Oath at Depositions
Depositions start out with you being asked to raise your right hand and to swear or affirm that the testimony that you are about to give is truthful and accurate. No brainer. But, I’ve seen people thrown off by the question because they did not expect it.
The stenographer’s job is to document every word. Remember that. You or your attorney can get a printed copy of the transcript, a paperless version in “pdf” or other format the stenographer can explain. The point is that a record will be created of each word spoken. It is important to remember that this event varies significantly from a casual conversation.
Prepare in Advance
Before the deposition, review all documents, photographs and anything else relevant to the case. If it’s a car accident case, read the police report, the operator’s reports, any applications for medical or “PIP” benefits. Look closely at photographs. In a business or other case, review all documents that have anything to do with the case. In any case read all documents bearing your signature.
Most often, parties to the litigation have answered interrogatories, signed under oath. You and your attorney should have provided accurate concise answers. Read every word before the deposition. Answer deposition questions consistent with answers to interrogatories. Even minor deviations subject you to additional lengthy questioning. In the rare circumstance that you discover something in your interrogatory answers that is not right, consider submitting a supplemental answer before the deposition.
Listen to Each Question
Carefully take in each question that you are asked. If you are not certain what is being asked, you may ask that the question be rephrased, repeated or clarified.
Answer as Briefly as Possible
Once you are certain as to what the question is, then, answer as briefly as possible. If a yes or no will do, then answer yes or no. “What color was the light” only requires a “red”, “green” or “yellow”, and not a narrative about which way you were looking, that a dog was running loose, there was construction in the area or anything else.
Do Not Volunteer Information
Anything beyond “yes” “no” “green” or “red” in the above example invites unnecessary additional questioning into areas that may or may not relate to the case. This is not in any way meant to encourage evasive answers. You must give truthful answers. However, it is the job of the attorney taking the deposition to elicit information about the case from you. Make it easy on yourself by answering each question accurately but briefly.
About Relevancy at Depositions
At trial all evidence must be relevant. However, in the discovery phase of a lawsuit the legal standard for questions is anything reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of evidence which may be admissible at trial. This is a much broader standard. Understand also that the courts have instructed attorneys to limit objections at deposition largely only to form based objections. It is not uncommon for certain information discussed at depositions to be subject to motions to exclude the information at trial. This is a touchy area and is one of many reasons that anyone who goes to a deposition without an attorney truly is a fool.
If you are comfortable in a suit or other business attire, wear it. If not, do not. It’s acceptable to wear clean khakis or jeans and a casual shirt or blouse if that is your normal every-day wardrobe. Dressing right means being comfortable. This allows you to focus on the questions and not that misfit suit and shiny but pinching shoes.
If you are not a party to the litigation, and if you are not represented, find an attorney to give you more detailed advice relating to the facts and the law of the case and any role you may or may not play.