By: Mario Palermo of Palermo Law Group
You have just been notified that an attorney wants to take your “deposition.” It is natural to be anxious about the process.
The first question you may be having is, “What is a deposition?” A deposition is a question and answers session where your sworn testimony is recorded word for word by a court reporter.
Another common question is, “What is the purpose of the deposition?” The main purpose of a deposition is to allow the other side to know what you are going to say at trial. The ability to know what witnesses are going to say ahead of time is a major reason why most civil cases settle before trial. Why? Because knowing everyone’s cards ahead of time allows the parties to make informed decisions regarding the likely outcome of the trial and enables the parties to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
Depositions are taken under oath. Therefore, a deposition can be used to impeach you if you testify differently at trial. Another useful purpose of a deposition is that it allows the parties to observe the witness and assess how you testify. Are you credible? Are you a hotheaded? Will a jury like you? These are all important factors that help the parties to know the relative strengths and weaknesses of their case before trial.
Another common question regarding depositions is, “How long will it take?” This is a difficult question to answer. If you are a plaintiff in a case, you can expect the deposition to last at least 1½ hours. However, the duration of a deposition is dependent upon a number of factors and can range anywhere from a half an hour to three hours.
Another common question is, “What kind of questions will they ask me?” Typically, the first part of a deposition will focus on personal information about the witness. This information might not seem relevant. However, a good attorney will want to know what kind of witness the deponent will make at trial. Also, it is important to know about a witness’ background because this will help the attorney to determine whether the witness will be influential to certain jurors based on shared experiences. If the deponent is a plaintiff, the next line of questioning usually focuses on the deponent’s prior medical history. It is not unusual for 45 minutes or more to pass before any questions are asked about the actual incident.
A good attorney understands that although they have participated in hundreds of depositions, it is not unusual for the deponent to be experiencing the process for the first time. It is important to discuss the process with the deponent ahead of time and prepare him for the questions that he will be asked so that he will be more comfortable and more like himself during the process.
If you are being deposed, take a deep breath. A good attorney will prepare you and the truth will serve you. A good deposition may ultimately keep you out of court and lead to a settlement of your case.