There are a lot of reasons you might have to participate in a deposition. A deposition is considered part of the discovery process in a legal case. Depositions specifically are oral testimony that occurs under oath.
Being prepared and knowing what to expect is important.
What is a Deposition?
In a lawsuit, all the parties named have the right to conduct discovery. Discovery is a formal investigation that is a means to learn more about the case.
The information is available to the parties before a trial. The information obtained in a deposition can be used as a way for the parties to figure out their strategy and to prevent delays once the trial actually begins.
In many cases, what happens is that information obtained during discovery, including through depositions, can be used to help the opposing parties reach a settlement so they can altogether avoid trial.
Discovery can come in the form of not just depositions but also subpoenas and interrogatories. Interrogatories are written questions.
Whether or not a case needs a deposition depends on the specific circumstances. If the case is only legal rather than having factual issues, it may not be necessary. In many lawsuits, however, a deposition can provide more information about the event.
What Happens During a Deposition?
The two overarching goals of deposition are to find out what the person being deposed knows and to preserve the testimony of a witness.
During a deposition, the opposing counsel will ask you a series of questions, and you have to answer them.
The deposition might be recorded by a court reporter who then provides a transcript, or it could be taped.
Once the deposition is complete and there’s a written transcript, all the parties receive copies. Then, it’s reviewed, and your lawyer will go over your deposition with you and provide an evaluation.
Before you begin answering questions, you swear an oath of honesty.
The time when opposing counsel asks you questions is known as direct examination. Other attorneys, when present, can cross-examine a witness. Either of the parties may be able to object to a question, and if you’re being deposed you can change your answer in review. If you do change your answer, the opposing attorney notes that during the trial.
Your entire goal should be answering questions truthfully and in a straightforward manner.
Your attorney can’t give you answers during your deposition, but your lawyer should work with you beforehand to prepare you for what some of the questions might be.
In the instance of a personal injury deposition, questions might include:
- Background information about you
- What your physical health was before an accident
- Information about what happened with the accident
- A description of your injuries and subsequent treatments
- What your life has been like and how it’s changed since the accident
How to Behave
You may be nervous or even defensive during a deposition. It’s important that you don’t let your emotions get the best of you.
You should be polite and professional. Don’t try to joke or make small talk, even if you’re nervous.
Stick to the facts, take things as slowly as you need to, and if you don’t know something, then say that. It’s much better not to have an answer than to give a false answer under oath.
Other tips that might help you to prepare for and during a deposition include:
- Be prepared. Again, this is something your lawyer should be working with you. You want to be ready to answer questions.
- Think before you answer. You don’t have to rush to answer anything. If you take your time and think before saying anything, it can help you avoid providing information that maybe wasn’t even being asked for.
- Don’t volunteer any information. When people are nervous, sometimes they can volunteer more information than they should. If the answer is yes or no then leave it at that unless you have no other options. The shorter your answers, the better. The more you reveal the more opportunities you create for the opposing attorney.
- If you don’t understand the question, ask for clarification. If you answer without understanding, the assumption is that you did understand. If you didn’t hear the question, say that. If you need it rephrased, also state that.
Finally, it is your obligation to tell the truth even if you think it will hurt your case.
It can be a lot more harmful to get caught lying under oath than it can be to expose a weakness in your case.