The mere mention of the word “deposition” is enough to make most non-lawyers start sweating.
Whether you’re thinking about deposing someone or you’re the one scheduled to be deposed, knowledge is the best weapon against panic and fear. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some basic questions you might have about depositions in Georgia.
What are depositions?
Depositions are opportunities for both parties to question each other (and witnesses) orally and under oath, outside of the courtroom. Depositions take place in the presence of a court reporter who produces a typed transcript of the testimony for all parties involved.
There are a number of possible reasons why it can be beneficial to depose an individual, but the 2 most common reasons are:
- To learn (and confirm) relevant facts
- To establish or undermine claims and defenses
For example, if you were injured in a car accident, your attorney may want to depose the other driver involved in the accident to learn facts relevant to the accident and to establish that the other driver was responsible for the accident. Your attorney will probably want to depose any witnesses as well.
On the other side, the defendant’s attorney would almost certainly like to depose you in an effort to learn (or confirm) any facts that might help establish that you were at least partially at fault for the accident. The defendant’s attorney might also depose your doctors in order to find out if the injuries you claim to have suffered were actually caused by the car accident.
Are there limits to what you can ask at a deposition?
In Georgia, the scope of a deposition is limited by state and local rules. In general, parties can ask questions that concern any matter that’s not privileged (such as information that is not protected by attorney-client and doctor-patient confidentiality) and relevant to the subject of the lawsuit.
The party being deposed can object to any questions asked or evidence presented that the party deems inappropriate. Because there is no judge present to rule on the objections, the objection is simply noted on the record and the person being deposed must (except in very limited circumstances) answer the question subject to the objection.
It is important to discuss with your attorney any issues that you deem sensitive PRIOR to the deposition. There may be ways to exclude irrelevant information from coming in.
Can a person refuse to be deposed?
Aside from some very limited exceptions, any person who may have knowledge of the facts of the lawsuit can be deposed. If a person refuses to participate in a deposition, they can be compelled through the use of a subpoena.
What is a subpoena?
A subpoena commands a person to appear at a specific place and time to give their testimony. In order to be valid, the subpoena must comply with strict guidelines (both with respect to the content of the subpoena as well as when and how the subpoena is served on the party to be deposed).
If the subpoena doesn’t comply with the strict guidelines, a motion to “quash” (i.e., void) or “modify” the subpoena might be filed and the parties might have to participate in a hearing on the issue.
What should I expect during a deposition?
Most attorneys prefer to hold depositions at their law firm office. However, there are limits to how far you can make a person being deposed travel for the deposition. Accordingly, the deposition might take place at a court reporter’s office or some other location.
At the deposition, you should expect to see—at a minimum—the following people:
- The person being deposed (and their attorney if they have one)
- The deposing party (and their attorney if they have one)
- The court reporter
The person conducting the deposition (i.e., the attorney for the deposing party, unless the deposing party is pro se) will generally begin the deposition by introducing themselves and explaining the instructions for the deposition.
The deposing party will then begin asking questions. In most cases, the deposing party will start with broad questions — such as “Where do you live?” and “What’s your educational background?” — before getting to more specific questions about the accident that gave rise to the lawsuit. Often, the attorney will have evidence that they’ll introduce and ask you questions about.
Here are some areas that you can expect the opposing party to cover if you’re the plaintiff being deposed in a personal injury or workers’ compensation lawsuit:
- Background Information. This includes your name, date of birth, address, educational background, and work history. You might also be asked about whether you have a criminal history and whether you’ve been involved in a lawsuit before.
- Prior injuries. You may be asked about any prior injuries or accidents that you’ve had. The purpose of these questions is often to determine whether your injuries were caused by the accident at issue or whether the injuries existed before the accident giving rise to the lawsuit.
- How the accident happened. You’ll be asked in great detail how the accident at issue happened. The lawyer might introduce evidence and ask you questions about it. For example, if you claim you weren’t texting and driving, the lawyer might show you a copy of your cell phone records and ask you to explain why they indicate that you texted your friend around the time of the accident.
- Treatment. You will be asked to go through the details of all of your medical treatment, from your first doctor’s visit to any treatment you’ve had after that. Again, the lawyer might introduce medical records as evidence, so you’ll want to be prepared.
- Current limitations. The lawyer will probably ask you about any current limitations that you have as a result of your injuries.
Can I win my case during a deposition?
The simple answer is no. But you can definitely lose your case during a deposition.
Make sure to only answer the questions that are asked. There’s no need to “tell your side of the story” during the deposition. It’s best if you let your attorney help frame your evidence when you are testifying in court.
If a question is not asked, don’t feel the need to interject and provide your opinion and/or analysis. If you need to, ask for a break and talk to your attorney privately.
Do I need a lawyer?
You don’t technically need a lawyer to conduct a deposition or to defend yourself in a deposition. However, a deposition is one of the most important discovery tools.
Many lawsuits have been won and lost because of depositions.
If you’re being deposed, your attorney can help you prepare for the deposition, object to unfair questions, make sure the deposition is civil, and even ask you questions after opposing counsel is done to help “rehabilitate” you.
If you’re the deposing party, your attorney can prepare a strategy, ensure that all the civil rules are followed so your deposition can proceed, and utilize the questioning techniques they’ve honed for years to elicit statements that could win you the case.