California Family Wins Appeal that Allows Them to Use Their Relative’s Dying Declaration in Negligence Lawsuit

ForkliftIn your personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, there may be many key hurdles to overcome in achieving success. One of these may be finding ways to get all of your helpful evidence admitted and placed before the court. An experienced California injury attorney can help throughout the process of dealing with the rules of evidence as you pursue your case. In the matter of a truck driver injured at work, the driver’s family was entitled to put the deceased driver’s statements made from his hospital bed into evidence because they satisfied an evidentiary rule that allows dying declarations into evidence, even if those statements are otherwise inadmissible as hearsay.

The accident that led to this lawsuit took place at a potato packing plant in Bakersfield. Hernandez was loading potatoes into Baldemar’s truck. Hernandez was driving a forklift; Baldemar was helping from inside the truck cargo compartment. That’s where things went wrong. Some amount of potatoes (either a single box or multiple boxes) ended up falling off the forklift and on top of Baldemar.

The truck driver got up under his own power, but he decided not to take the load that day. He said he would return the next day. He never did. Within a few days, he began spitting up blood and entered the hospital. Less than four weeks later, he died.

Several of Baldemar’s relatives launched a negligence lawsuit, naming both Hernandez and the potato company as defendants. The two sides presented very different accounts of the accident that precipitated the driver’s death. The defendants asserted that one box fell on top of Baldemar. The plaintiffs alleged that an entire pallet (which would have included 50 boxes) fell and that many of those 50 boxes fell onto the man. Each box of potatoes weighed roughly 63 pounds.

One key piece of evidence the plaintiffs had on their side, however, was Baldemar’s own words. After a week in the hospital, the driver began expressing to his family that he would die in that hospital. He organized plans for the care of his wife. He began giving away his possessions. He also told his family his version of what happened in the back of that truck. He stated that the top pallet wasn’t plastic wrapped, as it should have been. The forklift driver allegedly made a movement with the forklift that caused the top pallet to shift and fall, causing as many as 20 boxes to fall on top of Baldemar.

The defendants attacked the statements as inadmissible hearsay. The plaintiffs argued that Baldemar’s statements were “dying declarations,” which would make them admissible as exceptions to the hearsay rule of evidence. The trial judge sided with the defendants and issued a summary judgment ending the case in their favor.

The family appealed, and they won. The defendants tried to attack the statements (and defend the lower court’s rulings) on multiple bases. In order to get a statement admitted into evidence as a dying declaration in your case, you have to show that the accident was the cause of the dying person’s impending death and that the person understood that death was imminent. The company and the forklift operator contested both of these points but were unsuccessful. Even though Baldemar left work under his own power that day and only began having issues with spitting up blood several days later, there was still ample evidence to create a reasonable likelihood that the potato box accident caused the injuries that ended his life. As to the knowledge-of-imminent-death element, the key was what the dying man understood, rather than necessarily the time frame. Although Baldemar remained at the hospital for four weeks before dying, he began telling loved ones after about one week that he was never leaving that hospital and generally that he was dying.

The experienced San Mateo work injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye & Fitting have been working to help injured Californians and their families for many years. Our attorneys have the skill and knowledge you need on your side as you fight for your rights and a fair recovery. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Southern California Security Guard Wins $17M Damages Award After Forklift Accident Leads to Leg Amputation, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, published July 21, 2017

Determination Pays Off: Napa Mom Receives $8M Jury Verdict in Street Sweeper Crash Case, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, published May 5, 2017

Photo credit: Patsy Lynch / FEMA (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons.