A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Medical Examiner’s Report Deemed Inadmissible in Wrongful Death Case

By on June 29, 2018 in Other with 0 Comments

Plaintiff William Quail, as administrator for the Estate of Mary Quail, filed a wrongful death suit and survival action based upon his wife’s death that he claims was caused by an incident in a supermarket. The issue in Quail v. Shop-Rite Supermarkets, Inc., 2018 N.J. Super. LEXIS 86 (App. Div. June 4, 2018) was whether the medical examiner’s death certificate was admissible to prove the cause of her death without a witness to testify as to the opinions in the certificate. In a published decision, the Appellate Division ruled that the death certificate was not admissible.

Plaintiff and his wife were shopping at the supermarket and his wife was using a motorized cart. As she went down a narrow aisle, her cart’s basket caught on a cash register station, which caused the station to fall on her and injure her leg. Four days later she died due to complications.

The medical examiner inspected her body and issued a Certificate of Death which listed her death as an “accident” and the cause as “complications of blunt trauma of [the] right lower extremity.” His associated report reiterated these conclusions. Plaintiff, who did not obtain a medical expert, relied upon these opinions to establish medical causation of her death.

Plaintiff contended that the report was admissible under the State Medical Examiner Act or as a hearsay exception for vital statistics, N.J.R.E. 803(c)(9). The court also considered whether the “net opinion” doctrine and N.J.R.E. 808, which disallowed the admission of certain disputed complex opinions embedded in otherwise-admissible hearsay records, would require the exclusion of the examiner’s hearsay opinions.

The trial court rejected the reports and dismissed the lawsuit on summary judgment, holding that the statements on the Certificate of Death and the report amounted to inadmissible hearsay. Quail appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

The court held that the Medical Examiner Act does not provide an absolute right to a civil plaintiff to admit the full contents of the Certificate of Death. Further, it held that the hearsay opinions contained within the Certificate were inadmissible hearsay. The Appellate Division also found that the trial court properly exercised its discretion to decline to reopen and extend discovery after declaring the Certificate inadmissible. Last, the Court uphold the summary judgment order, in light of plaintiff’s lack of necessary expert proof of medical causation.

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Betsy G. Ramos

About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

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