Top 20 Civil Deposition Questions?

A civil deposition is part of the discovery process in civil litigation. A deposition is basically a question-and-answer session between the attorney representing one of the parties in a lawsuit, and a witness who is believed to have information relevant to the lawsuit.

Depositions are extremely useful tools for gathering evidence, because they allow a witness' testimony to be entered into the record, under oath, without taking up valuable time in the courtroom.

Just about any relevant question can be asked in a deposition, and because they're such a valuable tool, lawyers for both sides will try to get as much mileage out of them as they can. This means that a deposition can often last all day, and even go on for several days (with breaks in between, of course). The questions that will be asked in a deposition depend heavily on the factual issues involved in the case, and the type of information that the witness is believed to have.

However, there are several types of questions that are commonly asked. This article will list them, but it will not provide any information on how best to answer them. This is because there is only one proper way to answer a question in a deposition: you must answer all deposition questions truthfully and completely to the best of your knowledge.

Some of the most popular questions used in depositions include:

  1. "Have you ever been arrested and/or convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?" This is a proper question, but chances are good that the opposing attorney will vigorously object. However, it will probably be overruled. Generally, if a witness has been convicted of a felony, or a misdemeanor which involves deception or dishonesty (such as fraud), this fact can be brought up by opposing counsel to attack the credibility of their testimony.
  2. "What did you do to prepare for this deposition?" The purpose of this question is, in part, to try and figure out if you've been coached for the deposition. But more importantly, it can lead to a witness inadvertently exposing weaknesses in the other side's case.
  3. "Do you have identification with you?" If the answer is yes, you should produce it, so your name and contact information can be entered into the record.
  4. "Have you discussed this lawsuit with anyone else, signed any statements or affidavits relating to this lawsuit, or posted information about this lawsuit on any Internet site?" This might help the lawyer determine if anyone else has knowledge of the case.
  5. "Was anyone else present when you discussed this case with your lawyer?" If the answer is yes, you may have inadvertently waived the attorney-client privilege, allowing the other side to compel you to reveal what was discussed. However, a third party being present does not automatically waive this privilege. Whether or not the privilege is waived depends heavily on context.
  6. "Have you ever met any other witness or party to this case prior to the events giving rise to the lawsuit?" This is an attempt to expose any connections between you, and anyone else involved in the case, to determine if you might have a conflict of interest or reason to lie.
  7. "Have you ever been deposed or testified in court before?" This is often asked at the beginning of a deposition. It sounds like an innocent "throwaway" question meant to break the ice and lay the ground rules for the deposition. However, they will try to use the details of your past testimony (especially if you made provably-false statements) to attack your credibility as a witness.
  8. "Did you meet with the lawyer for the other side before this deposition?" If you are giving testimony that is primarily favorable to one side of the lawsuit, you can be sure that the opposing counsel will ask this question, primarily to use your answer to create the impression that you may not be an independent witness, or that you have some incentive to be less than truthful.
  9. "How did you find your attorney [or any doctor or other expert witness you've called to testify]?" If you and your attorney did everything right, a truthful answer to this question will probably not raise any issues. But you can expect opposing counsel to ask this question, in the small chance that it might expose some type of misconduct that they can use against you. The lesson here? Don't break the law, because someone is likely to find out, and just as likely to try and use it against you.

  1.  "Have you read any witness statements or seen any other evidence prior to this deposition?" Like many of these questions, this one is an attempt to expose any misconduct on your part, if it exists.
  2. "Please identify every significant injury and illness you've ever experienced." If you're the plaintiff in a personal injury case, the defense has a right to know if you have any pre-existing medical conditions that they might try and attribute your injuries to (as opposed to the conduct of the defendant). It's absolutely crucial that you answer this question honestly, because the defense will have access to your medical records. Although these records are generally confidential, you put your physical health at issue when you filed a personal injury lawsuit, and your medical records are relevant to that issue.
  3. "Please provide your complete employment history." If you are a plaintiff, and part of the recovery you're seeking is in the form of lost wages, this question is very relevant to your claim.
  4. "What activities can you no longer engage in, which you were able to engage in prior to the accident?" If this is a personal injury case, and you are claiming that you have been permanently impaired in some way, the defense will try to get as much information on this as possible, either to help calculate their potential liability, or to pick apart your claim.
  5. "Besides the current case, have you ever been involved in a lawsuit?" If you have been a plaintiff in a large number of personal injury lawsuits, the defense might be able to paint you as a "professional plaintiff" (someone who "earns" a living by filing frivolous personal injury lawsuits), which could seriously hurt your credibility to the jury, even if it happens that every one of  your past lawsuits had merit.  
  6. (If you're involved in a personal injury lawsuit) "Can you describe the your injuries, the accident that caused them, and the events leading up to the accident?": You must be very careful in answering this question, because if you provide an answer that conflicts with any evidence or statement you've already introduced, the other side is going to be sure to point out this inconsistency.
  7. "Do you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse?" If your lawsuit involves injuries and/or illnesses you've suffered, the defense may try to suggest that past or present substance abuse is a predominant cause of your injuries.
  8. "Had you used any alcohol or narcotics in the days prior to the accident?" If the defense can prove that you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the accident occurred, they will have a much better chance of convincing a jury that you, and not the defendant, were primarily responsible for your injuries.
  9. Trick questions to test your memory: Any question that confuses you, and makes it look like you have a less-than-perfect memory, can sometimes lead a jury to question your credibility as a witness.
  10. Questions that make you look bad no matter how you answer: While they won't be as obvious as something like "Are you still beating your wife?", they will, for example, ask why you sought treatment at a chiropractor rather than a "real" doctor, who is paying for your medical care, etc. As with all questions, you should answer honestly. But you should pause a second or two before answering, so your lawyer has an opportunity to object. There's a good chance that such questions are improper (since they don't prove anything relevant to your case, and can prejudice the jury against you).
  11. "Would you like to review the transcript of this conversation, and change any of your answers before they're entered into the record?" Assuming you answered truthfully, your answer will probably be "no," unless you suddenly remembered a fact that's crucial to one of the questions you were asked earlier.

Obviously, there are many more questions that are going to be asked in a deposition. Most of these questions will be dependant on the facts of your particular case. If you are a party to a lawsuit, it's important that you prepare for a deposition by speaking with your lawyer beforehand.

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