Williams v. Alexander
309 N.Y. 283, 129 N.E.2d 417 (1955)

  • Williams broke his leg after getting hit by Alexander’s car.
    • There was a disagreement as to who was at fault for the accident.
  • Williams sued Alexander.
  • At trial, Williams attempted to introduce a portion of the hospital records.
  • In response, Alexander attempted to introduce more of the hospital records.
    • Alexander had a record written by a doctor that said Williams told him that Alexander’s car was at a standstill and was rear-ended, propelling it into Williams.
      • The doctor was not called as a witness.
    • Williams objected on the grounds that the statement in the record was hearsay.  (He also denied making the statement.)
    • Alexander argued that the statement in the record was still admissible under the FRE 803(6) exception to hearsay for business records.
  • The Trial Judge allowed the doctor’s statement to be admitted.
  • The Trial Court found for Alexander.  Williams appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.  Williams appealed.
  • The New York Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial.
    • The New York Supreme Court looked to the New York Civil Practice Act and found that business records are admissible only when they are “made in the regular course of business.”
      • The ‘business’ of the hospital was to treat patients, so only medical records that could assist with diagnosis and treatment can be considered ‘regular’.  The admission allegedly made by Williams had nothing to do with his treatment.
    • Since the statement allegedly made by Williams was not in the “regular course of business”, it was not an exception to the hearsay rule and was not admissible.  The Court found that the statement was prejudicial and therefore ordered a new trial.
  • In a dissent it was argued that a record is a record, and even if the doctor’s note about Williams admission wasn’t required for the normal course of hospital business there is no reason to doubt it’s authenticity any more than the rest of the business record and therefore it should be admitted.
  • Williams could have put the doctor on the stand, who could have testified as to what Alexander said, and that would be admissible under FRE 801(d)(2) as an admission.  Alternately, he could have tried to establish the entry as a past recollection recorded under FRE 803(5).
    • Of course, he’d have to get the doctor to testify.
    • If the doctor didn’t remember, Williams could have given the business record to the doctor to refresh his memory.
  • This case was decided before the FRE was implemented.  Today it would be covered by FRE 803(6).