In a deposition, the other lawyer asks you a series of questions under oath – like at trial, but without the judge or jury being there. A court reporter types out all the questions and answers, and puts them in a binder, or book. (This is called a transcript.)
Most people I work for want to know where a deposition happens, and whether I am there. The deposition takes place in one of the lawyer’s offices, and I am in the room for the entire period.
If the other lawyer asks a question that is improper, I object. If I think a question is extremely prejudicial, or an invasion of privacy, I will probably tell you not to answer the question.
Actually, either lawyer can take the deposition of any witness – not just the accident victim.
But in most lawsuits, your deposition is the most important thing that happens. It is important because: 1) It gives the insurance lawyer a chance to see what kind of witness you will be; 2) The insurance lawyer can find out additional information about you – for instance, if you have been injured before, who you work with, where you’ve treated, and how the injury affects you; and 3) It will be very difficult for you – or any other witness – to give testimony at trial that varies from what is said in the deposition.
In other words, you’re stuck with whatever you say in the deposition. It’s under oath, preserved in writing, and the lawyer will remind both you and the jury of any important changes in your testimony – even if they are accidental.
But the best way to look at it is this: you get the chance to tell your story and let the other lawyer see what a good witness you are. Because nothing impresses – or scares – the insurance company like a report by their attorney that he finds the victim convincing.
You can never anticipate every question. But if I represent you and the insurance lawyer wants to take your deposition, I meet with you shortly beforehand – maybe an hour or two before, maybe a week before – and go through all the questions I think they will ask.
As you can guess, lawyers have developed a number of “rules” for witnesses to follow in such situations. But the simplest rule is the most important: tell the truth.
The other rules are basically outgrowths of the rules of good manners. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t guess. Don’t argue with the other lawyer. Answer the question you are asked, and nothing more. Don’t talk too long. If you don’t understand a question, say so, and ask the lawyer to clarify it. Be respectful, but don’t kiss up.
Every lawyer has tons of deposition stories. One of my favorites involved not the witness, but the court reporter herself.
The court reporter was famous. She had been a court reporter for the War Crimes trials in Nuremburg, Germany after World War II.
So she was good. She liked a drink; but her reputation as a court reporter was perfect – she never missed a word.
I was a new lawyer. My boss – who had hired the court reporter, and used to date her – sent me up to a doctor’s office to take his deposition.
The deposition lasted about an hour. After we concluded, and the reporter was packing up, the doctor asked me to step into another room.
“Bill, that court reporter smelled like a distillery. Is the deposition going to be all right?”
I was very young. “Oh, sure. I’m not worried,” I said.
It was all bluster. I was scared to death.
We got the transcript back a month later from her.
Didn’t miss a word.
I have been a lawyer over 30 years. I try to make sure that the people I work for understand the significance of everything that happens in their lawsuit. If you have any questions about how lawsuits work, talk with an experienced Cincinnati injury lawyer. Call me, William Strubbe, at 513-621-4775.
Because all situations are different, and because there may be other facts in your case that I don’t know about, you should not rely on this answer for legal advice. I am not your attorney, and no lawyer client relationship has been formed.