Depositions are one type of civil discovery in Virginia.
Civil Litigation can seem overwhelming.
If this is your first time being involved in a civil lawsuit, you probably have many questions about the various steps. In particular, discovery can be extremely daunting to any litigant. One of the most powerful discovery tools available in civil litigation in circuit courts in Virginia is the taking of a deposition. The taking of depositions is not available in general district court litigation in Virginia.
What does Virginia law say about depositions?
A deposition is the taking of oral testimony of a party or witness involved in the civil litigation. Typically, the deposition will take place in the office of the examiner (attorney who demanded a deposition). The testimony is similar to what may occur in trial. However, Virginia allows for liberal discovery and the examiner is not limited as strictly by the rules of evidence. He/She may ask any relevant questions or questions which may lead to relevant information. Specifically, Rule 4:1(b)(1) states that parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to the subject matter of the pending action.
Depositions are an extremely valuable discovery tool for a civil litigator.
As a discovery tool, depositions are extremely useful. The examiner may fish for evidence and often the witness will volunteer information which may lead to other previously unknown facts. The examiner typically asks open-ended questions which solicit the most information out of the witness. The deposition also allows both attorneys the opportunity to examine the demeanor of the witness and to weigh the facts of the case. If a particular witness is combative during the deposition, they will most likely be combative during trial. In this way, depositions can help parties determine whether they should make an attempt at settling the case.
A deposition is sworn testimony.
Another important reason for taking a deposition is that the testimony is sworn testimony before a court reporter. There is a record created of what was said. The court reporter will be present during the deposition and recording the testimony of the witness. If the witness later changes their story during trial, the previous deposition testimony may be used to “impeach” the witness.
As I stated earlier, civil litigation can be an extremely frustrating and anxious time for the litigant. If you have a question, ask your attorney for advice. Sometimes we attorneys forget that you, the client, do not do this every day.