The thought of a deposition can be incredibly nerve-wracking for people involved in a personal injury lawsuit. It's a process filled with formal procedures, probing questions, and lots of unknowns, often leading to feelings of anxiety and apprehension.
Whether you are a plaintiff, defendant, or witness, the deposition stage is a critical juncture that may shape the outcome of your case. But what exactly is a deposition, and who can be deposed?
In this blog post, we’ll demystify depositions and hopefully ease some of the stress surrounding this common legal tool.
What is a deposition?
A deposition is essentially a formal interview about the facts of a case where the responses are given under oath.
Depositions are conducted outside of a courtroom as part of the discovery phase of a lawsuit. During a deposition, questions are posed by attorneys from both sides, and the testimony is typically transcribed so that it may be used during litigation and at trial.
Legal deposition terms you should know
When we talk about depositions, there are a few terms that are useful to know:
- Deponent: The person being deposed (i.e., the person being asked the questions under oath) is called the deponent.
- Testimony: A deponent’s responses to the questions in a deposition are considered testimony.
- Perjury: During your deposition, you will swear to provide truthful testimony. Providing false information under oath is considered perjury, which may lead to fines or imprisonment.
- Stipulations: Before questioning, opposing attorneys may establish stipulations or ground rules to ensure a smooth deposition process. These may include specific agreements on objections and how they're handled. If a judge later deems a question improper, it will be removed from the transcript.
- Objections: Even with stipulations, your attorney may object to a question during the deposition, marking it for review. Typically, you have to answer a question even if an objection is raised. However, you should consult with your attorney before doing so.
Who can be deposed?
Generally speaking, parties and potential witnesses may be deposed in a civil case.
A party is a person, corporation, or other entity who files a lawsuit (the plaintiff) or defends against a lawsuit (the defendant).
Potential witnesses are persons with knowledge of actions by the parties in a case.
Consider the following hypothetical:
On a rainy evening, a car crash occurred at a busy intersection. Driver A was heading north when he ran a red light, crashing into Driver B, who was making a legal left turn.
A pedestrian, who was waiting at the corner to cross the street, witnessed the entire accident.
Driver B suffered a traumatic brain injury and sued Driver A.
In the ensuing litigation, several parties may be deposed, including:
- Driver A and Driver B: Both drivers could be deposed to provide their perspectives of the crash. Details about the road conditions and their actions could be key to understanding liability.
- The pedestrian witness: The pedestrian witness who saw the accident may be deposed as an unbiased third party. Their testimony could provide insight into whether Driver A indeed ran the red light, the speed of both vehicles, and other critical details.
- Police officer: If a police officer arrived at the scene and made an official report, they may be deposed to give their assessment of the accident.
- Driver B’s family members: Driver B’s family members may be deposed to provide information about the extent of Driver B’s injuries and the impact of those injuries on Driver B’s life.
- Other potential witnesses: Others who may have relevant information, such as passengers in the cars, people in nearby businesses, and medical personnel, may be deposed.
Rules for a deposition
The rules and regulations governing civil depositions can vary considerably depending on the jurisdiction, including whether the civil lawsuit is filed in state or federal court.
In the federal system, depositions are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, specifically Rule 30. This rule outlines the procedures for conducting depositions, including notice requirements, maximum length, and the manner in which objections must be made.
States courts may have different rules that deviate from the federal rules. For example, some states might impose additional restrictions as to where depositions may be held and how long they can last.
Lawyers play a significant role during depositions, representing the interests of their clients and ensuring the relevant rules are followed.
Understanding who can be deposed and the rules governing the process is crucial for anyone involved in a civil lawsuit. If you have questions related to your specific situation, consider consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney.