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What to Do if You’re Called upon to Testify

What to Do if You’re Called upon to Testify

Providing testimony can be a stressful experience. But that’s not the only time you may be asked to swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” If you’re ever involved in a personal injury case, you may also be asked to appear at a deposition at some point in time – usually well ahead of the scheduled court date – to offer your personal insights into exactly what happened to cause your injuries. Because speaking at a deposition can be just as intimidating as appearing on the witness stand, we’re taking the opportunity to offer some advice on how to effectively deal with the process … which will hopefully minimize your blood pressure and help win your case at the same time.

First let’s get some basic terminology out of the way. To quote Encyclopedia Britannica, a deposition is “a formal statement that someone who has promised to tell the truth makes so that the statement can be used in court.” The person offering testimony is called a “deponent” and their words are recorded by a court reporter in a written deposition transcript and sometimes also videotaped. Plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses alike can all be called upon to offer their testimony in depositions.

What’s the Purpose of a Deposition?


In general, statements made during a deposition are used to help lawyers on both sides of a dispute establish a case. However, they aren’t admissible in court unless there are special circumstances – such as if a deponent is unavailable (which can occur if the deponent dies before trial, is terminally ill, etc.)As we mentioned in a previous article, relevant facts collected in a deposition could be used in court if they contradict statements given by that witness in the actual trial, which could implicate a witness in perjury – a felony in Michigan punishable by up to 15 years in prison. In other words, never tell a lie – but especially don’t if you’re under oath.


Why Are Depositions Important?


Depositions can be quite useful in gathering evidence we can use in negotiating a settlement or litigating a case if it comes to trial. We will often depose defendants or eyewitnesses to get an idea of how they’re likely to testify before a judge and jury. At the same time, statements made during a deposition can also be used by the opposing side to bolster their case. A skilled attorney can help you deal with a deposition in a calm and controlled manner, representing yourself appropriately and fearlessly, so you can tell your truth and relay what happened when you were hurt — without worrying that you might say or do something wrong.


Can My Attorney Make Objectionsto Protect Witnesses or Victims During a Deposition?


Yes, especially if we think you’re being intimidated or victimized by the opposing side. We can object to a question we consider to have been asked in bad faith or that we believe (in the words of the State Bar of Michigan) “unreasonably annoys, embarrasses, or oppresses the witness.” If your attorney objects to something that’s been asked, stop speaking until the objection is registered by the court reporter. We’ll let you know when it’s okay to resume your testimony.

However, we’ll usually advise you to answer all questions posed during the deposition. As the victim in a personal injury case, your responses should be honest, concise, and directed specifically at what was asked. Oftentimes, a simple yes or no answer will serve as a sufficient response. If you’re asked a question that requires a longer answer, carefully consider what you’re going to say and don’t go beyond the scope of the question in your reply. Remember: Loose lips sink ships.

Even seasoned attorneys have to spend time preparing for depositions! The American Bar Association shares a number of deposition tips for lawyers to help them prepare for anything that may come up in a witness’s statement. Among their more helpful hints is this: “An objection must be stated concisely and in a nonargumentative and nonsuggestive manner.” Which means we’re all advised to avoid turning depositions turn into combative or intimidating experiences for witnesses. Which just makes sense — after all, the purpose of this form of discovery is to gather relevant facts and not to conduct a practice trial ahead of the real thing!

Can I Be Compelled to Participate in a Deposition?


You sure can. The opposing side might have a subpoena issued, which means that you must appear under force of law. Of course, you’re free to show up and refuse to testify by invoking your fifth amendment right against self-incrimination, but you should know that if you “plead the fifth,” you are more than likely going to appear guilty for doing so. (And feeling it’s necessary to “plead the fifth” is highly unlikely in a personal injury case anyway.) You’re also free to ignore a subpoena, but doing so sets you up for a bench warrant to be issued for your arrest. Needless to say, we strongly advise against allowing that to happen! If you’re called to testify, there are probably a number of good reasons to do it – especially if, like the vast majority of our clients, you’ve been hurt by someone else’s negligence and the law is on your side.

What Other Rules About Michigan Depositions Should I Know?


As a deponent in a Michigan case, the courts have given you some reassuring support so that you won’t face unnecessary hardship if you’re called upon to testify. For example, depositions are not permitted to exceed seven hours in a single day. Michigan Court Rules published in 1985 and just updated in April 2023 spell out how exactly depositions should be conducted. If you’d like to dig deeper into the state’s deposition rules, put on your reading glasses and start on page 95 of this 847-page volume! But rest assured we’ll thoroughly go over these rules with you if you’re ever asked to testify at a deposition!

How Can I Feel Most Reassured Going into a Deposition?


Do we really have to answer that question? It’s to have us on your side from the beginning of your case! All it takes is a phone call to 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-39346) and – from the very moment you get in touch with us – we’ll be on your side. You’ll be able to speak with us in full confidence knowing that anything you say is protected by attorney-client privilege, and we’ll be duty bound to ensure confidentiality and to do anything within our power to help you win your case. It’s just what we do. Call us or get in touch online today.