In any kind of trial, most people think that if there is evidence that tends to prove or disprove someone’s case, a court (judge or jury) should hear or see it. After all, trials are where parties present everything about their case, and those parties have a right to have all of their information considered.
Rules of evidence can be a huge impediment to having someone’s case heard fully. The evidence code can keep crucial pieces of evidence from ever being considered. Many cases have been won and lost simply by the ability or inability to get a piece of evidence admitted and considered by a jury.
Whether it is fair or unfair that someone should win or lose a trial just because a piece of evidence can not be admitted depends on what side you are on. Understanding the rules and how they can prevent that crucial piece of evidence from being considered is crucial to a personal injury case.
Hearsay is the evidentiary rule that most people are familiar with, and the rule that most often keeps evidence out of a case. Hearsay is simply a statement that is made out of court, which is trying to be admitted in court as evidence.
Hearsay can be as simple as a statement that “he told me he ran the red light,” or written words, such as information on your medical records. Hearsay can even be your own words, if they were made out of court—for example, “I told the doctor that I had a headache.” Almost every document seeking to be admitted in a trial, from medical records, to letters, to emails, to a business’s floor cleaning logs, are all hearsay.
Thankfully, the evidence code does have a number of exclusions or exceptions to hearsay that allow hearsay to be admitted as evidence. The key to getting hearsay admitted is understanding these exceptions and showing that a piece of evidence fits under that exception.
For example, statements made for medical diagnosis, or documents regularly kept by a business, are all exceptions to hearsay. Statements made excitedly or “in the heat of the moment,” are exceptions as well. Public records, and in certain cases statements by witnesses who are not available to attend trial, can be admitted.
Often, a witness will testify against someone, and that testimony will be damaging. One strategy to combat this is to make that witness look untrustworthy by bringing out things in that witness’s background, that would make a jury question his or her veracity or truthfulness. This is often called impeaching a witness.
Not everything in a witness’s background can be brought up to impeach a witness. Generally, anything that shows bias can be brought up. Is the witness the mother of someone with an interest in the case? Did the witness make money by conducting a study? Did the witness write an article online saying how he does not believe personal injury victims two years ago? These are all examples of situations where a witness may be biased towards a side, and that bias can be brought out.
Not all bad acts can be brought out, however. If a witness was expelled from school 20 years ago, that may be too distant in time, and too unrelated to the issues in the case, to be brought up. The fact a witness cheated on his wife may be too prejudicial and again, too unrelated to the case, to be admitted.
The analysis can change depending on the case. The fact an expert witness for the defense was arrested for cocaine may have no bearing on his opinion in your injury trial. But in a family law case, the fact that a father was arrested for cocaine could be relevant to whether he gets custody of his children. Same facts, but their relevancy changes depending on the issues in the case.
There are often statutory impediments to admitting evidence into a trial. Accident reports filled out by police at the scene of a car accident are generally privileged from being admitted. Incident reports which are filled out by businesses to memorialize a fall in their store are generally privileged.
We tend to think that when someone offers to settle a case, that they are admitting guilt. After all, the logic goes, why would someone offer anything to settle unless they were liable or guilty? True or untrue, that is the very reason why any offers to settle a dispute, are also privileged from being admitted.
Experts are crucial to many cases, especially personal injury trials. However, there is a limit as to what an expert can testify to, no matter what their credentials.
Generally, an expert witness’s testimony has to have been generated by scientifically accepted principles. The focus is not on the expert’s conclusions, but on how the expert got to those conclusions.
Experts must use theories, tests, and methodologies that are tested and have been the subject of peer review and acceptance. Experts must use sufficient facts or data, and must use facts in their tests that are relevant to the issues in the case.
For example, in a trucking accident, the testimony of an expert who comes to the conclusion that the truck was at fault for an accident but calculated weights and movement related to a car and not a truck, may be inadmissible. As you can see, an injury attorney must be competent in understanding scientific methods and in breaking down the steps an expert takes to get to his or her conclusion.
Keeping evidence in or out of a case can be the difference between winning and losing. If you are in a trial, make sure your attorneys understand the ins and outs of the Florida evidence code. Call the injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation about your case.