The Principle of Hearsay in Florida Law – Benjamin v. Tandem

The hearsay rule is an extremely complex part of evidence law that can affect the outcome of a case. Hearsay is defined as unverified or unofficial information received from another party rather than derived from one’s own knowledge. Given the potentially unreliable nature of these statements, there are strict rules about the admissibility of such statements in a court of law.

In Benjamin v. Tandem Healthcare, the court addressed the issue of hearsay within the context of a wrongful death claim against a nursing home facility. The facts of the case are as follows. Ms. Gagnon died while she was a resident in a Florida nursing home owned and operated by Tandem Healthcare. She died by choking on food, specifically coleslaw. Ms. Gagnon had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and the nursing home had documented her issues with swallowing food as a result of a run-in with polio in her childhood days. Ms. Gagnon’s daughter brought a wrongful death claim against the nursing home, alleging that the facility breached the duty of care owed to her mother by not monitoring her while she ate.

The issue at trial was whether or not Ms. Gagnon choked to death. The plaintiff presented experts who concluded that the nursing home was responsible for Ms. Gagnon’s death because, through their negligence, they allowed her to choke, which led to a cardiac arrest that ultimately killed her. The nursing home expert testified that Ms. Gagnon died of a fatal arrhythmia that could have been caused by her prescription medication.

The plaintiff also presented the testimony of Ian Samsoondar, who was an employee of the nursing home and was working in the kitchen at the time of the incident. Samsoondar testified that a nurse assistant had run into the kitchen and yelled “somebody choked on some food.” Samsoondar also claimed that a nursing home kitchen manager had later said in a staff meeting that Ms. Gagnon had choked on some food. Samsoondar could not be sure as to whether either the nurse assistant or the kitchen manager had observed the incident.

The trial court excluded Samsoondar’s testimony, ruling that it was inadmissible hearsay. The lower court explained that because Samsoondar had no direct knowledge of the cause of Ms. Gagnon’s death, his statements could not be used at trial.

While hearsay is typically inadmissible, there are certain exceptions. For example, a court may allow a statement to be used in trial when the statement is made by a party’s agent pertaining to an issue “within the scope of employment.” Here, the statements made by the kitchen manager would fall into this category. Thus, the Fourth District Court found that the lower court erroneously excluded Samsoondar’s testimony.

Unfortunately, nursing home negligence cases are on the rise. Robert Dixon is a highly skilled Miami personal injury lawyer who deeply understands the procedural and evidentiary rules that can make all the difference in your case. At our firm, we pride ourselves on keeping an open line of communication with our clients. We proudly represent clients throughout South Florida. To learn more, contact us online or call us today at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) for a free, confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiffs in Negligence Cases Must Establish the Duty of Care – Down v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,  South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, August 5, 2014

Social Media and Your Personal Injury Case – Root v. Balfour Beatty Construction, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, July 21, 2014

Understanding the Basics of “Catastrophic Injuries” Under Florida Law, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, July 7, 2014

Contact Information