What Happens at a Deposition?

Female witness from car accident in the courtroom

Female witness from car accident in the courtroomIf you were injured in an accident and your lawyer has filed a personal injury lawsuit, you, the defendant, witnesses, or other people who have knowledge of your case may be required to attend a deposition. You might be wondering, “What happens at a deposition?” While each case is unique, depositions usually follow a pattern. Your lawyer will provide you with advice about how to handle depositions and ensure you understand what happens at a deposition before one is scheduled in your case.

What Are the Stages of a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

A personal injury lawsuit evolves in four main stages: discovery, settlement negotiations, trial, and appeal. Depositions occur in the first stage, discovery, which simply refers to the process of collecting and exchanging evidence in a case. The purpose of a deposition is to give each side an opportunity to gather sworn statements from the parties involved in the accident and anyone else who might provide relevant testimony.

The results of a deposition often turn the tide of a case. Therefore, it is important to work with an experienced lawyer beforehand. Your attorney will make sure that you are well informed about your rights, the governing law, and the dynamics of your case before going in. At Butler Kahn, our personal injury attorneys are ready to evaluate your accident and guide you through all stages of your case. Call us today for a free consultation.

What Is a Deposition Hearing?

After a lawsuit is filed, both parties have the right to conduct a formal investigation, called discovery. One of the most important discovery tools parties can take advantage of is a deposition. A deposition is an oral examination of a party or witness before trial that is taken under oath and recorded.

An attorney questions the party or witnesses about the facts, details, and circumstances of the case to gather information and prepare for trial. Depositions are often scheduled pursuant to a subpoena, which requires the person being deposed to appear at a specified place on a specific date and time. Depositions often occur in an attorney’s office or conference room rather than a courtroom.

What are the Basics of a Deposition?

The first phase after filing a lawsuit is a process known as “discovery,” in which all parties exchange evidence in the case. Depositions are an important component of this process in which individuals with information relevant to the case provide their sworn testimony. Individuals who give out-of-court testimony in a deposition are known as “deponents.” After their deposition, they are said to have been “deposed.”

Depositions most often take place at the office of one of the attorneys representing either party, but not always. The question-and-answer format in a deposition mimics the process of giving testimony in court, in which lawyers from both sides of the dispute ask questions to which witnesses then provide answers under oath.

Though attorneys from either side may object to questions, the rules governing the exchange vary across jurisdictions. In all cases, however, the person giving testimony is required to answer truthfully. Failure to do so can lead to legal consequences later on.

Learn more: For a video presentation by Tom Giannotti of Butler Kahn explaining depositions further, see What is a Deposition?

A gavel on the desk of a courtroom during a trial

What Is the Purpose of a Deposition in a Lawsuit?

Depositions help attorneys prepare to resolve the case or for trial. During a deposition, attorneys:

  • Find out what the party being deposed knows about the case
  • Gather important information about the case
  • Establish how the accident occurred
  • Create a written record of witness testimony to use later in court
  • Gauge how the witness might appear in court to a judge or jury
  • Evaluate strengths and weaknesses in the case
  • Know in advance what the witness’ testimony in court will likely be
  • Attempt to find holes or inconsistencies in the witness’s testimony
  • Determine how credible the witness is

Who Is at a Deposition?

The plaintiff, defendant, and their attorneys are usually present at a deposition. A court reporter is also present. In some cases, a videographer is present to record a video of the testimony that is given.

The person being deposed will also be at the deposition. Generally, anyone who knows facts about the case can be called for a deposition. People who are commonly called witnesses at personal injury depositions include:

  • The parties
  • Witnesses who saw the accident
  • Passengers
  • Doctors
  • Family members, friends, or coworkers
  • Expert witnesses

What Happens During a Deposition?

During a deposition, the opposing counsel typically asks questions to the witness. For example, if you are being deposed, the defendant’s attorney will typically be questioning you. Your own lawyer may follow up with some of their own questions. Attorneys can make limited objections during a deposition, but most of the time, the questioning will continue.

All questions are answered under oath, so you are required to answer truthfully. The court reporter records the testimony. What you say during the deposition can be used in court later if your case goes to trial.

Questions You Can Expect During A Deposition

If you are deposed about the accident, you can expect to answer questions about:

  • Personal information – Opposing counsel will probably ask you for information about you and your background, such as the type of work you do, your education, contact information, your age, and similar information.
  • Health information – You can also expect the defendant’s attorney to ask about your medical history, any previous injuries you suffered, and what your life and health were like before the accident.
  • Information about the accident – You might also be asked for details about the accident, such as where and when the accident occurred, the facts surrounding the accident, whether there were any witnesses, and whether road or weather conditions might have contributed to the accident.
  • Description of injuries and losses – The attorney will likely ask you to give details about your injuries, including what part of your body was injured, where you received medical treatment, whether you received emergency medical care, and whether you received follow-up care. You might also be asked about other losses you are claiming, such as missing wages from work, vehicle damage, or pain and suffering.
  • Effect of injuries on your life – The other attorney might also ask you questions about how the accident has affected you physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. Be prepared to compare how your life was before the accident and how it is now.
  • Information about other witnesses – Opposing counsel may also try to learn the identity of other people who might have knowledge about the accident, whether you have told other people about the accident, and where you have sought medical treatment from.

Because depositions can have a significant impact on the outcome of your case and any settlement you are offered, it is important to understand what happens at a deposition and what to expect. An experienced personal injury lawyer from Butler Kahn can guide you through this process when you hire us to represent you in your accident case.

What Happens After a Deposition in a Personal Injury Case?

After the deposition, the court reporter prepares a written transcript and sends copies to the parties. The lawyers review the transcript for any inconsistencies or mistakes. The written transcript can potentially be used at trial. In many personal injury cases, a settlement offer may be made after depositions are completed because the attorneys have a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the case.

Because depositions often represent watershed moments in the development of a case, the process of collecting and evaluating them is taken very seriously by attorneys on both sides.

After depositions are taken, expect the following sequence of events:

  • A transcript is prepared. Depositions are preserved in audio or video recordings. Everything said in the deposition is then transcribed in writing, ideally by a certified court reporter. At this point, the transcription is then finalized as a central piece of evidence in the case.
  • The transcript is evaluated. Lawyers on both sides will carefully comb through the transcript to strengthen their client’s case and undermine the opponent’s. This may result in good or bad news for either party.
  • Trial. If an out-of-court settlement cannot be reached, you can then take your case to court for trial. Needless to say, this represents a significant escalation in the case. Your attorney should help you weigh the cost of litigating a case in court against the likelihood of securing a significant judgment on your behalf.
  • Appeal. If either side is not pleased with the result at trial, they may consider appealing the court’s decision. Of course, the longer the case is drawn out, the more resources it expends. Therefore, in the interest of saving time and money, only decisions with a significant chance of being reversed should be appealed.

How Long Is a Deposition?

Georgia limits depositions to seven hours on one day unless the parties agree or the court orders otherwise.

Written vs. Oral Depositions

Sometimes depositions are conducted in writing rather than in person. In these cases, each side submits questions and answers to the other. Just as in an oral deposition, all answers must be truthful. A significant benefit of written depositions is that they are much more affordable.

On the other hand, this method eliminates the conversational aspect of an oral deposition, which can significantly diminish the value of the testimony because attorneys on each side cannot follow up on a deponent’s answers. Therefore, this kind of deposition may be reserved for neutral deponents who are more likely to tell the truth, scenarios in which the testimony can be cross-checked, or situations in which the spontaneity of the testimony is unimportant.

What Types of Cases Require a Deposition?

When a personal injury case goes to court, lawyers on both sides may conduct a deposition on witnesses to obtain relevant facts about the accident and prepare their cases for trial.

Depositions often occur in personal injury cases such as:

  • Car accidents
  • Commercial truck accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Boating accidents
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents
  • Premises liability accidents
  • Product liability incidents
  • Wrongful death cases

Depositions allow opposing parties to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s cases. Before they go to trial, each lawyer wants to learn as much as possible about what a witness could say on the stand and decide whether their testimony will help or hurt their case.

Witness testimony can be pivotal in an injury case, capable of swaying a judge or jury. A strong witness can convince the court of a defendant’s negligence. Each attorney can decide whom to depose and whether using their testimony at trial is a good idea.

Who Is Present at a Deposition?

Typically, a court reporter, the deposing attorney, the person answering questions under oath (deponent), and the deponent’s attorney will attend a deposition. The court reporter’s job is to record everything everyone says and compile a transcript for both sides to review afterward.

Do Personal Injury Cases Settle After a Deposition?

In some cases, yes. The deposition is a test for each attorney to learn about the other side’s evidence and determine whether their witnesses could perform well on the stand. A case may settle after depositions because attorneys get a preview of the case. When the attorneys have a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of their case, they may be more likely to settle the case.

Also, the defendant may believe they will lose at trial, given the strength of the evidence against them. They may prefer to settle the case than risk being ordered to pay more damages after a trial.

How Long After a Deposition Is Mediation?

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution method involving opposing parties going to a neutral third party (mediator) to help resolve disagreements. Mediation doesn’t always happen in personal injury cases and isn’t subject to a specific timeline when it does.

In Fulton County, Georgia, parties may be ordered to mediation, or a party can request it. When mediation is necessary, it usually doesn’t happen until several months after the accident. Before both sides agree to mediation, their lawyers often conduct investigations, gather evidence, depose witnesses, and attempt one or several rounds of independent negotiations. These processes take time.

One attorney might want to schedule a mediation immediately after deposition because they realize their chances at trial are minimal. Alternatively, a lawyer might decide to continue preparing for trial after a favorable deposition because they believe they can win.

How to Conduct Yourself at a Deposition

The idea of a deposition can be intimidating and stressful, especially if you have never had to attend one before. Review these tips to understand how you should or shouldn’t act at a deposition and prepare yourself accordingly:

  • Be prompt, polite, and professional – Always arrive at the deposition on time or, even better, slightly early. It won’t look good for you to be late and can set the mediation session off on the wrong foot. Once the deposition begins, answer every question to the best of your ability while remaining truthful and respectful.
  • Relay factual information only – A deposition is a question-and-answer session. The other side’s lawyer will ask you strategic questions to obtain facts or statements they can use to shift the blame to you and defend their client. With this in mind, never speculate or offer your opinion if you’re unsure how to answer a question. You should also avoid elaborating on your answers. A simple “yes” or “no” is acceptable in many circumstances. Providing more information than necessary could give the defense what it needs to strengthen its case against you.
  • Take your time – You don’t have to rush through a deposition. You can take as much time as necessary to answer each question accurately and completely. Let the lawyer finish their entire question before you start to respond. You can spend some time considering your answer before speaking. Gather your thoughts, decide how to respond, and talk slowly and deliberately to ensure you don’t misspeak. Remain calm and avoid getting defensive, even if the attorney becomes confrontational or accuses you of something you didn’t do.
  • Be honest – The court reporter usually swears you in before a deposition starts. That means you are under oath during the deposition and must answer every question honestly. If you lie or seem uncredible, you can weaken your case. During a deposition, don’t hesitate to ask the deposing lawyer to repeat their question or clarify what they’re asking if you don’t understand. Trying to guess the appropriate response could lead to an unintentional lie that hurts you later on.
  • Prepare in advance – Preparing for your deposition is essential. You can’t predict the questions the other side will ask, but a good lawyer can help you prepare for the most likely possibilities and practice good responses. That way, you can go into the deposition feeling confident.

Deposition Preparation Tips

Trying to wing it during a deposition is never a good idea. If you must attend a deposition soon and haven’t already hired an attorney, consider hiring one before your deposition so that you can properly prepare with the help of a qualified legal professional. Legal representation is worthwhile in any personal injury case, and it’s essential when your injury case goes to court.

To prepare, it’s a good idea to meet with your lawyer before the deposition, review the facts of your case, and practice the testimony you’ll provide. You can also look through the available evidence and documentation for your case so you can answer questions to the best of your ability. Your attorney can coach you through the process and support you every step of the way. If you’d like to talk to us about your situation or get some tips on depositions, call or contact us online. There’s no charge to speak with us about your case.

Contact Butler Kahn

If you were hurt, contact the Butler Kahn for help. A personal injury attorney can help prepare you for your deposition, advise you on how to answer questions, explain what happens at a deposition, and conduct their own depositions to support your case. We provide a free case review. Our attorneys are here to help 24/7.

Picture of Matt Kahn
Matt Kahn is an Atlanta personal injury lawyer and a partner at the law firm Butler Kahn. Matt has dedicated his career to fighting for individuals and families who had been harmed by the negligence of others. At Butler Kahn, he has had the honor of helping families who have lost children in motor vehicle accidents and people who were critically injured. He helped a family secure a $45 million settlement to provide lifetime care for their son, who was critically injured in a motorcycle accident. Matt is a graduate of Emory University School of Law and has been recognized as a Super Lawyers’ Rising Star and by Best Lawyers as One to Watch. He has received an Avvo 10.0 Top Attorney rating. Connect with me on LinkedIn
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