What Are Depositions?
Depositions are one of the most important parts of an American civil lawsuit. As statements made by witnesses, depositions reveal personal knowledge they possess regarding the case. However, civil depositions differ from witnesses giving sworn testimony while on the stand during a trial. Depositions are still made under oath, but there’s no judge or jury present.
Witness depositions are vital to discovering the facts in a legal proceeding. They’re normally taken in calm and controlled conditions inside a lawyer’s office or boardroom. Rarely do depositions happen at a courthouse or courtroom. They’re highly-structured, question and answer sessions between a witness and the attorneys representing the plaintiff and the defendant or defendants. A deposition’s entire purpose is to establish truthful information and discover the facts.
The Civil Court Process
All American civil court proceedings follow the same general process regulations. Some variations take place between federal court cases and state jurisdictions. Each state has their own case precedents whereas federal court procedures are identical across the nation. Regardless of what court jurisdiction a lawsuit is filed in, the steps taken to finally resolve the matter remain similar.
Depositions are vital. Without them, there would be no human presence to tell the story and interpret the evidence.
But, depositions can’t take place without prior proceedings and consequences afterward. To understand and appreciate how witness depositions fit into the civil court system, it’s necessary to follow how the entire civil court process works.
Here is how the American civil court process unfolds in a mesothelioma lawsuit:
- Case Evaluation: Once a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s extremely important to contact an attorney who specializes in asbestos litigation. Every court jurisdiction has a statute of limitations that starts from the time a mesothelioma case is diagnosed, not when a court complaint is filed. The first thing an experienced mesothelioma lawyer does is evaluate the information and determine how likely the case is to seek compensation and redress.
- Research: Mesothelioma attorneys research their client’s case history. That determines the extent of the disease, where they had asbestos exposure, when it occurred and what products were involved. Having a full understanding of each patient’s history allows lawyers to establish liability against a particular company to be named in a lawsuit. Often, experienced law firms have historic data on negligent companies and which products were the contributing offenders. This information usually corroborates or backs up the client’s claim.
- Filing a Complaint: Attorneys prepare a written complaint about their client to swear and file in a court having jurisdiction over their claim. The client is now referred to as the plaintiff and those being sued become the defendants. This must be done within the statutory period or the claim can’t proceed. Some states have as little as one year to file. Others have up to six years. Copies of the complaint are served on the defendants and they now must legally respond.
- Discovery and Deposition: Evidence is further examined including medical reports and opinions, work and other employment records, and information specific to toxic products and risky processes. Deposing witnesses—having them examined and cross-examined under oath—is the most important part of the discovery phase. Often, so much damaging information emerges from witness depositions that defendants are forced to settle before going to trial.
- Settlement: Rarely do mesothelioma lawsuits end up in a trial. Almost all claims that are filed go as far as the plaintiff and important witnesses being deposed. Defense lawyers want to test how credible the plaintiff is and how well they stand up in their depositions.
Over 95% of mesothelioma cases are settled out of court after skillful negotiations between attorneys for the plaintiff and defendants.
- Trial, Verdict, and Appeal: Plaintiffs and other witnesses who testify at trials will have their evidence closely compared to their deposition statements. There are always recordings and transcripts made of depositions to ensure few surprises at trial. During the trial, witnesses might add, subtract or forget what they said while being deposed. Some trials are before juries while some have judges acting alone. No matter how a case is tried, a verdict given in civil court is binding unless there are good grounds for appeal. Generally, the losing side can only appeal on a legal error rather than a finding of fact.
What Happens During a Deposition?
Witness depositions in American civil court proceedings are held in private. Unlike a trial that’s open to the public and news media reporting, deposition procedures are quiet, well-disciplined affairs, unlike the drama that can unfold in public trials. The idea is for both the plaintiff and defendant to get to the truth. Depositions are not designed to put on a show.
However, civil court depositions are serious matters with significant consequences. Witnesses are sworn to give truthful evidence and will face harsh consequences for intentionally misleading a deposition hearing. Usually, questions for the deposed witness have prepared ahead of time and the witness is not caught off-guard unless they haven’t been truthful or didn’t fully disclose pertinent information to this point.
Guidelines for giving a good deposition include:
- Be prepared. Know the subject matter and ensure the representing attorney has all the facts.
- Relax and take time to answer questions. Pause between questions. Ask for a question to be repeated or rephrased if not understood.
- Refrain from guessing. Don’t agree to something unknown, as it’s natural to not recall events or details.
- Keep composed. Do not argue, use humor or be ironic. Everything is being recorded and remains on the record.
- Answer the specific question. Do not volunteer additional information. Experienced attorneys know how to depose witnesses and rarely ask a question they don’t already know the answer to.
- Avoid fatigue. Be rested before appearing for a deposition and ask for breaks if you become tired. This is critical for mesothelioma patients being deposed.
- Realize that nervousness is normal. By knowing the facts and answering truthfully, nerves will quickly settle. Remember those clear depositions rarely need repeating at trial.
Retaining an Experienced Mesothelioma Attorney
Having confidence in an attorney is vital for a witness giving their civil court lawsuit deposition. A lawyer who specializes in mesothelioma cases carefully prepares their plaintiff and other key witnesses so they know what to expect at their deposition time. Experienced mesothelioma attorneys know the legal issues surrounding asbestos litigation and they know the medical facts.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma and you’re unsure of your rights, contact a Patient Advocate at the Mesothelioma Justice Network today.