Do’s and Don’ts for a Witness in a DepositionOctober 18, 2011
One of the most frightening events experienced by thousands of individuals each year is being subpoenaed to give testimony in a deposition. This is true for people in all walks of life and professions. It is not uncommon for health care professionals to be called upon to testify in a lawsuit. As with the Boy Scouts, being prepared and knowing what to expect are the best ways to handle this dreaded ordeal. The goal of a deposition is not just to find facts in a case, but a strategy by opposing attorneys to find faults in a person’s testimony. Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, Georgia has developed a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts for a person scheduled to give testimony in a deposition. Following is a summary of those points.
As for being prepared, discuss the upcoming deposition thoroughly with your attorney. Ask all questions that will help you to be prepared. While it is imperative to be truthful in answering every question, your attorney can give you information that will be helpful in letting you know the direction desired by the opposing attorney. Be wary of loaded questions that contain inaccurate information. Don’t let the attorney put words in your mouth or provide a summary of your statements that is wrong. Questions that begin with “don’t you agree” or “isn’t it true” may very well be intended to skew the truth in your response. Your attorney is your advocate, but he cannot coach you how to answer a question once the deposition has begun. Listen carefully to any objections he makes as these may help you better understand the relevance of a question and alert you to a possible strategy.
It is normal for a person being questioned to be somewhat defensive but is never advisable to attempt to argue with the attorney questioning you. You may be asked the same question throughout the deposition. The attorney may be trying to see if your answers vary. Be alert and indicate that it is a repeated question and that your answer is the same. You are not being argumentative, but you can show that you are willing to stand your ground.
Fatigue is likely to occur during a lengthy deposition. This can cause a lapse in your ability to remain alert. Ask for a break when needed and refresh yourself. You may speak with your attorney, but comments heard by the opposing attorney can be used for questioning during the deposition.
Finally, when you think the deposition is over, it isn’t really over. You should take the opportunity to read and sign the deposition before it is filed in court. While original answers cannot be deleted from the transcript, you can correct mistakes or incomplete answers. Again, it is advised that you consult with your attorney before completing an errata sheet.