Palmer v. Hoffman 318 U.S. 109, 63 S.Ct 477, 87 L.Ed. 645 (1943)
Mrs. Palmer was hit by a train and killed. Mr. Palmer
sued the train company for negligence.
Palmer alleged that the train did not ring its bell, blow
its whistle, or have its light on as were required by law.
At trial, the train company (represented by Hoffman)
attempted to introduce a transcript of statement the train conductor had
with the Mass Public Utilities Commission (a normal part of any train
Palmer objected on the grounds that the out-of-court
statement was hearsay.
Hoffman argued that the statement was and exception to hearsay
because it was an official business record, and made in the
regular course of business.
At that time, business records were excluded from
hearsay by 28 U.S.C. §695.
The train conductor died prior to the trial and was
unavailable to testify.
The Trial Judge excluded the train conductor's statement.
The Trial Court found for Palmer. Hoffman appealed.
The Appellate Court affirmed. Hoffman appealed.
The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court found that the phrase "in the
regular course of business" referred to timetables, accounting, and
other normal business activities.
However, the train conductor's statement was not a record
made for the systematic conduct of a business as a business. While an
accident report may affect the business, it is not typical of entries
made systematically or as a matter of routine to record events,
occurrences, or transactions.
Basically, the fact that a company records its
employees' versions of their accidents does not put those statements in
the class of records made "in the regular course of
business." The conductor's statement was not made for business
purposes, it was made to prove the truth of the conductor's version of
events and assist the company in avoiding tort liability.
"Their primary utility is in litigating, not in
Basically, records made in the normal course of business
are done for business purposes, not to prove things in court, and so there
is no reason to assume that they are not reliable. Statements of
employees that could expose the company to tort liability don't have that
same 'neutrality' and so are not admissible because they can't be assumed
to be reliable.
This case was decided before the FRE was
implemented. Today it would be covered by FRE 803(6).
Btw, if the statement had supported Palmer and he wanted
to get the statement into evidence, he could have claimed that it was an admission
and therefore admissible under FRE 801(d)(2).
Btw, because of this case, documents that are created in
anticipation of litigation are now called "Palmer Records" and
are not admissible.