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State of Mind or Intent in a Personal Injury Case

As we've covered in previous blog posts, out-of-court statements offered to prove the matter asserted in those statements are considered hearsay and are inadmissible. However, there are several exceptions to the hearsay rule and, accordingly, there are reasons that hearsay statements may be considered more reliable and allowed into evidence. The exception we will cover today applies to Massachusetts personal injury cases as well as all other litigation in Massachusetts. Today we will cover the exception of declarations of state of mind or intent.

There is a 1974 case titled Commonwealth v. Bush from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which held that out-of-court statements by a person as to his or her intent or state of mind may be admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule when those issues are before the court.

The translation of that into understandable terms is as follows: Someone's state of mind or intent is usually not an out-of-court statement. They are more akin to internal thoughts. However, sometimes these thoughts are verbalized, particularly in a declaration of someone's state of mind or a declaration of someone's intention.

Now, this type of exception is typically relevant to criminal cases. It is in criminal cases that we most commonly see the element of intent or state of mind as relevant issues before the court. For starters, most crimes require the element of intent. That is, it must be proven that the defendant intended to commit the crime. It is not the case for every crime, but it is the case for many. The same goes for state of mind. Think of an individual who asserts the defense of self-defense. Certainly that person's state of mind is relevant, as is any declaration thereof.

Well, in personal injury cases, state of mind and intent can be relevant as well. We may be faced in a personal injury case with an unsettled issue of liability. The defendant may be operating under the theory that the personal injury victim in fact intended to become injured for the purpose of asserting a claim. Perhaps the victim in that case verbalized such an intention just before the injury occurred. Let's add some detail.

Let's say we have two individuals standing on the side of a busy road. There are cars parked on both sides of the road, and the two individuals are standing between two parked cars in a manner so that oncoming traffic cannot see either one of them. There is no conspiracy between these two individuals. One individual has no idea that the other is about to sustain an injury. The party who is about to sustain an injury has a clear sense that his injury is imminent.

As traffic moves swiftly by the two individuals, one of the individuals thinks to himself, "This traffic is moving far too fast to cross. We will have to wait a minute for there to be a break in the traffic." The other individual, the one who is about to sustain an injury, is thinking differently. He has planned out what is about to occur. He plans to step into traffic and manner so that the oncoming vehicles do not see him, in order to ensure that he will sustain an injury from which he expects to recover an insurance claim. Seeing a commercial vehicle approaching, that individual steps into traffic, directly in front of the oncoming commercial vehicle. The vehicle hits his leg, causing a car accident and personal injuries. But here's the kicker: just before stepping into traffic, the injured party turns to the other individual and says, "This looks like a good one. Call my girlfriend and tell her where they bring me."

Those two sentences can really be evaluated in more than one way in this personal injury case. The first sentence, "This looks like a good one" evidences that individual's state of mind just before stepping in front of the vehicle. The evidence really is that the individual intended to select a vehicle to step before that expected to result in a preferential recovery. That sentence might fit under the narrow exception of state of mind.

The second sentence, "Call my girlfriend and tell her where they bring me" could also be reasonably argued to fall within an exception, but might also be admissible as non-hearsay because the attorney presenting this evidence would not necessarily be seeking it as proof of the matter asserted in sentence. Rather, that lawyer would be using this sentence as further evidence of the victim's state of mind and intent just prior to the accident.

Understanding Massachusetts rules of evidence can clearly be critical in a personal injury matter. Although people sometimes represent themselves in these matters, the complexity presented typically makes that not cost effective and, therefore, not the best strategy. If you'd like to consult with a Boston personal injury lawyer for free regarding your personal injury case, call our office today.

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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