Hearsay Exception #4 – Statements Made for the Purpose of Medical Diagnosis or Treatment

June 11, 2014

The fourth hearsay exception found in Texas Rules of Evidence 803 pertains statements made for the purpose of receiving a medical diagnosis or treatment. In order to fall within this exception, the statement must describe:

  • the declarant’s medical history,
  • past or present symptoms, pain, sensations, or
  • the inception or general character of the cause or external source of such symptoms, pain or sensations,

and,

  • as the name of the exception suggests, the statement must be reasonably pertinent to diagnosis or treatment.

As with all hearsay exceptions, the rationale behind this particular exception is deeply embedded in the presumption of trustworthiness that such statements carry. In most cases, the desire for an accurate medical diagnosis and effective treatment, coupled with the understanding that such diagnosis or treatment will depend in part upon what the patient says, is thought to override any motive to lie. A fact reliable enough to serve as the basis for a diagnosis should also be reliable enough to escape hearsay proscription.

When considering the admissibility of such statements, a two-part test is applied:

  1. Whether the declarant’s motive is consistent with the purpose of the rule, and
  2. Whether it was reasonable for the statement to be relied upon for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment.

There are two nuances in the rule that are also worthy of note – statements made during ongoing treatment and statements made to non-medical personnel.

Ongoing Treatment:

The second prong of the test becomes the critical factor in analyzing statements made during ongoing or long-term treatment. Once diagnosis has been made and treatment has begun, the rationale behind this exception may disappear. Because the reports and comments made by a patient during an extended course of treatment may be rooted in different motivations, e.g., denial, deception or secondary gain, or may be influenced by the treatment process itself, these statements may not carry with them the presumption of veracity which forms the basis for this exception. In order for the hearsay exception to apply in this context, the proponent must demonstrate two things:

  1. The truth-telling was a vital component of the particular course of therapy or treatment involved; and
  2. That it is readily apparent that the declarant was aware that this was the case.

Otherwise, in the circumstance of ongoing treatment, the justification for admitting the out-of-court statement over a valid hearsay objection has been held to be simply too tenuous.

Statements Made to Non-Medical Personnel:

One aspect of the rule which is not self-evident is the broad scope of witnesses to which this hearsay exception may be applied. The language of the rule itself does not require that the statement be made to a medical provider, but rather for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment. Therefore, under the plain language of the rule, the witness need not be a physician or have any medical training whatsoever. Over the years, the exception has been applied to statements made to psychologists, therapists, licensed professional counselors, social workers, hospital attendants and ambulance drivers. But, under certain circumstances, the exception may extend to friends and family members – or even strangers – if other requisites are present.

The essential qualification expressed in the rule is the declarant’s belief that the statement made will ultimately be utilized in diagnosis or treatment of a condition from which the declarant suffers. The selfish motive for truthfulness under circumstances where deception would likely result in misdiagnosis or error in treatment is sufficient to render such a statement likely trustworthy. That the witness may be a medical professional, or somehow associated with the medical profession, is no more than a circumstance tending to demonstrate that the declarant’s purpose was in fact to obtain medical help for himself. A declarant’s statement made to a non-medical professional under circumstances that show he expects or hopes it will be relayed to a medical professional as pertinent to diagnosis or treatment would be admissible under the rule, even though the witness who actually heard the statement is not a medical professional himself.

– Bonnie Sudderth, Judge of the 352nd District Court, Tarrant County, Texas

 

 


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