Depositions are a part of the legal process that is never featured on legal television shows. This is because depositions are rarely good theatre (although every once in awhile, they do get out hand in spectacular fashion). However, depositions more often than not are the most important part of litigation, perhaps even over trial. This is because depositions are the chance for the other side to grill a witness or party on just about anything that is remotely relevant to the claim to gauge the strength of the claim.
The deposition itself is fairly straightforward. The witness or party will be called to appear at a location (usually the offices of the attorney who is taking the deposition) at a specific time for the “examination”. Once the witness/party is sworn in, the attorney taking the deposition, who usually is representing the other party to the claim, will ask many, many questions of the witness. There will be a stenographer to make a written transcript which can then be referenced at trial. More often than not, the deposition will also be videotaped as the written transcript does not effectively convey pauses, hesitations, or other non-verbal cues that help to determine the veracity of the testimony.
While the process of a deposition is simple, being deposed is not. The attorney, like a personal injury lawyer West Palm Beach, FL relies on, taking the deposition, who is usually the attorney for the other party, is going to use the deposition for several different purposes including finding out what you know and when you knew it, getting you to endorse a particular version of the story with the aim of then reintroducing it at the trial, and seeing if they can get you to contradict yourself, or worse, lie. The first two purposes go towards testing the truthfulness of the claim. The last one is to try to discredit you as a witness altogether (but they lied at the deposition, how can you believe what they’re saying now?)
Your attorney will be there with you, but there is not much that they can do about the questions other than to lodge objections that are ruled on later by the judge and, in very rare occasions, end the deposition due to misconduct. They cannot tell you how to answer nor can they tell you not to answer (unless perhaps you are invoking your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination).
Depositions require a great deal of concentration and fortitude, as they can last well into a full day. The best way to approach one is to listen carefully to each question and wait to begin formulating an answer until after the question is finished. Then, think very carefully about the question and whether or not you understand it. Answering a question that you misunderstand can lead to later accusations of lying or at the very least can cause a lot of confusion. If you do not understand the question, ask for clarification. This forces the deposing attorney to think about their question again and it tells them that you are paying attention and are seeking to answer truthfully.
If you do understand the question and know the answer, give the answer, and then STOP talking. Remember, the attorney is looking for any scrap of information that you may drop that can be useful later on. Do not hand it to them on a silver-tongued platter.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from The Law Office of Luckman, P.A. for their insight into depositions and personal injury practice.