Today we completed the deposition of the sister of a client who died in a accident with a tractor trailer in 2008. Many of our clients have questions about what a deposition is like as they consider whether to file suit so we will review the basic structure.
A deposition is an examination under oath and with a court reporter present and is a core part of what is know as the discovery process. Under Georgia law and Federal Law, all parties and witnesses can be deposed to learn facts about the underlying case.
When one party notices the deposition, they are the taking party. Their lawyer gets to ask the first questions. Present at the deposition will be a court reporter, the attorney taking the deposition, the attorney for any defendants and any parties to the lawsuit that wish to attend.
The Court Reporter is a neutral and has no interest in the litigation. They are from an outside company and their sole job is to accurately record the testimony about the proceedings.
The lawyer asking the questions is in control of the deposition and can determine the scope and length of the questioning. Questions can be on almost any topic and are limited only by the requirement that they could lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. This leads to a lot of frustration for clients when they are deposed at length about totally irrelevant matters such as their romantic history, academic records and hobbies. What you must understand is that each of these areas of inquiry meets the test in that they could lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. For example, lawyers will frequently want to interview ex lovers or spouses in the hope that the jilted lover will “spill the beans” on incriminating evidence such as injuries which pre-existed the accident.
If it is a party being deposed, then their lawyer will be present to defend the deposition. For discovery depositions, most objections are reserved and not placed on the record except for objections to the form of the question and the responsiveness of the answer. If there is a question that delves into privileged information such a testimony about an open criminal charge then the defending lawyer may raise an objection and instruct the witness not to answer.
As an Atlanta car accident lawyer clients frequently ask how long the process will take and what it will be like. Most standard car accident depositions take two to four hours depending on the complexity of the case and whether liability is clear. Most lawyers for the insurance companies are polite and not abusive to plaintiffs and witnesses, although that cannot be said for the lawyers who represent Wal-Mart in Atlanta.
When your deposition is finished your lawyer will likely ask you whether you want to review the transcript when it is completed. If the communication between the asking lawyer and the deponent was clear, we often advise the client to waive signature.
Although the client’s experience in a deposition varies widely depending on the severity of the crash, the experience of the attorney asking the question.
Bottom line? If your lawyer prepares you well for your deposition it will go smoothly and will not match live up to your apprehension about how stressful it is.