What Happens During a Deposition?
A deposition is a little like an oral version of interrogatories. When you give a deposition, you answer questions from the lawyer for the defendant in person, under oath, and usually with all of the parties and their lawyers in the room. A court reporter will be hired to take down your answers, which you usually give in the office of the court reporter or one of the lawyers. Either side may request a deposition at any time, but the request is most likely to come after you have responded to interrogatories and requests for production of documents. Regardless of whether your deposition is pertaining to a slip-and-fall accident or an accident on your motorcycle, all depositions are handled in basically the same manner.
Many of our clients are nervous before depositions, but there is no need to be nervous. Your lawyer will be there to observe throughout the deposition and can object to inappropriate questions or ask for breaks if you need them. This is important, because it is essential for you to stay calm and professional during a deposition. This is the first opportunity for the other side to evaluate you in person, so you should appear neat and as confident as possible. Your lawyer can advise you on what to wear and how to behave.
Your law firm should also prepare you ahead of time for the questions in your deposition. You may be asked to attend a meeting where you review all of the written information your law firm has, as well as any responses you gave to interrogatories. It is especially important to make sure that your testimony is truthful and consistent with these interrogatory responses, because the lawyer for the defendant will probably question you closely about any inconsistencies. Your deposition preparation should also help refresh your memory about the details of your injuries, your treatment and your recovery.
When the deposition begins, you will be asked to swear an oath to tell the truth to the best of your knowledge, just as you would in court. The court reporter will swear you in, then type your testimony into a written transcript that will be available to the lawyers later. In some cases, the deposition is also videotaped, which means that there will be another person operating a video camera and filming the deposition. The lawyer taking your deposition will introduce him- or herself and may briefly explain the procedure for the deposition.
At your deposition, you will probably start by reviewing the information in your written interrogatory responses. The deposition is an opportunity for the other side’s lawyer to clarify or have you explain those written answers, and to obtain additional information. As we said, it is important to make sure that your testimony is truthful and consistent with your interrogatory responses, so the other lawyer does not spy a seeming inconsistency between your oral testimony and your written testimony. Your answers should be based on your own personal knowledge; do not guess in making an answer. If you do not know or remember the answer to a question, you should say so. Many people feel embarrassed to admit they do not know something or had a memory lapse, but these things are only human. And when you are under oath, it is important to be as straightforward as possible.
Remember that the lawyer for the insurance company is your adversary, not your friend, and may not believe the facts are the way you say they are. If you are asked a question that you disagree with, perhaps because it assumes something you do not believe is true, do not be afraid to say so in order to answer the question. Stay in control; if the lawyer for the defendant puts you in a position where you must speculate, say so. If you do not understand or hear a question, you can ask for it to be repeated or rephrased.
As with the written discovery, you may feel that some of the questions are invasive or do not directly relate to your accident. However, unless your lawyer objects or tells you not to respond, you should answer every question in the most honest way you can. If some of the questions upset you, you can usually take a break during your deposition testimony, although you may have to respond to any unanswered questions first. If you would like a break, you can simply tell your lawyer. If the break is allowed, you will be permitted to get up, walk around, get a drink of water or just clear your head.
After the other side has finished questioning you, your lawyer is usually permitted to ask you more questions, or clarify an answer you gave earlier. This does not happen in every case, and in many instances, your lawyer may not ask you any questions at all. If this is the case, it does not mean the lawyer failed to do his or her job; there may be strategic reasons.
In addition to taking your deposition, the lawyers in the case may also depose (take a deposition from) any other witness in the case. While the number of depositions will vary from case to case, depositions are often taken from the defendant, any witnesses to the accident, friends and family members who are familiar with your injuries, representatives from the defendant’s insurance company and your own doctors and health care providers.