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Objections and Motions to Strike in Massachusetts Personal Injury Cases

If you are a fan of television courtroom dramas, then you've likely observed the evidentiary objection process time and time again. If you are not a lawyer, you probably have not put much thought into why the process is done slightly different from show to show, from movie to movie. The reality is that it is done slightly different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions require specific legal objections, while others require that you only state the word "objection." Today, we're going to discuss the rules governing the process in Massachusetts court and how they pertain to Massachusetts cases and Massachusetts lawyers.

In Massachusetts, the objection process is less particular than in other jurisdictions. Before we get into the details, let's talk about when objection should be raised in first place. An objection must be raised by the opposing attorney immediately after an improper question is asked, or as soon as it is clear that an improper answer is being provided. By "improper," I mean inadmissible. You can't unring a bell and you can't remove a sound bite from the mind of a jury member who has already heard it. Being attentive to the questions and answers provided is a critical responsibility of the plaintiff personal injury lawyer.

As I mentioned earlier, the Massachusetts rules are not as strict as they are in some other jurisdictions. In Massachusetts, when a lawyer asks in improper question of a witness or when a witness provides improper testimony, the other lawyer should stand and state the word "objection." It is then proper to state the legal basis and grounds your objection. However, in practice, many Massachusetts judges do not require this step and instead rule on the objection based on the likely ground. Of course, where the ground is not so clear, the judge may then ask for background or hesitate to rule. For this reason, it is good practice to quickly state the ground.

If you are objecting and, in the process, the witness has already started to answer with inadmissible testimony, the objection should be immediately followed by a motion to strike. Motion to strike is seeking to strike on the record any inadmissible testimony. In the event that only a portion of the testimony was objected to, the motion to strike should be particular enough to strike only the portion that is objectionable. After the objection and motion to strike are asserted, the judge will ordinarily rule on both.

What happens if the judge is unsure, as the proper ruling on the objection asserted is not clear? In that case, the judge would likely call both lawyers to sidebar. That means the judge calls lawyers for both the plaintiff and the defendant up to the bench to discuss the legal arguments pertaining to the evidence in the objection. On that note, if your objection is overruled (or for the other side, if it is sustained), and the ruling was made in error, either lawyer can request a sidebar at that point, where the judge may call both up to the front bench. These are mechanisms to get the lawyers up to the bench to speak with the judge privately regarding the law of the objection.

When the lawyers are called the sidebar, the question becomes whether the evidence is important to the outcome of the case--if so, then it is also important that the argument regarding the objection be put on the record. Putting arguments regarding the objection on record is critical, in the event that an appeal is necessary. Similarly, if an objection is sustained against you and you feel getting the related evidence is critical, you'll need to take an additional step, called making an offer of proof. Making an offer of proof is for the similar reason of preserving your case on appeal, but beyond just making an argument, it is also summarizing on the record the evidence and/or testimony that was excluded by the sustained objection. That way, the appeals court can review what that evidence was that was kept from the jury. Without knowing that, the appeals court really would have no bearing on whether the admission of the evidence had any effect whatsoever on the jury in reaching its verdict.

As you have likely observed here, these rules are relevant to Massachusetts personal injury cases as well as all other Massachusetts cases. Evidence rules are generally universal and, although the foregoing concepts are not complex, the procedure is somewhat technical. As such, the lawyer must be diligent and attentive throughout the course of trial to effectively manage the admissibility of evidence. In light of this, I once again encourage you, as a prospective personal injury client, to be diligent in selecting your personal injury lawyer. Although the substantial majority of Massachusetts personal injury cases are settled prior to litigation, having a competent personal injury trial lawyer as your counsel clearly gives you an advantage through the entire claims process. To speak with a Massachusetts personal injury lawyer today for free, simply call our office.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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