In a personal injury lawsuit, there are many different ways of uncovering information that could be important to the case. One of those is the witness deposition. If you've been named as a witness in a lawsuit, this is what you need to know.
What is a deposition and why is it done?
A deposition is a formal part of the process of discovery in a legal action. It's done long before a trial, and it serves several different purposes:
- It allows both sides to find out exactly what a witness knows and can testify to in court.
- It preserves the testimony, on record, in case something happens to the witness between the time of the deposition and the time the case goes to trial.
- It can reveal unexpected weak spots or strengths in a case.
- It gives each side the opportunity to prepare a rebuttal for damaging testimony.
- It can encourage one side or both sides to seek a settlement rather than go to trial.
- It allows both sides to see how a witness is likely to handle himself or herself under the pressure of interrogation.
- It locks witnesses into their testimony so that they can't easily change their version of events later.
Depositions are usually held in conference rooms and they can be videotaped. A court reporter is usually on hand in order to create a transcript of what is said during the deposition and you're required to take an oath to testify truthfully before you begin. If you lie you can be subject to prosecution for perjury.
What happens if you don't want to give a deposition?
Many people would prefer not to be involved in a lawsuit at all—especially if they have information that could be damaging to the case of a friend or relative. For example, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner recently faced a deposition in the civil case for sexual battery against his longtime friend, comedian Bill Cosby. Unfortunately, you rarely have any sort of option to refuse.
If you try to ignore the deposition request or use some other delaying tactic, the opposing party can go to the court for a motion to compel. The court can also grant a motion to compel if you refuse to answer specific questions or try to give an evasive or incomplete answer. If you continue to refuse, you can be prosecuted (and even jailed) for contempt of court.
There are, of course, a few exceptions to this rule. If your testimony could possibly implicate you in something illegal, you may be able to assert your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in order to avoid giving testimony. The spouses of defendants are also able to avoid giving testimony due to marital privilege laws. For example, Bill Cosby's wife, Camille, was able to refuse to answer certain questions about private communications between herself and the comedian.
For more information on depositions and personal injury claims, talk to a personal injury attorney in your area today.