In most civil actions, both parties have the right to engage in "discovery" to gather facts from the other party, and sometimes from third-party witnesses. A deposition is a type of discovery in which the lawyer for a party takes your testimony. The proper purpose of a deposition is to gather background and evidence and lock in the stories of the parties and the witness.
At the deposition you will be put under oath, just as you would be in a court, and a lawyer, can ask you a wide range of questions relating to the case. The lawyer's questions, and your answers, will be taken down by a court reporter, and possibly be tape recorded and/or video-taped.
Your deposition, when properly handled, can go a long way in assisting your lawyer in the litigation either by way of settlement or at the trial. What you do at the deposition can help you or hurt you, depending upon your attitude, truthfulness and appearance, as well as the facts and skill of the other side's lawyer.
- You have the right to have your lawyer present at the deposition, and you definitely should. Your lawyer will help you protect your interests.
- Your lawyer should spend time reviewing the facts with you and preparing you to give a deposition.
- Listen carefully to each question and then answer it.
- Do not volunteer anything or raise other issues.
- If you do not understand the question, ask for a clarification. Your lawyer may object to questions that are vague, improper, misleading, or irrelevant in that they do not relate to the specific case.
- Your lawyer will prevent the other side from using the deposition to harass you, or turning it into a fishing expedition.
- At the end of the questioning by the other side, your lawyer can ask you questions that may bring out, clarify or better present your side of the story.
After the deposition is over, the court reporter will type out the transcript of the questions and answers, and all parties will receive copies. You will have the opportunity to review the record and make corrections, but generally the reporter's word will prevail. (In major cases, where cost is not an object, both sides may have their own court reporters present.) The original may be filed with the court, and become publicly available, depending on the rules of the court or state.
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