West Virginia Car Accidents, Evidence, and the Hearsay Rule – Thorn v. Casey

Car accident and other personal injury cases often come down to a battle of competing experts and evidence. While building a case requires the assistance of an experienced attorney, just as important is the work a lawyer does to make sure that a judge or jury actually sees all of the evidence. As the state Supreme Court recently explained, that means making sure that the case is presented within the boundaries of a number of procedural rules, including the rule against hearsay.

thumb-print-1-1231735-m.jpgThorn and Casey were the drivers of two cars in a three-car accident in November 2010. Thorn – the middle driver – said Casey crashed into the back of her car, causing Thorn to rear-end the car in front of her. Casey, on the other hand, claimed that she collided with Thorn only after Thorn had hit the front car. After a trial in her lawsuit against Casey, a jury found that Thorn wasn’t entitled to damages for negligence because she didn’t show that she actually suffered an injury as a “direct and proximate cause” of the accident.

Thorn later appealed the decision, arguing that the trial court erred by blocking her from offering medical records from a doctor who examined her four months after the accident. According to the Court, Dr. Houman Khosrovi said that she “most likely” suffered an undisclosed injury “as a result of the car accident.” He didn’t testify as a witness at trial, but Thorn attempted to enter his evaluation and other examination records as evidence in the case. The trial judge denied the request, saying that allowing the records to be offered without the doctor testifying in the case would violate the rule against hearsay.

“Hearsay” is a statement offered at trial by a person other than the one who made the statement and offered in order to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. For example, it could be a statement from Dr. Khosrovi about Thorn’s injuries offered to prove the extent of those injuries and how they were caused. Such statements generally aren’t admissible in court, unless they fall under one of a number of exceptions to the rule against hearsay. That includes an exception for “statements made for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment and describing medical history,” under state evidence rules.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Supreme Court concluded that – even if the evidence qualified for an exception to the hearsay rule – Thorn simply wasn’t affected by the lower court’s decision to exclude it. Indeed, the Court explained that another doctor who testified as an expert on Thorn’s behalf said he reviewed Dr. Khosrovi’s records in preparation for his testimony. He said he also reviewed emergency room records, an accident report, and other records of tests and treatment that Thorn underwent following the accident.

“Because the substance of Dr. Khosrovi’s summary was introduced through other sources–including petitioner’s own testimony–we find that if there was error in its exclusion, that error was harmless,” the Supreme Court held.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car crash or other accident in West Virginia, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our auto accident lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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