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Personal Injury Litigation - What Is A Deposition?

In civil litigation, the most powerful tool an experienced attorney has for uncovering the truth of what happened is discovery. Discovery is the term to describe when the parties to a lawsuit not only exchange information amongst themselves, but also are allowed to investigate further and ask question, get documents, and otherwise work to piece together just what took place. One of the most important steps in that search is the deposition.

Despite how TV and movies portray it, a deposition is a rather informal event where a person (the "deponent") is asked a series of questions under oath. Depositions can take place just about anywhere: lawyer's offices, the courthouse, or even a deponent's home (which happens often when the deponent is the injured victim in a personal injury case). A court reporter administers an oath where the deponent swears to tell the truth, and then all parties to the case, usually through their attorneys, can ask questions about almost anything relevant to the case. In Illinois, a deposition is limited to three hours, but can be extended in complicated cases, or under certain circumstances. Other jurisdictions, including federal courts, have different time limits.

Now, a deposition is not an interrogation along the lines of what makes for good entertainment. It is usually very cordial (although any personal injury attorney with some experience will have a few good "war stories" about the goings on of a memorable deposition). After all the questions are asked, the court reporter usually prepares a transcript, and the testimony is preserved. This can be used to not only inform all the parties of what the deponent knows, but also used to "impeach" the witness at trial, if the case goes that far, and the person testifies. To impeach someone is simply to show that they have changed their story.

A deposition is just one of many tools an experienced personal injury attorney, or any litigation attorney, will use in pursuing a case on behalf of a client. While a deposition may sound simple, it is a subtle art to get the deponent to say what is most important to support a case. In injury cases this could be anything from, "what color was the traffic light" to "was it a breach of the standard of care for Dr. Smith to do X?" That is why, if you or someone you care about is injured and it is not their fault, employing the services of a qualified, experienced personal injury attorney is one of the most important steps to take to make sure that full compensation is available. 

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