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Is Spontaneous Declaration Hearsay is Admissible in Personal Injury Cases?

Testimony may be excluded on the basis of hearsay due to its inadmissibility, but there are several exceptions. In this blog post, we discuss the spontaneous declarations exception and its potential relevance to your personal injury case. As we have discussed before, if we are litigating your case and are at the point of trial, something likely has not gone according to plan. At that point, however, it is important to be aware of hearsay issues and applicable exceptions.

Hearsay is an out-of-court statement submitted to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In basic terms, it means that hearsay is a statement which was made outside the courtroom proceeding and that you are trying to prove the assertions made within the statement. For example, if I were testifying in court and I said that my cousin looked over at me and said "the sky is blue," and I were submitting this statement to prove that, in fact, the sky is blue, then this assertion would be hearsay. However, if the purpose of my submission of my cousin statements was simply to prove that it was daytime, rather than nighttime, then the statement would not be hearsay.

The spontaneous declaration exception to the hearsay rule holds that a statement is admissible if the utterance was spontaneous, reasonably negating premeditation or positive fabrication, and intended to qualify, characterize, or explain the underlying events. So, it is a spontaneous statement made while the underlying events were occurring. Remember, the reason this is admissible is because it tends to be reliable.

Let's go through a few examples of what we're talking about, all of them from case law that supports the succession in Massachusetts. In a murder trial which took place in 1996, the court properly admitted into evidence as a spontaneous utterance the victim's statement, "they took my wallet." In another case from 1949, a wife's recorded telephone conversation with police after the shooting of her husband was admissible as an excited utterance. There is another 1996 case in which a comment made just prior to a plane crash was allowed into evidence.

Really, the idea here is that because the statements are made as an immediate reaction to something that is occurring, they are generally more credible and reliable. There is a distinction in the law between a statement made immediately as reaction and statements made even just a few seconds after the event occurred. The latter example is generally not allowed as an excited utterance or spontaneous declaration. The statements need to be contemporaneous with the action.

This issue may arise in a personal injury action, where we're talking about someone who's injured, of course. That usually involves some sort of accident or impact, so a spontaneous declaration made the same exact time as the impact (or just before, when it is clear the impact was about to occur) would seem to be acceptable and within the bounds of this exception. For example, let's say a witness looks up and sees a car mowing down a family while driving on the sidewalk. The witness screams out, "Look out, he's going to kill you!" That statement would likely be admissible as a spontaneous declaration.

Another example would be a slip and fall on ice where two individuals are walking across the parking lot, with one individual not paying much attention to the slipperiness of the ground below, and the other individual noticing at the last second a sheet of black ice. The second individual shouts, "Ice!!" That statement also would likely be admissible hearsay.

Don't forget, you generally want the party who made the out-of-court statement physically to be in the courtroom to testify. You want to identify that individual early and speak with that individual as soon as possible to ensure that the witness recollects the events, knows to remember the facts going forward, and knows to stay in touch with your lawyer. The best way to assure this is by making early contact with the witness and having your Massachusetts personal injury lawyer speak with him or her as soon as possible. If this is impossible, perhaps the spontaneous declaration exception hearsay will allow you to get is her testimony on the record.

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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