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Handel v. New York Rapid Transit Corp.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Statement made by Handel (Plaintiff) as to the cause of his injuries was excluded at trial and the suit dismissed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A statement made after an event, relating that event, is inadmissible hearsay.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff died after an accident involving a train.  When he was found injured on the street below the elevated train tracks, Plaintiff said, “Save me. Help me—why did that conductor close the door on me?” This statement was determined to be inadmissible hearsay and excluded. Judgment was entered on behalf of New York Rapid Transit Corp. (Defendant) because Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case for negligence.

    Issue.

    Is a statement made after an event inadmissible hearsay?

    Held.

    (Taylor, J.) Yes. The statement was not made during the accident and is therefore not part of the res gestae of the event, but rather a statement describing a past event. Such a statement is excluded as hearsay. Although evidence was found that the Plaintiff was dragged along the platform and then fell from the elevated track to the street below, the only evidence of the cause of this accident came from his statement. Without the statement, Plaintiff does not have a prima facie case and the cause of action was properly dismissed.

    Dissent.

    (Close, J.) Plaintiff’s statement should be admitted as a spontaneous observation of the event made before sufficient time to preclude fabrication. Plaintiff’s statement was spontaneous and occurred within only minutes of the accident. There was no time for fabrication, and Plaintiff’s physical injuries and shock make it unlikely he invented the source of his injuries. The statement should have been admitted and the judgment for Defendant should be reversed and the case remanded for a new trial.

    Discussion.

    The hearsay rule contains numerous exceptions which allow the admission of hearsay testimony. One exception is for excited utterances, statements made close in time to a startling event while an individual is still under the stress of the event.  This exception exists under the theory that a person in such a state would not have the opportunity to reflect and make up a story in such a short time frame. This type of statement is considered reliable enough to be admissible. Plaintiff’s statement would likely be admitted under this exception if offered today.


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