperative that you never exaggerate your injuries and that you always tell the truth about the facts of your case—from beginning to end. Even if some of those facts may seem to you to be “bad” for your case. As long as you tell the truth, you cannot be impeached for lying.

Questions on cross-examination will for the most part be leading questions. Leading questions are questions that suggest the answer, like, “Isn’t it true that the light was red at the time?”.

Cross-examination is Limited as to What May Be Asked

While cross-examination can be tough, it is not a free-for-all and there are rules in place to keep it from becoming abusive.

Cross examination is limited to the subject matter discussed with you by your attorney on direct and issues relevant to your credibility.

In Florida, it is the judge’s responsibility to control his or her courtroom—including the questioning of witnesses.

The judge controls the manner in which witnesses are asked questions so as to:

  • Facilitate discovery of the truth, through effective interrogation and presentation
  • Avoid unnecessary delay in the conduct of the trial
  • Protect witnesses from harassment or undue embarrassment.

Cross-examination is indeed stressful to undergo. That is why, if you are a plaintiff in a personal injury case, you should have experienced personal injury lawyers at your side.

Personal Injury Attorneys in Orange Park, Florida.

John Fagan and his experienced team are dedicated to helping those who have been injured due to the negligence of another. Contact us now for your free consultation or simply call our firm at: 777-JOHN. We serve clients throughout Florida. Our main

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