Your deposition can play a crucial part in the outcome of your personal injury case, so it’s important to know what to expect and to make sure you’re well prepared.
What is a Deposition?
In a deposition, if you are a party to the case (either the plaintiff or the defendant) you will usually answer questions from the opposing party's attorney. Witnesses to the accident (non-parties) can be questioned by either or both sides. (More: Whose deposition can get taken in a personal injury case?)
A court reporter types up a record or transcript of everything that is said. The deposition testimony can then be used as evidence to support motions and it could later be read back in court if the case goes to trial.
Depositions usually take place in a law firm's conference room. There is no judge present, but the court reporter will swear you in and you will take an oath to tell the truth just as if you were testifying in court. The opposing attorney will ask you questions, not only to learn about the facts of the case but to also find out how you'll come across to a jury.
Your attorney will meet with you before the deposition to help you prepare. Often the deposition takes place a fair amount of time after the underlying accident or incident occurred. So, your attorney might review case documents with you to help refresh your memory. Let your attorney know if you feel nervous about being questioned. Your attorney can practice asking you questions until you feel comfortable with the process.
Tips for Your Deposition
Here are some more tips to keep in mind to make sure your deposition goes as smoothly as possible:
Make a good impression. Dress well and be well-groomed. One thing the attorney asking the questions is trying to determine is how likeable or truthful you'll appear to a judge or jury.
Speak up. Talk clearly and answer out loud so the court reporter can record you answers.
Be professional. Remember that a deposition follows a question and answer format. It's not a casual conversation. Don't make small talk or jokes. These often don't come across well in the written transcript.
Take your time. Listen to the complete question before you begin to answer. It’s always a good idea to pause before answering. This gives you a chance to strategically form a response, and it gives your attorney time to make an objection if one is needed.
Break time. Ask for a break from the proceedings if you need one, even if it's just for a few minutes. Stretching your legs or getting some fresh air helps you stay alert. But be careful about what you say "off the record" during breaks. You may be asked about things you say when you are later back “on the record."
Be polite. Don't argue with the attorney asking the questions. It's your lawyer's job to object to harassing or improper questions.
Avoid the guessing game. Don't be afraid to say "I don’t remember," "I don’t know," or "I don't understand the question." If you have to guess or estimate, say "I'm guessing" or "I'm estimating."
Keep it short. Give brief, accurate answers, such as "Yes," "No," or “I don’t know.” Don’t volunteer any information. Just answer the question that is asked, and no more. If you don't know the answer to a question, don't try to help by suggesting where the answer could be found. If you're asked to list things or give a detailed explanation, answer as best you can, and end your answer with "that’s all I can think of right now." Then, if you remember more later, you can add to your answer without appearing deceptive.
Where does it hurt? Be prepared to describe your injuries. Is your pain, constant, sharp, dull, or achy? Rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Don't exaggerate your injuries, but don't minimize them either.
Tell the truth. This is obviously critical. You’ll be asked the same questions several times during your case, and any inconsistencies will come back to hurt you.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Who will be in the room when my deposition is taken?
- Do I need to bring any documents to the deposition?
- How long will my deposition last? Is there a time limit?