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What Happens at a Deposition?

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What to Expect During a Deposition

If you’ve been involved in an accident and have decided to move forward with a personal injury lawsuit, your attorney may have talked to you about being deposed. The deposition process is an important part of the discovery phase of a trial, but what is said during questioning can have a large impact on your overall case. Find out what a deposition is, what to expect, and how to use it to your advantage.

The Purpose of a Deposition

A deposition is when a witness is questioned by attorneys from both sides prior to trial. You may wonder why a deposition would take place instead of just having the witnesses questioned during the trial, and there are a few reasons. The first is so that the attorneys for both sides can get witness statements firsthand and find out more about the (reported) facts of the case. This allows them to prepare a tailored strategy when it’s time for trial. A deposition also gives the attorney an idea of how the witness is going to answer particular questions. If the witness changes their testimony on the stand, the attorney can refer back to the deposition in court to show that the witness’s testimony isn’t consistent.

A deposition also provides insight into both how the witness is going to do under questioning at the trial and what the opposing counsel’s strategy may be. For example, if an attorney was planning on using a witness for the case, but they were very antagonistic during the deposition and the attorney doesn’t think it would play well in front of a journey, they may decide not to call that witness to the stand. There is also much information to be gleaned in what questions the opposing counsel asks and how they behave during the deposition.

The Deposition Process

Each deposition is slightly different depending on who is being questioned and what kind of case it is, but the general process is the same.

Setting

A deposition can be held in a variety of locations, and some may even be held remotely — something that became more common with the COVID-19 pandemic. In general, the party who is initiating discovery for that witness is allowed to choose the location of the discovery. The legal team for the other party may have the right to object or provide an alternative. Depositions are recorded and can go on for hours, so they are usually held somewhere that is fairly comfortable, such as a conference room, and where recording equipment can be easily used.

Structure

Deposition testimony is given under oath, so the first step is to swear the witness in. After this, the questioning will begin. Usually, the legal team for one side does all of their questioning, and then, the witness is cross-examined by the attorneys for the other party. All answers to the questions must be delivered verbally so they can be on the record. If attorneys for either side have any objections to the questions being asked, they can note that objection on the record, but the witness must still answer. The judge will decide later on whether the testimony is admissible.

Parties in Attendance

Attorneys for both parties are present at the deposition as well as the witness being deposed and someone who can swear in the witness. If the deposition needs to be recorded manually — as opposed to an electronic recording — a stenographer will also be there.

Types of Questions That May Be Asked at a Deposition

Depositions can last for several hours, which means the witness may be answering dozens or even hundreds of questions in that time. Depositions usually begin with some background questions to establish who the witness is and what relationship they have to the parties or the circumstances of the case. The attorney may also ask questions about the witness’s experience with any previous depositions and whether they understand what is required of them during the process.

After these introductory questions, the attorney will focus on questions specific to the case. For example, if the case involves a car accident, questions might include:

  • Where were you in relation to the accident?
  • What was the weather like that day?
  • Can you describe the driving conditions?
  • What happened after the accident?
  • Did you seek medical attention?

The attorney will also often ask follow up or clarifying questions, depending on the witness’s answer to the initial question.

When You’re Being Deposed

If you are being deposed, it’s important to follow any and all instructions from your attorney. Your legal team will likely spend some time prepping you before the deposition so you have an idea of what questions the other side’s legal team may ask and how you can respond. In general, it’s important to only answer the exact question asked and to offer no additional information. It’s also a good idea to answer slowly and carefully and to give your attorney a few seconds before answering to put an objection on the record if they wish. The other attorneys will be trying to get you flustered, angry, or otherwise upset so that you can’t think about your answers as carefully, so remember to breathe and try to stay as calm and composed as possible.

The deposition process can be grueling, especially when you are being questioned by the other party’s legal team, but having an experienced attorney by your side can make it easier. If you have questions about a personal injury case, call Weinberger Law Firm at (916)661-4464.

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