For your case, you may be required to give an oral deposition. This guide will help you understand what a deposition is, why it matters, how to prepare, and most importantly, why it is vitally important that you tell the truth.
What is a deposition?
A deposition, also known as oral testimony, is part of the evidence collection process that happens before a trial. It allows the defense attorneys to question you, nailing down your story based on all of the available information. It also helps them to predict what you are going to say during the trial, and protects them from you changing your story once the trial starts.
A deposition is usually conducted at the office of one of the law firms working on the case. In attendance will be the court reporter who will transcribe the proceedings, your attorney, and the other side’s attorneys. A judge is not present.
For an example of a deposition transcript, click here.
What to expect at a deposition
First, you will be sworn in, raising your hand and promising to tell the truth, under penalty of perjury. Then, you will answer questions posed by the attorney who requested your deposition. After that, we may ask some additional questions to clarify any areas that are confusing. The opposing attorney may ask some questions that you think are not relevant, but you are required to answer them. There are certain questions the attorney may ask that are out of bounds, and we will formally object to. If we object, stop talking and wait for a decision about how to proceed.
Telling the truth
During a deposition, the most important thing to remember is to tell the truth. There are four key reasons you must do so.
- Credibility: If you are caught lying it can destroy all of your credibility and severely damage your case. It simply isn’t worth it.
- Don’t exaggerate: When you are being questioned by someone, it is tempting to exaggerate to prove them wrong. However, exaggerating hurts more than it helps. For instance, if you exaggerate the impact of your injuries, the attorney may compare what you say to your medical records, and use any inconsistencies to impeach your credibility.
- You didn’t do anything wrong: You aren’t the one being sued! There is absolutely no need for you to lie when you didn’t do anything wrong.
- Perjury: You are under oath during a deposition, meaning if you lie, you could be charged for perjury. If you tell the truth, you have absolutely nothing to worry about, but if you lie, you are putting yourself at risk.
How to prepare for a deposition
When preparing for a deposition, remember the following guidelines:
- Review your memory: Go over your memory of what happened in your head. Make sure to note the limits of your memory. No one has a perfect memory, and you don’t want to say something happened if you aren’t sure.
- Talk to your attorney: Make sure to talk to us and ask any questions you have about the process. It is important that you do this beforehand, because during a deposition all answers have to come from you. The deposition is ultimately about you and what you remember, not what your attorneys think.
- Dress professionally: A deposition is a formal proceeding, with a court reporter present. You should treat it like you would any appearance in a courtroom and dress professionally. Avoid revealing or flashy clothing that could be a distraction. Also avoid informal clothing that could send the signal that you do not believe this is a serious proceeding.
- Gather evidence: You may be asked by the opposing attorney to document various issues for the court. Be prepared to prove how much time, and therefore money, your injury caused you to miss at work. Talk to us and we will help you prepare all of the documentation you will need, including medical bills and records.
During a Deposition
- During a deposition, keep the following guidelines in mind:
- Tell the truth: This is the single most important thing to remember during a deposition.
- It’s okay to say “I don’t know”: You should always endeavor to answer every question that you can, but if there is a question that you don’t know the answer to, you should say so. If you aren’t sure, don’t guess. Guessing can get you in trouble because it might turn out later that you are wrong, and attorneys may claim you lied.
- Keep answers simple: Do not expand upon your answers or answer questions the attorney did not ask. If the attorney asks a yes/no question, it is perfectly okay to answer with a simple “yes” or “no” and let the attorney ask a follow up question for more information.
- Answer only the question asked: Attorneys may sometimes employ a trick called a “pregnant pause,” remaining silent after you finish talking to trick you into saying more. If you have answered their question, do not continue talking. Instead, look at them and politely wait for them to ask another question.
- Don’t answer questions you don’t understand: If you don’t understand a question, it is okay to say so. Never attempt to answer a question that you don’t fully understand, because you may say something that you don’t mean, especially if you are saying “yes” or “no” to something.
- Only words count: Everything you say will be transcribed by the court reporter, and he or she can’t write down non-verbal signals like shaking or nodding your head. Therefore, you must answer questions verbally.
- Be polite: You are attending a formal court proceeding, and as such, you should act as you would in a courtroom with a judge. Be polite and courteous, and show respect for both the other attendees and the process. Avoid joking, using offensive language, or arguing with the attorney, especially in your answers to questions, but also before the deposition begins. You don’t want to set a bad impression before the deposition even starts.
- Do not look to us for help answering a question: The answers have to come from you; we cannot coach you or tell you how to answer a question. If a question is out of line, we will formally object, at which point you should stop talking and wait for a decision about how to proceed.
- Avoid absolute language: Avoid words like “never” or “always.” These words can get you into trouble because they may expose you to contradictions later. It’s okay to use words like “usually” when talking about your general patterns of behavior.
- Don’t buy into loaded questions: An attorney may ask a question that is hypothetical and assumes certain facts are true. In your answer, make sure to restate this, clarifying that you are answering the question as asked, but do not necessarily believe the question’s premises are true. You do not want your words twisted later to make it sound like you believe something that you don’t.
- Be careful when making estimates: If you are asked a question about time, speed, or distance, be very careful in estimating. Make the limits of your memory clear in your answer. For instance, if you are not sure how fast your vehicle was going, do not guess, simply explain how fast you generally would go on that stretch of road, or how fast you were going the last time you remember looking at the speedometer.
- Stay calm: This is a serious occasion, but do what you can to not let your nerves get the best of you. If you are caught in a contradiction, calmly explain the truth as best as you can. Do not let attorneys intimidate you. Instead, stay calm and respond politely as best as you can.
- Speak loudly: You might be nervous, but make sure to speak loudly enough that everyone in the room can hear you. It is very important that everything you say be included in the record.
- Avoid distracting habits: Avoid chewing gum or tapping your fingers on the table. You want to make sure that nothing distracts from your answers and the interviewer’s questions.
- Don’t speak for others: You are there to testify what you know and what you saw, not what others saw. Do not speak for someone else, simply say that you can only speak to your own knowledge.
- Recesses: During breaks in the deposition you should leave the room and talk with your attorney.
- Correct mistakes quickly: If you realize that you made a mistake or said something you did not mean, correctly it immediately so the record can reflect the truth.
Click here to read an example of a real deposition transcript. This should give you a good sense of the kinds of questions you will be asked.
Remember, we are here to help you throughout this process. If you have any questions, call us!