First, a deposition is a question and answer session given under oath in an attorney's office. There is no judge present. Thre's no jury present. The attorneys are on an honor system and are required to follow the NYC court rules and regulations when questioning witnesses.

There is a court stenographer present at every one of these sessions, to take down and record every question and answer given. By the way, a 'deposition' is also known as an 'examination before trial' or in legalese, 'an EBT'.

During the course of questioning a witness, the lawyer for the witness may from time to time yell out "Objection!" in response to a question I ask.

99% of the time, the witness must still go ahead and answer the question, even though their attorney has raised an abjection to the question. Why does this happen?

The attorney is preserving the right to object to the question at the time of trial. If they don't raise this objection to the question now, does that mean they can't object at trial? No, they can. However, if there is a legal issue that must be addressed before trial and the judge must evaluate the pre-trial testimony, it's important for the defense attorney to have raised the objection during the pre-trial deposition.

Ok- so what's does it mean when the attorney yells out "Objection, not relevant!"

It means he does not believe the question, or the potential answer has anything to do with the claims or defenses in the case.

Here's an example.

Let's say this is a car accident case and my client was hit from the right side in an intersection. He suffered a fractured spine and is now paralyzed. If I were to ask the driver of the car who hit my client whether he beat his wife on a daily basis, do you think that has anything o do with whether he was negligent and careless as he went through the red light?

Do you think that question and possible answer has anything to do with any defense in his case about whether he caused or contributed to the accident?

In this wild example, the question is not related to any claim or defense in the case. The better objection for the attorney to yell out would be "Objection, palpably improper."

The key difference between the two objections is that if a lawyer objects to a question on the grounds of not being relevant, the witness is still required to answer the question during the pre-trial deposition. Then, at trial, the judge will rule on whether or not the attorney can ask that same question and whether the witness must answer it.

On the other hand, if the question is 'palpably improper' the attorney will turn to his witness and say "Don't answer the question." In that instance, the lawyer and the witness are fully within their right not to give an answer. However, as with many questions that are aggressive and possibly related to the claims, there are often disputes between the attorneys as to what is related and what is not.

In some cases, we will need to call the court and obtain a verbal ruling on whether we can or cannot get an answer to our question. Some judges require these requests in writing so that if they give a decision that is not to one side's liking, they can try and appeal their decision.

Now you know what's the difference between "Objection, irrelevant!" and "Objection, Palpably Improper!" in a deposition here in the State of New York.

Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer