Fatally Injured California Worker’s Dying Declarations Should Have Been Admitted at Trial as Exception to Hearsay Exclusion

Recently, the California Court of Appeal reversed a trial court judgment in favor of the defendants that had granted their motion for summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ negligence allegations.  After a victim suffered injuries at work and eventually died, the relatives brought a negligence claim against his employer and another employee.  On appeal, the court assessed whether the trial court had erred in finding there had not been a triable issue of material fact regarding the employer’s negligence. Specifically, the issue was whether the court had wrongly excluded dying declarations that the deceased made concerning details of his accident.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs alleged the employer negligently stacked and loaded potato pallets, since they operate a potato packing operation.  This negligence caused a pallet to topple on and crush the deceased. When opposing the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the plaintiffs contended that the potato boxes had not been properly wrapped together.

The plaintiffs submitted declarations, which provided the deceased’s version of facts as he told them to relatives while he was in the hospital. The defendants objected to the statements in the personal declarations as hearsay.   The trial court analyzed whether the evidence supported the finding that the deceased had been relating facts concerning the cause of his death, rather than a hearsay account of another event, unrelated to his death.  The court sustained the objections to the personal declarations and held there was no proof of negligence on the part of the defendants.

On appeal, the court analyzed if the trial court had properly excluded the deceased’s dying declarations under hearsay rules.  The court stated that “hearsay evidence” refers to evidence of statements made other than by witnesses, which is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.  According to the dying declaration exception, a hearsay statement is admissible when (1) the statement concerns the “cause and circumstances” of the death; (2) the statement is made upon the declarant’s personal knowledge; and (3) the statement was made under a sense of immediately impending death.

Further detailing the elements of a dying declaration, the court stated that the person who makes such a declaration must believe that he is about to die, with no hope of recovery.  Furthermore, the statement must be made when the declarant has abandoned all expectation of living.  In this case, the deceased had told his family, repeatedly, that he was not going to leave the hospital because he was not going to live.  He had bequeathed his property and left instructions for caring for his wife. The court stated that these actions were direct and circumstantial evidence of the deceased’s knowledge of the severity of his condition and his impending death.

After construing the declarations liberally, the court stated that the plaintiffs met the three elements for admitting dying declarations.  Specifically, the appellate court held the trial court should have considered the allegations that the deceased had been in the truck when the forklift driver moved the pallet and boxes fell upon the deceased, leading to his injuries.

The court stated that the trial court’s grant of summary judgment should be reversed and the matter remanded for proceedings consistent with the opinion.

At Sharifi Firm, our workplace injury lawyers represent victims, as well as family members of a fatally injured individual, in pursuing compensation for harm that was caused by the negligent acts of others.  We help people throughout Southern California and provide a free consultation with a skilled attorney. Call our office at (866) 422-7222 or reach us online.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Affirms Judgment in Favor of Defendants After Finding Plaintiff Injured in Hot Air Balloon Had Not Shown Defendants Breached Duty of Care, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, September 4, 2017

Fatal Stabbing in Mobile Park Home Not Foreseeable, California Court Upholds Summary Judgment in Favor of Landlord in Lawsuit Alleging Negligence, Wrongful Death, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, May 2, 2017

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