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How is a Deposition Different Than Testifying at Trial?

Written by Jared Staver

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Jared Staver is a Personal Injury Lawyer based in Chicago, Illinois and has been practicing law for over 20 years.

Jared Staver

CATEGORY: Personal Injury


When personal injury cases move toward trial, the word “deposition” starts getting used. And without any prior experience with lawsuits, a person usually only has a vague idea of what a deposition is.

You likely know it involves answering questions. But how is that different than testifying? While they both do involve questions and answers, depositions and testifying have very different purposes.

What is a Deposition?

A deposition is an interview where you answer questions from your lawyer as well as the opposing side’s attorney. You only answer questions, you are not allowed to ask them.

During a deposition, attorneys can make all sorts of inquiries, even when they seem unrelated. Your attorney can object, but you still must answer. There is no judge to decide if the question is too broad or unrelated to the case.

Think of it as a fact-finding mission, especially since depositions take place during the discovery phase of a lawsuit. They don’t happen during the trial itself, and not in a courtroom. Instead, depositions are often held at one of the attorney’s offices.

Why Do Attorneys Take Depositions?

There are two main reasons to take depositions. First, both sides want to learn as much as they can about what happened and why. In a personal injury case for instance, this means gathering information about what happened before, during, and after the accident. The deposition is an opportunity to learn the facts – good and bad – to prepare for trial.

Second, a deposition preserves the parties’ version of events. That’s why depositions are part of the official record and either transcribed by a court reporter or recorded. Such documentation ensures the answers of those involved can be compared to what was said previously if they testify in court. This demonstrates consistency or indicates when someone has altered their account.

How Does a Deposition Differ From Testifying?

While a deposition occurs at an attorney’s office, your testimony happens in a courtroom –
during trial.

You must answer questions at both; however, the process differs. By the time you testify at trial, you will know all your attorney’s questions and how to answer them. You will also be ready for the opposing counsel’s questions, even if you do not know the exact wording or order.

During a deposition, you lawyer will prepare you for the traditional topics and questions the other side is likely to ask, but you may hear some questions for the first time. The scope and nature of the questions in a deposition can vary based on the circumstances of a case. However, testimony at trial should not bring any new information to light.

Unlike a deposition, which allows for a more probing inquiry and compels you to answer, your attorney can object to inappropriate questions if you are testifying. When an objection is raised, the judge will decide whether you must answer. The inquiries made at trial are much narrower than during a deposition since a deposition is a fact-finding mission while testifying supports a specific issue within the case.

Your Attorney’s Role in a Deposition

While you won’t know every question in advance of a deposition, being represented by an attorney protects you from walking into a deposition blind. Being caught off guard by the other side’s professional lawyer can affect your answers and the outcome of your case. Instead, you are always better off working with a knowledgeable attorney who can thoroughly prepare you for a deposition.

Your lawyer will go over the types of question you can anticipate during a deposition, how to best answer them, how to avoid accepting responsibility, and how to handle stressful moments.

Your lawyer knows the other side will ask questions that are uncomfortable and antagonistic. So, you must be ready to take difficult questions in stride, carefully provide an honest answer, and move on to the next question. A deposition will go better if you are prepared, than if you show up with no idea what may happen.

Are Depositions & Testifying Always Necessary?

The process of bringing a personal injury lawsuit can be difficult and involves a lot of prep work. This includes investigating the facts, gathering documents, and taking depositions before a trial can even take place. And while depositions and testimony each have a purpose in a lawsuit, they are not always required and participating in a deposition does not always mean the case will go to trial.

Most personal injury cases are resolved without going to court through a negotiated settlement. Settlements can happen any time, including before or after a lawsuit is filed. Sometimes merely taking depositions makes it clear that a settlement is appropriate. In other cases, going to court may offer an advantage.

Since cases progress based on the unique factors involved, it’s always wise to consult a lawyer about what’s in your best interests. For help with a personal injury claim, contact the Chicago personal injury attorneys of Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. today at (312) 236-2900 for a free, no-obligation consultation .

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(312) 236-2900
(312) 236-2900
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