There are two main categories of discovery that occur during your lawsuit. The first is written discovery, which you can learn more about here. The second is depositions.
Depositions are a way to ask questions of witnesses and other important parties under oath prior to trial. Depositions can be held virtually, or in person, typically in an attorney’s office. The deposition may also be videotaped. If you are a plaintiff or a defendant in a civil case, it is very likely that you will have your deposition taken. Your attorneys should work with you to prepare you for your deposition. When you are the one being deposed, you are referred to as the deponent.
Who is present at a deposition?
Typically, the deponent, the plaintiff’s attorneys, the defendant’s attorneys, and a court reporter will be at the deposition. If the deponent has their own attorney, they will be present as well. Occasionally, the parties themselves will be present. The lawyers ask questions, the deponent answers them, and the attorneys occasionally make objections just like they would in Court. The court reporter is tasked with making an accurate transcript of the entire deposition. The transcript will include all of the questions, answers, objections, and anything that was said “on the record”.
Why are depositions important?
Deposition testimony allows all sides to the case to get information from witnesses about the facts of the case in a formal setting. Depositions also allow the parties to a case to know in advance what a witness will say at trial. Whether a witness’s testimony at deposition is favorable or unfavorable to one side, the lawyers in the case will know what is going to be said, which is extremely helpful in presenting a case.
In addition to helping prepare for trial, the deposition testimony itself can be used in a trial in some circumstances. For example, a witness’s testimony, or parts of it, can actually be read and played to the jury just as if the witness were testifying live. This is true of depositions of parties or of unavailable or out-of-state witnesses.
Deposition testimony can also be used to discredit a witness’s testimony at trial. For example, a witness might testify at their deposition that they distinctly remember seeing the plaintiff fall on a sheet of black ice. Then, at the trial, they might try and change their testimony. The witness may say that they never saw the plaintiff fall, and in fact, were not even outside at this point. The lawyers would then have an opportunity to confront this witness with their deposition testimony, and argue to the jury that the witness’s testimony at trial should not be believed.
How should you prepare for your deposition?
You should prepare for your deposition by talking to your attorney. Your attorney may want to meet with you to go over the relevant facts of your case, discuss what you recall, and talk about potential questions you might be asked. Being deposed can be nerve wracking, which is why it is so important to have an attorney that works with you to properly prepare you and make you feel comfortable before the day of your deposition. Our trial attorneys at Sugarman and Sugarman, P.C. have decades of experience taking depositions and preparing our clients for depositions.