Is There Hearsay in Your Lawsuit? (Part I)

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“Hearsay” is another one of those legal terms that many people have heard before but few individuals can accurately define. Put simply, the definition of hearsay can be broken down and understood as follows:

  • An out-of-court statement made by a declarant not present in court;
  • Offered in court (during a hearing or trial); and
  • Offered as proof of the matter asserted.

Hearsay is generally inadmissible at trial. The reason for this is simple: the declarant of the statement is not available to be cross-examined and so the truthfulness of his or her statement meaningfully challenged. While the definition of hearsay may appear simple, deciding whether a statement actually is hearsay can be complicated. Consider these examples:

  • An EMS officer who states “I responded to the area of X Street and Y Street because I received a report of somebody slipping on a wet floor and hitting their head”. This example is not hearsay. Although the EMS officer is repeating an out-of-court statement he or she heard in court and the declarant of that statement is not present in court, the statement is being offered to explain why the EMS officer responded to a particular area, not as proof that there actually was a wet floor or someone who hurt their head.”
  • An eyewitness to a dog bite injury says under oath, “I told the animal control officer that day that the dog came from 111 Main Street, the Robinson house, and I know that the dog belonged to them.” Here you have an out-of-court statement offered in court and offered as proof that the dog in question belonged to a certain family, the Robinson family. But this example is not hearsay because the declarant – the person who made the out-of-court statement – is present in court and is testifying.
  • A nursing home employee says during a civil nursing home abuse trial, “My co-worker looked at the [victim] lying on the ground: his eyes got real big, he started to shake, and then after a few seconds he took off running down the hall.”  This is not hearsay because there is no out-of-court statement being offered at all. The physical appearance and behavior of someone are generally not considered “statements” for hearsay purposes.

Why Hearsay Can Make a Difference in Your Personal Injury Lawsuit

The unchallenged admission of hearsay statements in your personal injury case by the other party can have a negative impact on the outcome of your case. (You must lodge an objection at the time a hearsay statement is offered in order to have the court exclude it; otherwise the statement will be admitted and considered by the court.) Consider the negative impact of a statement from an unavailable witness who says you were completely at fault in causing your injuries and not being able to challenge the veracity of the witness, his or her ability to see the accident, or his or her motivation to fabricate testimony.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a South Carolina personal injury accident, then you need lawyers who are well-versed in the rules of evidence so that you will be fairly represented at trial.  Contact the Greenville-based law firm David R. Price, Jr., P.A. for assistance in recovering compensation from the at-fault party. You can reach the firm by calling us directly, or by contacting us online.

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