What is a deposition?
After a lawsuit is filed, the lawyers start getting information from the other side about facts and opinions in the case. The lawyers get a lot of the information from reviewing documents such as accident reports and medical records. In New Jersey, the lawyers are also entitled to sit down and ask questions of any person who is a party or witness to the lawsuit. That is called a deposition.
All of the answers in a deposition are given under oath. During the deposition, a certified court reporter will write down all of the questions and the answers. The court reporter will later type up all the questions and answers and send them to the lawyers. If the case goes to trial and a party to the lawsuit says something to the jury that is different from the deposition answers, a lawyer can show the jury that the party cannot be trusted to tell the truth.
What is the purpose of a deposition?
Depositions are used by lawyers to gather the information that the lawyers need to understand how the injury happened and how the injury impacts the life of the injured person.
Who gets deposed?
In most lawsuits, every party gets deposed. In some lawsuits, non-parties – such as witnesses, police officers, emergency responders, treating doctors, and/or experts – get deposed. It depends on the case.
For example, in most car crash cases, only the parties are deposed. On the other hand, a complicated medical malpractice cases might involve depositions of parties, treating doctors, experts, and witnesses. A trucking accident case with severe injuries might require depositions of the drivers, emergency responders, witnesses, folks working in the corporate end of the trucking company, trucking experts, medical experts, and treating doctors.
How do you depose somebody who is not a party?
New Jersey lawyers can serve a subpoena on a non-party in New Jersey e.g. a witness to a truck crash. The subpoena requires the person to appear for the deposition.
Who will be at the deposition?
In New Jersey, the lawyers for the parties will be at the deposition. There will be a court reporter and, if needed, an interpreter.
If you are a party to the lawsuit and the other lawyer is taking your deposition, your lawyer will be there to make sure your rights are protected.
If your lawyer is taking the deposition of another person, you do not need to be present at that deposition.
How will my lawyer protect me during the deposition?
In New Jersey, the lawyer taking your deposition can ask you questions that might not seem relevant to your lawsuit. The New Jersey Rules of Court give the lawyer a lot latitude to ask you questions.
Your lawyer can object to certain questions and, sometimes, instruct you not to answer a question. Under the New Jersey Rules of Court, your lawyer can make objections for the following reasons: the question was not asked in a proper form; the answer is privileged; you have a right to confidentiality; and/or the court has ordered that the question cannot be asked.
Your attorney might object to a question but tell you to answer the question. This allows your attorney to ask the court to later keep the question and answer from the jury if the case goes to trial.
Your lawyer is also permitted to ask you questions during your deposition after the other attorney finishes.
Remember that you are entitled to take a break during your deposition. You can take as many breaks as you need. If you start getting back pain from sitting too long, you can ask the attorney if you can stand while answering questions.
How long will my deposition take?
Most depositions for a plaintiff in a personal injury case in New Jersey take between 1-3 hours. The length of the deposition depends on some of the following: how the injury happened; the severity of the injury; if the deponent needs an interpreter; whether the other lawyer has prepared; and your ability to answer the questions.
Your deposition will usually finish on the day it started. If another issue comes up in your lawsuit after the deposition, for example when you have another surgery, the other side might request another deposition.
How do I prepare for my deposition?
Your deposition is one of the most important steps in your case.
Often, clients will say something like “I’ll just tell them what happened”. It takes more than that to prepare for your deposition.
The words that you use in your deposition will stay with you for the rest of your case. You want to meet with your lawyer earlier on the day of your deposition or a few days before to go over the questions that you should expect.
Most depositions of a plaintiff in a New Jersey personal injury case will cover the following general issues:
- Your background, education, training, and family
- How the accident/injury happened
- Your medical treatment from the accident/injury
- Who you treated with
- Whether you had similar complaints before the accident
- Whether you have been injured again since the accident
- How the injury has changed your life
- Economic loss from the injury
Some questions can be answered “yes” or “no”. Other questions will be answered with “I don’t remember” or “I don’t remember at this time”.
Other questions will call for a longer answer, such as “Tell me, in your own words, how the crash happened?” or “Are there any activities you can no longer do at all?” or “Are there activities you can still do but that you have difficulty doing because of your injuries?”
Some attorneys use complicated words when asking questions or ask very long questions. If you don’t understand the question, you can ask the attorney to rephrase it or say, “I don’t understand the question”. You can also ask the court reporter to read the question again before your answer it.
If you understand English but feel more comfortable with an interpreter, you must listen to the interpreter and respond to the interpreter. Wait for the interpreter to finish the interpretation before answering the question.
Before your New Jersey injury deposition, make sure that you read carefully over the Answers to Interrogatories that you signed in the case.
What are exhibits?
During the deposition, the other attorney will often show you a document and ask you questions about the document. That document will be marked as an exhibit.
For example, a New Jersey auto accident lawyer might ask you if you recognize a photograph from the crash scene. If you testify that the photograph accurately depicts the scene of the crash, the lawyer can then ask you more questions about what is shown in the photograph.
The lawyer will usually ask you questions about the Answers to Interrogatories that you signed in the case and have them marked as an exhibit.
Will they videotape my deposition?
Attorneys are permitted to videotape depositions but do not typically videotape depositions.
If a witness cannot appear for trial, the lawyers will usually videotape that witness in the week before trial and then play it for the jury. That is called a de bene esse deposition.
What if I make a mistake?
After a deposition, you might realize that you did not answer a question properly or misunderstood a question.
If this happens, let your attorney know. Your attorney can write to the other lawyer and notify the other lawyer.