Injury Law Glossary

Hearsay and Personal Injury Law

A lot of legal words have made their way into our everyday conversations, and hearsay is no exception.

A lot of legal words have made their way into our everyday conversations, and hearsay is no exception. But the actual, legal definition of hearsay is quite a bit different from the way it's used in everyday speech (and even in some legal dramas).

Hearsay is, at its most basic, a statement that was given to a witness, who then repeats that statement in court. However, not all such statements are hearsay (complicated, right?). In order to be hearsay, the statement needs to state (or imply) a fact.

Clear as mud, right? Let's look at some examples.

Example 1

Rachel and Monica live in an apartment across the hall from Chandler and Joey. One day, Rachel accidentally rear-ends Chandler's car as they're both entering the apartment building's parking garage. Unfortunately (isn't it a shame when this happens between friends?), neither Rachel nor her insurance company is willing to pay Chandler's medical bills for the whiplash he received, and Chandler has to take Rachel to court.

Rachel's lawyer calls Monica to the stand to ask about the immediate aftermath of the accident. Monica says the following things:

  • "One of our other neighbors heard Chandler say that he was faking his injury to get money." This statement is hearsay. Monica does not know the exact context or wording of what Chandler said (or if he, in truth, said anything at all). The neighbor might be misremembering, misinterpreting, or flat-out lying.
  • "I heard Chandler tell Rachel, 'You ruined my life.'" This is not hearsay, because Monica is relaying a conversation that she personally witnessed.
  • "Joey told me that Chandler was acting like his injuries were worse than they really were." This is hearsay if Monica says it. If Joey is brought to the stand and makes the same statement, it would not be hearsay, because both attorneys would have a chance to ask him questions and clarify exactly what he heard and how he came to the conclusion that Chandler was acting.

Example 2

Leslie was shopping at a store. On the way out the door, she slipped in a puddle of water and injured herself. Leslie's attorney has called April, who is an employee at the store, to the stand.

April says the following things:

  • "Andy was supposed to mop up the water on the floor, but he told me that the manager told him not to do it and to stock shelves instead." This is hearsay. April is repeating something she was told by someone else. Neither April nor the court has any way to determine whether it's true or not without calling Andy to the stand.
  • "The manager told me, 'Don't put up the wet floor sign. Take care of the customers in your line and don't worry about the sign.'" This is not hearsay. April is repeating the exact wording of a conversation she had with the manager.

I Bet There Are a Lot of Exceptions To This, Aren't There?

There certainly are! Hearsay can be allowed if the circumstances make it sufficiently reliable. There are other noted exceptions, like deathbed declarations. If the witness can't be interviewed (because they're dead), these declarations are sometimes allowed by the court.

So How Do I Know If It's Hearsay Or Not?

Quite simply, you probably don't. This is one of the reasons that lawyers have extensive schooling prior to being admitted to practice. This is one of those issues that someone who hasn't studied law is going to have a difficult time fully understanding. And it's why you need a lawyer on your side for your personal injury case. Your lawyer is trained in spotting hearsay and can raise an appropriate objection.

Do you need a lawyer for your personal injury case? You can get started on today and have your case evaluated in just three minutes!