Martin v. Lawrence: Preparing for an Injury Trial

Attorneys representing injured parties must carefully calculate the impact of certain evidence (or absence of certain evidence) in the outcome of a trial.
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When they fail in this regard, it is the injured parties who suffer. Such appears to be the case in Martin v. Lawrence, as the state supreme court in Maryland denied the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial after a jury sided with the defendant in a wrongful death claim.

Central to the request for a new trial was the trial judge’s decision to bar a certain document from evidence. However, the supreme court later determined that the court’s decision wasn’t improper, and the plaintiff’s attorneys had been given enough time to come up with an alternative way to present the evidence the document contained.

(Although this case unfolded in Maryland, not South Carolina, the decisions upheld by state supreme courts are often reviewed and carefully considered by justices examining similar issues in other states.)

Court documents in the Martin case indicate that the accident in question occurred on a Sunday morning in 2006.

The defendant would later testify that he was traveling approximately 32 miles-per-hour on a stretch of road where the speed limit is posted at 25 miles-per-hour. He approached the intersection and said the light was green from the moment he first observed it until he proceeded through. In the middle of the intersection, he said, his vehicle collided with that of an elderly woman who was reportedly on her way to church.

The damage to both vehicles was significant. The elderly woman suffered numerous injuries, after which she was no longer independent. Two years later, she died. Her son contended her injuries from that crash ultimately led to a failure of health that contributed to her death.

He filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant.

Before the trial began, the trial judge granted a defense motion to strike the admission of a document titled, “Notice of Injury – Proof of Loss” from evidence. The document had been filled out by the elderly woman with her insurer shortly after the crash. In that document, the woman described the events of the accident as they unfolded. Her version of events contradicted the defendant’s version. However, the document was found to be hearsay, as the defense would have had no opportunity to cross-examine the witness, as she was no longer alive.

The plaintiff’s attorney had argued that while the document was indeed hearsay, it should be considered an exception to the rule, according to state law. The trial court disagreed, as did the appellate and supreme courts in later rulings.

What the plaintiff’s attorney failed to do, however, was consider that there was an alternative way to introduce the document, or at least have its contents discussed. This would have been to call a witness from the woman’s insurance company.

The plaintiff’s attorney attempted to argue upon appeal that there was no time for this, as the defense motion regarding that document was only granted on the morning or trial. However, the court rejected this argument because the document was reportedly produced during the course of an earlier arbitration. This, the court said, meant that the plaintiff had more than enough time to obtain a representative from the insurance company prior to trial.

“We see no reason for plaintiff’s failure to foresee the need to bring in a representative (of the insurance company) in light of the document’s importance to the plaintiff’s case at trial and the well-established requirements of (state law),” the high court ruled.

If you have been injured in a car accident, contact the Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Martin v. Lawrence, Oct. 30, 2013, Rhode Island Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Fatal Crash After Tire Blows in Lee County, South Carolina, May 28, 2010, Rock Hill Injury Lawyer Blog

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