Failure to Give the “Missing Witness” Jury Instruction Required Reversal of Defense Verdict—Criteria Explained
The Second Department reversed a defense verdict in a slip and fall case. Chinsamy, the owner and operator of the defendant business which abutted the sidewalk where plaintiff slipped and fell, did not testify at trial. He had given a deposition about his knowledge of the condition of the sidewalk, which was read to the jury by plaintiff’s counsel. Plaintiff’s request for the missing witness jury instruction should not have been denied. Plaintiff was entitled to the instruction even though Chinsamy’s deposition testimony was placed in evidence. The court explained the relevant “missing witness charge” criteria:
A missing witness charge “instructs a jury that it may draw an adverse inference based on the failure of a party to call a witness who would normally be expected to support that party’s version of events. . . The preconditions for this charge, applicable to both criminal and civil trials, may be set out as follows: (1) the witness’s knowledge is material to the trial; (2) the witness is expected to give noncumulative testimony; (3) the witness is under the control’ of the party against whom the charge is sought, so that the witness would be expected to testify in that party’s favor; and (4) the witness is available to that party” … .
Under the circumstances, and considering Chinsamy’s unexplained failure to appear and testify at trial, the Supreme Court should have granted the plaintiff’s request for a missing witness charge … . In this regard, we note that the plaintiff’s use of Chinsamy’s deposition testimony does not constitute a waiver of her right to request a missing witness charge… . Alli v Full Serv. Auto Repair, LLC, 2015 NY Slip Op 03308, 2nd Dept 4-22-15