If you have never been involved in a deposition, it can be quite daunting and a bit scary.
You show up for the deposition at the appointed hour to find a room full of attorneys, a court reporter writing down every word you say, and perhaps even a video camera watching your every expression. Then, the court reporter has you swear to tell the truth as if you were in a courtroom and the attorneys begin to ask you questions and make objections. You might be afraid to say one wrong word, because you think it will completely destroy your case. But, a deposition does not have to be that scary if you are prepared.
There are many purposes behind a deposition; two of the main reasons are to find out information, and to gage the witness’ credibility. The key to a deposition is to (1) tell the truth, (2) listen to the question, (3) make sure you understand the question, (4) answer only the question asked, (5) don’t guess, and (6) appear confident.
(1) Tell the Truth
The key to being deposed is to the tell the truth. A wise attorney told me once that “cases are rarely won or lost at the deposition.” By the time the case gets to a deposition, both sides have usually already sent discovery questions back and forth and have a pretty good grasp of the facts of the case. If you have been honest and forthcoming when meeting with your attorney before this point, there really isn’t much you could say that would change your case. Anything that you think may be a “negative” point of your case, your attorney would have already thought through how to minimize it or prevent it from negatively impacting your case. Facts are facts, and there is nothing you can do to change them. If you try to lie during your deposition, the consequences are often far worse that if you told a truth that you think would hurt your case. Once you lie at a deposition, the other side will find a way to bring that out at trial, which will severely impact your credibility and could result in the judge or jury not believing anything else you say.
(2) Listen to the Question
When being deposed, it is tempting to “guess” what the attorney is asking you and then start answering the question that you think he really wanted to ask. Don’t do that. Listen to the question that is actually being asked, and don’t try to jump ahead or guess what the attorney wants to know. Make sure to listen to the entire question, and don’t interrupt the other attorney.
(3) Understand the Question
Make sure you understand what the question is asking before you answer. If you answer a question, it is assumed (either rightly or wrongly) that you understood what the question was asking. There is absolutely nothing wrong, and it is strongly encouraged, to ask for clarification if you do not understand a question. The attorney asking the question will gladly rephrase or explain the question.
(4) Answer Only the Question
When you are being deposed, it is important to only answer the question being asked. It is tempting for people to continually expound on their answer and volunteer information that was not really asked for in the question. For example, if asked “do you own a car,” you do not need to answer “no, I take the bus everyone and walk because it is better for the environment and I cannot afford a car payment.” It is better to simply answer the question asked (which was a yes or no) question, and say “no.” If the attorney asking the questions wants to know about how to get around or why you don’t have a car, they will ask you.
(5) Don’t Guess
You are not expected to know everything about everything. Often, by the time it gets to a deposition the actual incident which is the focus of the lawsuit happened years ago. You do not have to have a photographic memory or a perfect recollection of everything. But, if you answer the question as if you have memory is perfect, everyone will assume that it is. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know or can’t remember. If you are asked to speculate about what you would have done or something similar, it is totally acceptable and appropriate to say that you do not want to guess or that you don’t know. You do not have to have an answer for every question, if you really don’t know or can’t remember.
(6) Appear Confident
One purpose of a deposition is to see if the witness will present themselves as a believable witness to the judge or jury. The more believable the witness appears, the less likely the opposing attorney will want to have that witness get on the stand at trial. Attorneys often factor the believability of the witnesses on both sides when deciding whether to settle a case or proceed to trial. If during your deposition you constantly get flustered or appear as though you are hiding something, you will not come off as very believable. But, don’t come off as arrogant or as a know-it-all. If you simply appear calm, collected, and confident you will seem to be a much more believable witness.
When testifying at a deposition listen to the question, take your time, ask for clarification when needed, think about your answers, and then truthfully and simply answer the question that was asked of you. Doing so will present your testimony in the best light possible, and make your deposition experience less stressful. If you are involved in a lawsuit or you are going to be deposed, the experienced trial attorneys at Goosmann Law Firm, PLC, can help you every step of the way to be prepared and present your testimony in the best light possible. Call or stop in to our Sioux City law firm, Sioux Falls law firm, or Omaha law firm to talk to an attorney today! For more information regarding trial law, visit our Trial Law Review blog!