Kelly v. Haralampopoulos – Exception to Hearsay Rule in Medical Malpractice Claims

In civil court as well as criminal, it’s imperative that only accurate evidence be presented, and that both sides have a fair chance to refute information detrimental to their claim.
Anderson medical malpractice attorneys know that one of the ways courts accomplish this is by barring hearsay evidence. Hearsay is information obtained from another source that cannot be adequately substantiated.

However, there are sometimes exceptions, and South Carolina defines them in its Rules of Evidence, Rule 804. Additionally recognized are exceptions within the Federal Rules of Evidence, and relevant to our discussion here is Rule 803(4), which addresses statements made for medical diagnosis or treatment.

The rule says that when statements are made for and are reasonably pertinent to medical diagnosis and treatment — or describe medical history, past or present symptoms or their general cause — such statements may be admitted as evidence, even when they are hearsay.

This rule became central to the medical malpractice lawsuit of Kelly v. Haralampopoulos, which was recently before the Colorado Supreme Court.

In this case, a man sought treatment at a nearby emergency room for severe abdominal pain. After stabilizing him, doctors ordered a CT scan, which revealed a large growth on the man’s liver. The emergency room doctor indicated there were a number of different causes for this growth, and to verify which of those possibilities it may be, ordered a fine-needle biopsy. This would show the physicians whether the growth was cancerous.

Another doctor performed the biopsy. During the procedure, the man began to suffer from both cardiac and respiratory arrest. Hospital staffers attempted to resuscitate the man, working for about a half hour. While they were eventually able to restart his heart, his brain had too long been deprived of oxygen. As a result, he was left in a vegetative state.

His family met with doctors several days later to discuss what happened. After this discussion, the man’s ex-girlfriend approached the doctor to ask whether his past cocaine use may have been a contributing factor. Although the man had indicated on intake he had not taken any narcotics prior to admission, the doctor said it was possible that this could have been a contributing factor. However, the doctor was not a cardiologist, so indicated he could not say for sure.

A representative for the man later filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctors. The plaintiff soon filed a motion to exclude the statement made by the ex-girlfriend referencing cocaine use on the grounds that it was hearsay.

The defendant doctors sought an exception to hearsay in this case per Rule 803(4).

The trial court sided with the doctors, denying the plaintiff’s motion and finding the statements were made for the purposes of diagnosis and treatment. The probative value of this information, the court determined, outweighed the potential danger of unfair prejudice to the plaintiff.

The court of appeals reversed, finding statements about the patient’s prior cocaine use weren’t admissible because they were made after treatment was no longer possible and it the doctor was not attempting a diagnosis.

The case was then appealed to the state supreme court, which found the statements were pertinent to diagnosis, and therefore admissible under the hearsay exception.

This may end up being a key point for the defense. However, whether that speculation will be enough to absolve them of liability remains to be seen.

Contact our South Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Kelly v. Haralampopoulos, June 16, 2014, Colorado Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Baird v. Owczarek – Botched Eye Surgery Plaintiff Will Have Second Chance at Trial, June 2, 2014, Anderson Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog

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