Medical records often contain statements that describe what happened to cause an injury. Oftentimes, those statements provide a stark contrast to later descriptions offered during litigation. Defendants often seek to introduce these statements to establish the earliest account of the mechanism of injury. The question of whether the records are admissible revolves around evidentiary hearsay rules. The medical records are themselves hearsay, albeit most likely excepted and at least partially admissible as business records. However, each level of hearsay in the document must be evaluated. Statements regarding the cause of the injury can fall within the business records exception provided they are germane to the treatment or diagnosis of plaintiff’s injuries. Alternatively, the entry may be admissible as an admission, but only if there is evidence that connects the party to the entry.
In Benavides v. City of New York, the plaintiff filed litigation alleging excessive force by the NYPD while attempting to flee arrest. Benavides, an admitted drug dealer, alleged that he was pushed off a fence by a Bronx Narcotics officer in pursuit during a drug investigation. from the fence came from his interviews with doctors in the weeks and months after the accident.
The question was whether the emergency room records from Lincoln Hospital, which may have contained information provided by the police, including references to plaintiff’s “jump,” should have been admissible before the jury. Plaintiff contended he deserved a new trial because the jury’s determination (of no liability) was based upon inadmissible hearsay statements from the police.
Interestingly, the Court found that statements attributable to the NYPD were hearsay and should have been excluded from jury consideration. However, their admissibility at trial was deemed “harmless error,” and the jury’s finding in favor of the defendant was affirmed. The Court based it’s decision on multiple other references throughout plaintiff’s treatment to the fact that he jumped, and was not pushed, from the fence.
Had plaintiff not sought follow up treatment, and therefore, not offered other medical records that referenced his “jump” from the wall, the error of admitting the officers’ hearsay statements may not have been so “harmless.” Clearly, this particular plaintiff did not formulate his plan to bring a lawsuit until his treatment was well underway, and his medical records were “tainted” by his initial honesty.
Thanks to Brian Gibbons for his contribution.