Brief Fact Summary. The Mills’ family residence, which was insured by the Maryland Casualty Company, was completely destroyed by fire. After inspecting the site, the insurance company refused to pay the claim, concluding the fire was a product of arson.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The district court acted correctly both in admitting the contents of the telephone call to the Mills’ residence and in denying plaintiff’s motion for j.n.o.v.
The crime of arson, being in defiance of law, is ordinarily conceived in secrecy and executed in such a manner as to avoid detection and exposure; and proof of such an unlawful enterprise must, in the very nature of things, be made by circumstances, and every circumstance which tends to cast light upon the incident is legitimate and proper.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Did the trial court abuse its discretion by failing to sustain an objection that the police dispatcher’s testimony about the phone call was both unauthenticated and hearsay?
Did the trail court err in denying the plaintiff’s motion for j.n.o.v.?
Held. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by overruling the authentication objection.
Under these circumstances, the hearsay evidence was properly admitted.
The district court acted correctly in denying the plaintiff’s motion for j.n.o.v.
Discussion. All that is necessary in authenticating a phone call is that the proponent offer sufficient authentication to make a prima facie case that would allow the issue of identity to go to the jury. This burden was met here.
The timeliness of the statement is the key to determining whether the statement meets the present-sense impression exception to the hearsay rule. The person answering the phone responded to the dispatcher’s question immediately upon gathering the information that the Mills’ were not at home.
A motion for j.n.o.v. should be granted only where the facts and inferences point so strongly in favor of the moving party that a reasonable jury could not arrive at a contra verdict. Here, the insurance company introduced enough circumstantial evidence of the Mills’ reasonable motive to set the fire, and evidence of the fire’s incendiary origin to enable them to reach the jury and for the jury to come to a conclusion.