On December 3, 2015, in the medical malpractice case of Estate of Robert R. Rochester, Jr. v. Reyes, M.D., et al., N13C-07-371-JAP, the Delaware Superior Court (Clark, J.) issued a letter opinion which, among other things, denied the Defendants’ motion in limine seeking to preclude the Plaintiff from admitting out-of-court statements allegedly made by Christiana Care Health System staff instructing the decedent (Robert Rochester) to stop taking his Coumadin regimen. The Court ruled that such statements were not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted–i.e., they were not “hearsay.” Rather, the statements were being offered for the non-hearsay purpose of proving the effect of the statements on the listener, Robert Rochester. The full decision is available here.
In this case, the Plaintiffs allege that Defendants (Dr. Reyes and Delaware Medical Group) were negligent in treating the decedent Robert Rochester. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Dr. Reyes failed to appropriately treat the decedent’s hypercoagulation condition, which ultimately caused his death. The decedent had been admitted to the emergency room to treat a severe dog bite. During that visit, two separate healthcare professionals allegedly instructed the decedent to stop taking his prescribed Coumadin until a follow up appointment with Dr. Reyes. Years earlier, the decedent had been prescribed Coumadin due to a pulmonary embolism. Several days after allegedly being told to stop taking his Coumadin, the decedent suffered another pulmonary embolism and died.
Plaintiffs sought to introduce the healthcare providers’ statements to the decedent to stop taking his Coumadin. Defendants argued that such statements are inadmissible hearsay because Plaintiffs were merely seeking to offer these out-of-court statements to prove their truth–i.e., to prove that the healthcare providers did in fact tell the decedent to stop taking his Coumadin. Plaintiffs countered that the statements were in fact being introduced for a different purpose–to prove their effect on the listener. In other words, Plaintiffs sought to introduce the statements to prove that the decedent likely stopped taking his Coumadin in response to the healthcare providers’ statements.
Agreeing with the Plaintiffs’ arguments, the Court overruled the Defendants’ hearsay objection. In particular, the Court made clear that Delaware law does not require “independent corroborating evidence as a prerequisite to admission of nonhearsay.” (Opinion at 4). In other words, it is not necessary for the Plaintiffs to produce additional evidence, other than the healthcare workers’ statements themselves, that demonstrates that the decedent had stopped taking his Coumadin. The Court also acknowledged, as Defendants argued, that “the statements at issue could also tend to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” (Opinion at 5). However, the Court noted, “nonhearsay statements involving effect on the listener ‘frequently have an impermissible hearsay aspect as well as the permissible nonhearsay aspect.'” (Id., quoting McCormick on Evidence, Section 249 (3rd Ed.)). Thus, because the statements were being introduced for a clear nonhearsay purpose and were highly relevant to the issues in the case, the Court allowed them to be admitted into evidence despite the fact that they also had some hearsay aspects to them.
This case provides an interesting analysis of the “effect on the listener” rule and how it interplays with the general rule against hearsay. Although not discussed in the opinion, the statements could also be admissible on a separate ground: they are potentially admissions against the Defendants’ interest.