Proving Hearsay in a Personal Injury Case

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 What is Hearsay?

Hearsay is any information that is gathered by one person from another, concerning an event, condition, or object, of which the first person did not have any direct, personal experience.  If such a statement is being offered in court as evidence, the statement is called “hearsay evidence.”

The legal definition of hearsay is: “an out-of-court-statement, offered in court, in order to prove the truth of the matter asserted”.  In other words, hearsay is a statement that is made by a person other than the witness testifying at the stand, which is being offered in order to prove that the contents of the statement are true. 

Hearsay evidence is not allowed in personal injury suits.  This is known as the “rule against hearsay”.  Hearsay prohibitions exist in order to provide a jury with the most accurate information related to the injury, so that jurors can make a fair and just decision. 

What is an Example of Hearsay in a Personal Injury Case?

Suppose that Bob was injured in a car accident involving Jane’s car.  At court, Bob’s lawyer calls Susan, a witness, to testify.  While testifying, Susan states, “Jane’s friend told me that Jane was running late that on the day of the accident”.    

Here, Jane’s statement may be considered hearsay depending on what purpose it is being offered for.  If it is being offered to prove that Jane was running late on the day of the accident, it will likely be considered hearsay.  This is because the witness, Susan, did not have direct knowledge that Jane was late- she only heard it from Jane’s friend. 

On the other hand, if the statement is being offered simply to prove that Susan spoke to Jane’s friend, it is probably not hearsay- Susan had direct experience in speaking with Jane’s friend. 

This is the meaning and importance of the phrase “offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted” in the legal definition of hearsay.  A statement may or may not be hearsay depending on which facts the statement is being used to prove. 

What are “Hearsay Exceptions”?

A “hearsay exception” is a statement that is hearsay, but is still admissible as evidence in personal injury trial.  The person making the statement is called the “declarant.  Some of the hearsay exceptions require that the declarant be available to testify, while other exceptions do not depend on the availability of the declarant. 

The definition of hearsay itself is usually not very difficult to understand.  However, the rules of evidence for hearsay can be very complex, because there are almost 30 “exceptions” to the rule against hearsay. 

Some commonly used hearsay exceptions in a personal injury lawsuit include:

  • Excited Utterances:  These are statements that are made while the witness is under the excitement or stress of a startling event.  The statement need not be made exactly at the time of the startling event; it is admissible so long as the witness was in an excited condition   
  • Present Sense Impressions:  These are expressions of the declarant’s impression of a condition at the time the statement was made.  For example, the person may have stated, “Jane is a red car”, or “Bob appears to be very angry”.  
  • Declarations of Present State of Mind:  Statements used to describe the declarant’s state of mind at the time the statement was uttered.  For example, the declarant statement, “I am Mozart!” may be used to prove the declarant’s unstable mental state at that time. 

Objections to statements made in court must be raised in a timely manner.  If a person testifying in court makes a hearsay statement and the lawyer fails to object to it, it may be admitted into the record unless rejected by the judge. 

These are only a few examples of hearsay exceptions- there are many, many more.  An experienced lawyer will be familiar with all of these exceptions and how to apply them.  The attorney should be able to identify whether a statement should be admitted as evidence based on hearsay rules, and will raise an objection if necessary. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Hearsay Evidence in a Personal Injury Case?

The outcome of a lawsuit can change dramatically if a statement is rejected as evidence because it is hearsay.  For this reason, it is highly advisable that you hire a personal injury lawyer if you will be filing a legal claim for your injuries.  The ordinary citizen will not be familiar with hearsay laws, especially with regards to the various exceptions.  An attorney will be able to skillfully employ hearsay rules, which vary widely by state.  

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