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empty witness standIn the recent case of Peacock v. Waldeck, the plaintiff filed a complaint seeking damages for injuries she suffered in a rear-end car collision. The defendant died from unrelated injuries after the date that the plaintiff initiated the lawsuit. The trial court appointed a special representative for the defendant’s estate. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff could not prove negligence without using testimony that it deemed inadmissible pursuant to the Dead-Man’s Act.

The Dead-Man’s Act states that in any trial in which a party sues or defends a representative of the deceased individual’s estate, an adverse party cannot testify on his or her own behalf about any conversation with the deceased or about any events that took place in the presence of the deceased. The purpose of this rule is to recognize the fact that the deceased individual would not have an opportunity to refute the testimony or offer conflicting evidence. Ultimately, the law is meant to prevent the testifying party from engaging in any misrepresentations about what was said or done. There are, however, a number of exceptions to this rule, none of which applied to this case.

The plaintiff contended that the defendant’s negligent conduct at the time of the crash could be inferred because the defendant admitted that he was driving behind the plaintiff and that he had an unobstructed view of the vehicle in which the plaintiff was riding at the time of the crash. The plaintiff also argued that since the defendant lacked knowledge regarding whether the plaintiff’s vehicle was stopped at a stoplight, an inference could be drawn that the plaintiff was actually stopped.

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