Law School Case Brief
Palmer v. Hoffman - 318 U.S. 109, 63 S. Ct. 477 (1943)
In fairness to the trial court and to the parties, objections to a jury charge must be sufficiently specific to bring into focus the precise nature of the alleged error. Where part of the charge was correct, and the party might have obtained the correct charge by specifically calling the attention of the trial court to the error, he may not through a general exception obtain a new trial.
A railroad grade crossing accident occurred on the night of December 25, 1940. Hoffman, the respondent, sued for wrongful death of his wife and his own personal injuries arising from the said accident. The complaint contained both common law claims and claims under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 160, §§ 138, 232(1932). On December 27, 1940, the engineer of the train, who died before the trial, made a statement at a freight office of the railroad company, the petitioner, where he was interviewed by an assistant superintendent of the company and by a representative of the Massachusetts Public Utilities Commission. The statement was offered in evidence by petitioners under the Act of June 20, 1936. The railroad company offered to prove (in the language of the Act) that the statement was signed in the regular course of business, it being the regular course of such business to make such a statement. Respondent's objection to its introduction was sustained, and the trial court excluded the statement as an evidence. The jury, thereafter, returned a verdict in favor of respondent individually for some $ 25,000 and in favor of respondent as administrator for $ 9,000. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision, and the petitioner appealed from the judgment.
Were the engineer’s statements signed in the regular course of business, such that they can be included as evidence at trial?
The Court held that a statement by the train's engineer, who had later died, was properly excluded, because it was not made in the ordinary course of business where it did not relate to the conduct of the railroad, but was made in preparation for litigation. According to the Court, the fact that a company makes a business out of recording its employees' versions of their accidents does not put those statements in the class of records made "in the regular course" of the business within the meaning of the Act. As such, the Court upheld the lower court’s decision to enter judgment in favor of the respondent.
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