Proving Hearsay in a Personal Injury Case

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 What Is Hearsay?

Hearsay refers to a statement made outside of the courtroom that is presented in court as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. In other words, it’s an out-of-court statement being used to prove the fact of what it claims. Generally, hearsay is not admissible as evidence in court due to concerns about its reliability. However, there are several exceptions to this rule.

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

In a bustling town, there’s a popular two-story shopping mall named “Eastside Plaza.” On a busy Saturday afternoon, Claire, a regular shopper, was on the second floor, about to take the escalator down. As she stepped onto the escalator, it jolted abruptly, causing her to lose her balance and tumble down several steps. She sustained a wrist fracture and bruises on her legs.

A few feet away, an employee of a nearby store, Jenna, witnessed the entire incident. She rushed over to help Claire. While waiting for the mall security to arrive, Jenna whispered to her co-worker, Mark, “The escalator has been acting up lately. Just last week, I heard the maintenance guy tell the manager that it needed repairs.”

A couple of months later, Claire decided to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the mall for her injuries, alleging negligence in maintaining the escalator. During the discovery phase, Claire’s lawyer learned of Mark, who might have valuable information. At a deposition, Mark was asked about the incident, and he said, “Jenna told me that she overheard the maintenance guy saying the escalator needed repairs.”

In court, Claire’s attorney seeks to introduce Mark’s statement to prove the mall knew about the escalator’s issues and neglected to fix them, thus showing negligence. However, the mall’s defense attorney objects to the introduction of this testimony, arguing that it’s hearsay. The statement is, in essence, something Jenna heard (from the maintenance guy) and then relayed to Mark, which is now being presented in court by Claire’s side to prove its truth: that the escalator indeed needed repairs, and the mall management was aware of it.

This multilayered hearsay (the maintenance man’s statement to Jenna and then Jenna’s statement to Mark) illustrates the complexities that can arise in personal injury cases, where the truth of certain assertions becomes central to the case’s arguments. The court would then have to determine whether any hearsay exceptions apply, allowing the statement to be admissible as evidence.

What Are Hearsay Exceptions?

While the general rule is that hearsay is not admissible as evidence, there are many exceptions based on the idea that certain out-of-court statements carry enough reliability or necessity to be admissible in court. Some of these exceptions include the following.

Present Sense Impression

The present sense impression exception allows for the admission of a statement that describes or explains an event or condition made while the declarant was perceiving the event or immediately afterward. The underlying rationale is that the immediacy of the statement reduces the likelihood of reflection or fabrication.

For instance, imagine someone witnessing a car accident and immediately texting a friend, “I just saw two cars collide at the intersection because one ran a red light!.” This text could potentially be admitted as a present sense impression, as it describes an event the witness just perceived.

Excited Utterance

An excited utterance is a statement that is made under the stress or excitement caused by a shocking event or condition. The idea is that people are less likely to lie or fabricate details when they’re reacting spontaneously to something shocking. For example, someone might witness a robbery and exclaim to the person next to them, “He just took that woman’s purse and ran off!.” In this case, that statement might be admissible under the excited utterance exception. The stress of witnessing a crime might cause a person to react without the thought of constructing a lie.

Statements for Medical Diagnosis or Treatment

This exception pertains to statements made for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment. The rationale behind this exception is that people are typically truthful when seeking medical help because they have a vested interest in being accurate to get proper care.

An example would be if someone went to the emergency room after an accident and told the doctor, “I fell off a ladder while trying to change a light bulb.” This statement, given to the doctor to help diagnose and treat any injuries, could be admissible under this hearsay exception.

Business Records

The business records exception allows for the introduction of records of regularly conducted activity as evidence. These are often used in business settings, and the rationale is that these records are routinely kept and relied upon by businesses, indicating their reliability.

For instance, a company may routinely log safety checks of their machinery, and an injury lawsuit claims a machine was faulty. In this case, the logs might be introduced as evidence under the business records exception. The log would show the regular safety checks and any noted issues with the machinery.

Dying Declaration

The dying declaration is an exception, primarily used in homicide cases, where the statement of a person believing they are about to die is introduced. The underlying rationale is the solemn belief that someone who thinks they’re facing imminent death is unlikely to lie.

For example, after being severely injured, a person might whisper to a bystander, “It was John who shot me,” and then succumbs to their injuries. If this is the case, that statement could be admitted as a dying declaration. The belief is that a person’s last words, especially regarding the cause or circumstance of their impending death, hold a profound truth.

Statement Against Interest

A statement against interest is one that is so prejudicial to the person making it that they wouldn’t have said it unless they believed it to be true. It’s different from a confession, though it can sometimes seem similar.

For example, if someone says, “I shouldn’t have been texting while driving that day,” it’s an admission that could expose them to liability. Since individuals usually avoid making statements that can harm them legally or financially, such statements, when uttered, are deemed reliable enough to be exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Former Testimony

If a witness has given testimony in a previous legal proceeding (like a deposition or another trial) and is unavailable for the current trial, that former testimony can be introduced as evidence under the former testimony exception. The idea here is that since the testimony was given under oath and was subject to cross-examination in the past, it carries a degree of reliability.

For instance, a witness in a criminal trial may testify about the defendant’s actions but later move abroad and couldn’t attend the subsequent trial. In this case, their previous testimony could be used.

Records of Vital Statistics

This exception pertains to records of births, deaths, and marriages, which are routinely kept by government agencies. The regularity and official nature of these records make them reliable.

For example, in a legal dispute over inheritance, a death certificate might be admitted as evidence to establish the time and cause of a person’s death. Such records are considered reliable because they’re systematically recorded and maintained by official entities and are crucial for administrative purposes.

These are just a few examples. Each jurisdiction may have its specific exceptions or variations of these exceptions.

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

Understanding the rules and nuances around hearsay and its exceptions can be complex. If you’re involved in a personal injury case where hearsay might play a role, it’s essential to have legal guidance.

A personal injury lawyer can help evaluate the evidence, navigate the hearsay rules, and ensure that your rights are protected. Reach out to a skilled personal injury lawyer through LegalMatch to get the assistance you need.

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