Litigation of personal injury cases: Witness statements

Litigation of personal injury cases: Witness statements

If you have been injured as a result of an accident, it is important to consult with an attorney immediately. Although every accident victim has by law a certain amount time to file a case in court (statute of limitations), there can be legal steps which need to be addressed right away. A recent workers compensation case in Rhode Island, Matias v. AMEX Industrial Coating, Inc. (C.A. No. 10-80 S)(Sept. 27, 2012), demonstrates the dangers and difficulties involved with securing witness statements

Why Sworn Witness Statements are So Important

In June 2009, the plaintiff, while working as a welder insider the cargo hold of an oil barge, fell through scaffolding and sustained serious injuries. Through his attorneys, he filed suit in 2010, alleging that the company responsible for the scaffolding was negligent in constructing, maintaining and inspecting the scaffolding. He also alleged that the defendant company was negligent in training and supervising its employees relative to the construction, maintenance and inspection of the scaffolding.

After a year and a half of litigation, the defendant moved for summary judgment, which would be a complete finding in its favor and the end of the plaintiff’s case, on the grounds that there was no evidence whatsoever that would allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the scaffolding was defective on the date of the accident, and that the undisputed evidence showed that the subject scaffolding was not defective and was in good condition just fifteen to twenty-five minutes prior to this accident.

The attorney for the plaintiff filed an objection to the motion for summary judgment, together with a statement of disputed facts which relied in part upon unsworn (not under oath) written statements in the possession of the attorney, taken from witnesses who said that the defendant did not inspect the scaffolding on the day of the fall, that the scaffolding was not inspected by a competent person, that the scaffolding’s planks were not secure prior to the accident, and that an employee of the defendant had moved a plank on the night before the accident.

It appears that the problem for the plaintiff’s attorney was that there was limited opportunity to talk with the two witnesses who could testify as to the dangers of the scaffolding, and in the opportunities the attorney had to meet with the witnesses, the attorney was able to secure sound recordings of the witnesses but not compile the information in a format which could be used to defeat the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Counsel for the defendant moved to strike all references to the two witness statements from the plaintiff’s objection to motion for summary judgment and statement of disputed facts, arguing that the allegations that the defendant failed to inspect the subject scaffolding on the day of the accident were supported by nothing more than inadmissible hearsay.

By definition, hearsay is a statement “offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” According to the court, unsworn statements fall squarely within the definition of inadmissible hearsay, that unsigned and unsworn transcripts of interviews could not be used as probative evidence to defeat the motion for summary judgment. This decision of the court did not indicate whether the court would be granting the defendant’s motion and ending the plaintiff’s case with no money recovery, but it was damaging.

We Will Collect Proper Evidence for Your Case

Here at Rob Levine & Associates, we are always pleased to assist you in the evaluation and pursuit of any personal injury matter you may have, including workplace accidents. This case shows that despite all of the factors which you are aware of as to what happened in your accident, there can be circumstances in which certain evidence or testimony is not accepted by the court. The parties defending your cases have many legal tools available to assert their rights and present a vigorous defense. The burden is on the plaintiff to prove the case.

We are well aware of all the requirements in order to pursue a case on your behalf, and we are ready to get working on your case as soon as possible. The sooner we can be involved assisting you, the more witnesses and evidence will be available so that we can compile relevant information to bring your case successfully.

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