Depositions are part of the discovery process, which takes place during the pretrial portion of a lawsuit. Discovery occurs after the case has been filed and officially begun with the court, but before the trial.
The purpose of the discovery process is to expose all the facts the parties will be relying on to make their case. Exposing the facts in this way encourages settlement, which in turn lightens courts’ administrative burden. Facts may be established by documents, photographs, audio or video recordings, or other sources. Any party to a lawsuit can request any sources or documents that may be relevant to the lawsuit from the opposing counsel. With a few exceptions, each party is obligated to provide any documents or sources that are requested.
Often parties will not be able to rely on documents or recordings to establish facts. Instead, they may have to use witness testimony to support their claims. This evidence is subject to discovery as well. Just as a party may inspect the documents and recordings the opposing party will be relying on, a party may “preview” witness testimony by holding a deposition.
A deposition is similar to a witness examination at trial. An attorney – either an opposing attorney, or the attorney of the person being deposed (or, the “witness”) – will ask an individual certain questions, which are recorded under oath.
This process will not only expose testimony. Because depositions are recorded and delivered under oath, deposition transcripts may sometimes be introduced at trial. For instance, deposition transcripts may be used to establish facts if a witness will not be able to attend a trial, or may be used to contradict a witness’s testimony at trial. For these reasons, parties should not show up at depositions unprepared. Witnesses that answer questions inaccurately – even by making honest mistakes – risk undermining their credibility. It is important that witnesses, with the help of their attorneys, try to anticipate which events they will be questioned about, review the information they have, and clarify, to the extent possible, their knowledge with regard to those events.
If you have any questions about this or other legal issues, call the Law Firm of Vaughn, Weber & Prakope, PLLC at (516) 858-2620 to schedule a free consultation.