AE Blog - 22 Tips for Architects and Engineers on How to Prepare For Appearing as a Witness in a Civil Case
John R. Riley, Esq. with Montgomery, Little & Soran, P.C. is sometimes asked to provide help to architects and engineers on how to prepare for trial or deposition testimony.
Other topics that are related to testimony include what are the rules for a deposition, what is the purpose of a deposition or a video deposition, what information is to be provided with a request for a project file, and what role does an expert witness play in a case. Be sure to check out the details of John’s guidelines on Expert Witness Testimony at Hall & Company’s Resource section.
- Your only obligation is to Tell the Truth.
- Answer the question asked. (Don’t answer a question that was not asked).
- Do not ramble. Do not volunteer information. Answer the question, stop and wait for the next question. Do not tell the lawyer how much you hate the lawyer or the lawyer’s client. In the alternative, the lawyer asking you questions is not your Friend.
- Use complete sentences.
- Testimony should not be like pulling teeth. (It looks like you are hiding something). Do not be evasive. Speak precisely.
- You do not get to ask questions.
- Do not argue with the attorney who is cross‐examining you. Answer the question. Let the jury observe the lawyer arguing and raising his voice compared to your patient and reasonable behavior. (i.e. “Wipe that smirk off your face Mr. Lawyer” is not tolerated by either the jury or the judge).
- If you lose your temper or control, then the lawyer has “won.” I think the idea about level‐headedness is best symbolized by Oscar Wilde’s famous words, “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much.”
- Do not guess or speculate. Testify only about your own knowledge. Do not guess or estimate time, distance or other measurements unless you are sure your measurement is correct.
- If you do not know the answer, tell the lawyer that you do not know. “I don’t know” is an acceptable response.
- If the question is outside your area of knowledge, i.e. something done by another person, do not guess, speculate or otherwise offer your opinion.
- Sometimes offensive questions may be asked.
You must answer these offensive questions because at the time of a deposition the information may either be relevant or lead to the admissibility of relevant evidence. The Judge may order you to reappear for a second deposition if you fail to answer a question.
- You may be asked, what is your habit, custom and routine? Answer this question as completely as possible.
- A lawyer may ask you the same question a different way five or six (or more) times. Do not lose your patience or argue. Answer the question. Your lawyer will object at some point in time.
- Take your time to respond. Pause after a question (but not too long) to make sure you understand it and know the answer before you respond.
- Correct mistakes. If you realize something you said was not accurate, interrupt the questioning and correct it.
- If you must look at a document in your file or some other document to answer a question, tell the lawyer that you need to look at a document.
- If you are provided a document and then are asked questions about it, analyze and understand the document before you answer any questions.
- Prepare for your testimony. It is reasonable to have reviewed documents prior to giving a deposition or trial testimony.
- If you make assumptions in your answer, state that they are assumptions in your response.
- Do not answer “yes” or “no” if a question cannot be answered accurately with a yes or no response. Speak for yourself – do not always agree to yes or no questions.
- If you have a lawyer representing you, do not look to your lawyer for answers or suggestions. The lawyer is not testifying. You are.