Under state law, each side in a lawsuit has the right to take the discovery deposition of the opposing party. The following information will acquaint you with what is expected and how you can be an effective witness at deposition time.
What is a Deposition?
A deposition is your testimony under oath. You will be asked questions by the opposing attorney (and in some cases by your own attorney), and the questions and your answers will be recorded by a court reporter. A court reporter is a person who is competent to take down exactly what is said in shorthand or with a special transcribing machine. A deposition is less formal than a trial and will customarily be held either in the offices of one of the attorneys or in the office of the court reporter.
Purpose of a Deposition
The opposing attorney wishes to find out what facts you know. The attorney is interested in what your story is now and what it is going to be at the time of trial. The hope is to catch you in an inconsistency, even if only on a minor point, so that at trial your story might appear to be inconsistent. These are legitimate purposes. Your attorney has the same right to take the discovery deposition of the opposing litigant.
- Pay attention to your physical appearance. It is important that you make a good impression on the opposing counsel and the opposing party. You should appear dressed as if you were actually going to court. You should be clean and wear clean, neat clothing. If you are the victim in the lawsuit, come prepared to exhibit all injuries you have suffered.
- Treat all persons in the deposition room with respect. Do not be afraid of the lawyers.
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- Tell the truth. Do not try to figure out before you answer whether a truthful answer will help or hinder your case. Many questions you will be asked will not be admissible at trial, but the opposition is entitled to an answer in order to help prepare its case. Many cases are lost because a witness tries to hide something. Many of the questions cannot be used in the trial unless you have not told the truth and your false answers can be shown at the trial.
- Never state anything as a fact that you do not know. There is, however, a distinction between a guess and an honest estimate.
- Do not volunteer any facts not requested.
- Do not, unless your counsel so requests, reach for a social security card, driver’s license, or any other document.
- Give the information you have readily at hand. If you are the Plaintiff in the lawsuit, have with you the facts and figures about your time lost from work, wages lost, doctor bills, hospital bills, and all other facts concerning damages caused as a result of your injury.
- Do not try to memorize your testimony.
- Do not answer a question unless you have heard it and clearly understand it. Ask for the question to be repeated or, if necessary, for a moment to think.
- If you are the plaintiff in the lawsuit, report accurately your injuries or losses, but do not magnify them.
- Answer all questions directly, giving concise answers to the questions, and then STOP TALKING.
- If your attorney begins to speak, stop whatever answer you may be giving and allow him or her to make the statement.
- Do not let the opposing attorney get you angry or excited.
- Never joke in a deposition.
- After the deposition is over, do not chat with the opponents or their attorneys.
The most important aspect of your lawsuit is YOU. If you are earnest, fair, and honest, and if in giving your deposition you keep in mind these suggestions, you will be taking a great stride toward the successful completion of your case.
After you have read this, please note any questions you may have and discuss them with your attorney before your deposition is taken.