What is a Deposition?

In a contested case, i.e. where some aspect of the case is not accepted (typically, compensability), an insurance company attorney will conduct a deposition. This is a question and answer session which is completed in your attorney’s office and which is conducted under oath. The purpose of the deposition is to draw out all the information possible from a witness, and then lock the witness into his testimony so that he cannot offer inconsistent testimony at trial. Because there is no commissioner present in the deposition, only the court reporter, you and the lawyers, we typically agree that there shall be no objections except to the issue of form. This means that unless the question is vague, calls for more than one answer, or is unintelligible, then the witness must answer it. Often, witnesses feel that exploration into there life decades prior to the date of the accident is irrelevant or unfair: however, once you have asserted a workers’ compensation claim, every aspect of your life is fair game and the inquiry from opposing counsel can be far and wide-reaching.

There are basic rules that must be adhered to when your deposition is being taken. First, only one person can speak at a time. A deposition is not a casual conversation in which the attorney and the deponent (you) can have a free exchange of ideas. It is a rigid, formulaic question and answer period. The attorney must ask the question and the deponent must provide an answer, each allowing the other to complete his statement prior to responding. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you should not guess. If you have some reasonable basis for articulating an answer, then answer.

You should allow opposing counsel to ask her question in full rather than trying to anticipate what the question may be since you will be stuck with your answer. Further, you should listen to the question being asked rather than answering the question you think you heard. While you will have an opportunity to correct yourself at trial, should the same question be asked, it is better to answer it right the first time then to subject yourself to a cross examination at trial that could be embarrassing.

If, during the course of the deposition, you wish to take a break, or consult with your attorney, the rule is that you answer the pending question before taking such a break. You should expect the opposing attorney to ask whether you have prepared for the deposition in any way. In most cases, your attorney should have reviewed the salient facts of the case with you a day or so before the deposition in order to refresh your memory and to grapple with any difficult issues ahead of time. This is perfectly legitimate, and good lawyering. While the other attorney cannot ask you for the particulars of the preparation, he can ask you whether you met with your attorney to prepare for the deposition. You should answer truthfully. He can also ask you what documents you reviewed, and again, you should answer truthfully.

Finally, you will be asked at the beginning of deposition whether your wish to review the transcript of the deposition that will be created following your deposition. While you cannot change the substance of your answers, you can correct misspellings or clerical errors made by the court reporter. I recommend that people do this as it can clear up misunderstandings that might otherwise stand uncorrected.

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