Understanding Medical Reports in Massachusetts Car Accident Trials

When a Massachusetts car accident case goes to trial, experts are often used to aid in the explanation of an injury or particular process. Often, one of the experts used is a doctor who either examined the patient or reviewed his or her medical records to provide an opinion on the diagnosis and necessary treatment. In many cases, after the claim is filed, the insurance company for the defendant will seek an evaluation by one of its own recommended physicians, who may create a report or testify at one of the proceedings.

The doctor for the defense is frequently used to challenge whether or not the injury was caused by the accident. All personal injury cases involve four legal elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. In a car accident case, the injured person must show that the at-fault party had a duty to follow the traffic laws and drive safely, that the at-fault driver failed to uphold his or her duty, and that this failure to uphold the duty resulted in an injury and resulting damages to the victim. Medical conditions may have been caused by multiple incidents throughout the injured person’s life, so it is necessary to show that the injury was causally related to the accident to recover damages like medical expenses and lost wages.

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals Case, O’Malley vs. Soske, 76 Mass. App. Ct. 495 (2010) answered the evidentiary question of whether or not a report created by the defense doctor is admissible at trial. In O’Malley, the injured person was hit in a back-end car accident by the at-fault party. She pursued a claim against the defendant, stating that she suffered injuries to her back and neck and required neck surgery. After the complaint was filed, the defendant requested an examination by an orthopedic surgeon, who concluded that the woman did not suffer injury to her musculoskeletal system as a result of the accident. The doctor did not testify, but the report was allowed at the injured person’s trial. At trial, the jury found the defendant at fault for the accident, but also found the alleged injuries were not caused by the accident, which prevented the award of any damages for the injury.

The injured person pointed to the Massachusetts evidentiary rule, G. L. c. 233, § 79G, and argued that the rule did not include reports made by doctors in the course of litigation. The Court of Appeals looked at other evidence rules, including one that allows hospital records as business records, and one that excludes reports made for the purpose of litigation due to questions of its reliability and trustworthiness. The Court of Appeals ultimately sided with the lower court’s ruling to permit the report, based on the express language of the statute. The statute specifically includes reports of any physician assessing the proximate cause of the condition and the injured person’s diagnosis, and it declines to exclude reports made for the purpose of trial.

In a Massachusetts auto accident case, it is important to have counsel who are comfortable using and cross-examining medical experts. The experienced attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan know how to push back against doctors hired by the defense, and how to best present your case and its unique circumstances to a jury. If you’ve been injured and would like to speak to one of our attorneys today in a free, confidential consultation, call 508.822.6600.

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