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Lewis v. Baker

    Brief Fact Summary. The plaintiff was an employee of the defendant railroad company when he suffered injuries while jumping from a railroad car. The defendant wanted to admit as evidence an accident report detailing the circumstances and condition of the relevant equipment.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The test for business records admissibility should not automatically exclude records that are prepared for potential litigation, but rather should be broad enough to encompass any records where factors attest to their trustworthiness.

    Facts.
    The plaintiff worked for the defendant railroad company as a brakeman. Through some type of brake failure, resulting from the fault of the plaintiff or the brakes themselves, the plaintiff was unable to stop a runaway train car. The plaintiff sustained injuries from the jump.

    The defendant railroad company prepared an accident report which they submitted as evidence. The report was authored by an employee who did not have firsthand knowledge of the relevant facts of the accident.

    Evidence was admitted that asserted the brakes worked before the accident and afterwards. The plaintiff’s falsified employment application was also admitted to question his credibility.

    Issue.
    Whether the accident reports are business records with the Federal Business Records Act (“FBRA”)?

    Whether a report prepared by someone without firsthand knowledge of the facts contained in the report affects the report’s admissibility?

    Whether the jury should be instructed that they could presume brake functionality from evidence that demonstrated the brakes worked immediately before and after the accident?

    Whether the plaintiff’s falsified employment application should be admitted to evidence to assert a lack of plaintiff credibility?

    Held. The court affirmed all of the lower court decisions regarding the admissibility of evidence or statements.
    The accident reports are admissible under the FBRA. The report’s preparation had several features that attested to its trustworthiness. The accident reports are routine, they provide information that the defendant business could utilize outside of litigation (such as improving safety), and the reports author had little incentive to be less than truthful.

    The fact that the report was not authored by someone with firsthand knowledge of the facts of the report does not render it inadmissible. The only requirement is that the authenticating witness can verify that the report was made according to regular business practices.

    Statements by the trial court judge that the jury may infer that because the brakes were working before and after the accident that they were working during the accident are admissible.

    Because this was a civil action, the falsified employment application is admissible to question the credibility of the witness.


    Discussion.
    The court distinguishes their ruling from the ruling in Palmer v. Hoffman (318 U.S. 109, 87 L. Ed. 645(1943)). The court contends that the accident report in question in Palmer was most likely solely for litigation purposes, and the engineer in Palmer had a motive to lie (possible contributory negligence). The report in this case could be used for quality control purposes, and the parties that prepared and provided the facts of the report did not have the same incentive to lie. By allowing the reports, the court expands the scope of the business records hearsay exception.

    The court makes a fine distinction between the reports filed here, utilizing forms provided by the employer, and the monthly reports that are required to be submitted to the Secretary of Transportation. The monthly reports are not admissible per the statute.


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