Witness Shows That It Is Sometimes Better To Be Ordinary Than Special (NY)

Many people take pride in holding themselves to a higher standard in life’s endeavors. In the business world, it can earn the respect of colleagues and customers. In personal relationships, it can earn the trust of family and friends. In that sense, it is often wise to insist on a higher standard, but that is not always the case.

In Williams v. New York City Tr. Auth., plaintiff sued the New York City Transit Authority for injuries he sustained as a result of being struck by a bus. Because the plaintiff stepped off the curb without looking, liability hinged on whether the driver operated the bus too close to the curb. In support of its claim that the bus was operated too close to the curb, plaintiff offered, over the defense’s objection, the videotaped testimony of a retired Transit Authority supervisor who based his testimony on Transit Authority operating criteria, which he admitted “are much higher than anyone else’s, so I would look at the accidents by our standards a lot different from anyone else.” The Appellate Division reversed the judgment in favor of plaintiff, holding that the admission of testimony holding a defendant to a higher standard of care than the one required by law was clearly erroneous. 

Litigants are always trying to put their best foot forward in a courtroom, and for good reason. A witness that is shown to be more careful, knowledgeable, qualified, and competent is also likely to be more persuasive. But when preparing a witness for trial, it is essential that the most basic principles of law not be overlooked. While holding yourself and colleagues to a higher standard is commendable in day-to-day life, it can be disastrous on a witness stand.

Thanks to Mike Gauvin for this post. If you have any questions, please email Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com.