Oral testimony often forms a central part of a legal case. For many people outside the legal profession “oral testimony” often conjures images out of courtroom dramas, with a witness nervously breaking down under an attorney’s barrage of questions. The reality is usually quite different. Most personal injury cases settle without going to trial, so courtroom exchanges never happen. Instead, lawyers talk to witnesses in pre-trial processes called depositions.
What is a deposition?
Depositions are part of the broader pre-trial discovery process, during which the parties to the dispute gather facts from each other about the events that led to the controversy. In a personal injury case, discovery often involves a mix of documents (for example, medical records or accident reports) and answers to questions that attorneys pose to witnesses. Such questions can be put before a witness in writing, in so-called interrogatories, or they can be asked in person, during a deposition.
Depositions can be thought of as formal interviews. Attorneys from both sides in a dispute are present and may ask the witness questions. The witness may also be represented by an attorney. The answers given in a deposition are under oath and can be used as evidence at trial. A deposition is typically held in an attorney’s office with a courtroom reporter present to take down a transcript of everything that is said.
The witness’s role in a deposition
The purpose of a deposition is to help the two sides in a dispute clarify what a witness knows about the case. If the case goes to trial, the deposition will have given both sides a better idea of what to expect if the witness is called to testify in court. In practice, personal injury cases rarely go to trial. Instead, they will settle out of court, quite often with the attorneys for both parties negotiating a settlement in light of the facts that are brought forward during the discovery process.
The specific nature of a deposition often depends on the kind of witness that is involved. Depositions of the people directly involved in an incident may delve into a wide range of matters as opposing attorneys seek clarity on facts and probe for weaknesses. For example, in a car accident case one can expect the driver who was allegedly responsible for the crash to be asked about drug and alcohol use prior to the accident. Other potential witnesses may include people who saw the incident, people who can attest to the nature of the plaintiff’s injuries (friends, family, and medical professionals), and expert witnesses who provide insights into technical matters that are germane to the case.
Questions posed during a deposition can be far-ranging. Although attorneys often raise objections during depositions, the witness usually is obligated to answer questions as truthfully as possible even if the question would not be allowed in court. That is because the rules governing depositions are not as strict as the rules of evidence that apply in the courtroom. Witnesses are often represented by attorneys during depositions to protect the witness from questions that stray too far from relevance.
Talk to a Las Vegas personal injury attorney about your case
For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented clients in personal injury cases. We give each case the personal attention it deserves. Protecting our clients’ interests is paramount to our practice, and that includes helping them get ready for depositions. For a free attorney consultation call us today at 702-388-4476 or ask us to reach out to you through our contact page.