Depositions 101: The Basics and Ground Rules

If you are involved in a personal injury lawsuit you may be required have your deposition taken, as a personal injury lawyer Newport Beach CA trusts can explain. A deposition is an interview between yourself and a lawyer from the opposing side. During a deposition, the lawyer has the opportunity obtain your testimony through a series of questions that he or she has created. These questions will often be based around the injury or incident but may highlight other aspects if deemed as relevant by the interviewing attorney.

A deposition can be a stressful experience if you have never been in one because it may feel as though you are under scrutiny by the opposing attorney.  The majority of the deposition will consist of the opposing lawyer asking you a single question at a time. Your job as a deponent (one who is being deposed) is to answer these questions to the best of your ability, even if you may not remember everything.

Another major component of a deposition is the fact that a court reporter (also known as a stenographer) will be transcribing everything that is said “on the record” during the deposition. Afterwards, the court reporter will provide a deposition transcript that reads like a script. Some depositions may also be video or audio recorded and this can increase the anxiety.

For the average person, the legalese and rules of a deposition can make an already stressful situation even more unnerving. However, by understanding the basic ground rules of a deposition beforehand, you can ensure a smoother and less stressful experience.

  1. Each Question Must Receive an Audible Answer

Each question must receive a verbal answer because the court reporter must be able to hear your response in order to transcribe it to the deposition transcript. If you are nodding your head, using gestures, or otherwise answering questions without a verbal answer, the interviewing attorney will tell you that you must provide an audible answer. This also means that an answer such as “Uh huh” does not satisfy as an audible answer. You may use gestures and nod your head, but remember to couple this with a verbal response. 

  1. One Person May Speak at a Time

Only one person may speak at a time during a deposition. Not only is it impolite to interrupt but it causes confusion during a deposition. The court reporter must be able to clearly understand who is speaking in order to correctly transcribe what is being said. Imagine how confusing a script would read if everyone was constantly interrupting each other and speaking at the same time! Therefore, make sure you do not interrupt anyone while they are speaking or asking a question during the deposition.

  1. Do Not Answer a Question Until it is Completely Asked

Be patient and wait for the attorney to ask their entire question before you answer it.  You do not always know where a question is going and what it will ask you to either confirm or admit.  Although it may be a natural habit to answer a question as soon as you know the answer to it – try to refrain.  You never know how much more of the question remains to be spoken. Prematurely answering a question may result in having to backtrack and change your answer, which will stall the deposition.

  1. Do Not Guess – But You Can Estimate

If you use the word “guess” when answering a question during your deposition, the interviewing attorney will request for you to provide more information 100% of the time.  The most important difference between a guess and estimate is the degree to which you are sure you are correct. An estimate is a rough approximation whereas a guess is often simply a shot in the dark.

A guess is an answer that is without enough information to be sure if it is correct or not. You cannot be held accountable to an answer of which you aren’t sure of how incorrect or correct you are because it wouldn’t make sense to hold someone to an answer they admittedly aren’t sure about.

An estimated answer is more reliable than a guessed answer because estimating requires you to roughly calculate or judge the value of something. Estimating will require you to provide at least some sort of thoughtful information.

Memories will fade over time. However, the attorney asking you questions will tell you that they are entitled to your best estimate with regard to dates, times, and speeds. Therefore, if you don’t know an answer then do not attempt to guess. Either say that you do not know, or attempt to provide an estimation of what you think the correct answer would be.

Bruno Nalu LawThanks to our friends and contributors from Bruno Nalu for their insight into depositions and personal injury practice.