Cumulative Does Not Always Mean Harmless


By: Scott Rees
In Thomas v. The Emory Clinic, Inc. (March 26, 2013), the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed the issue of a trial court improperly allowing hearsay evidence during a trial when that improper evidence is cumulative of other evidence in the case. Typically, allowing inappropriate, but cumulative, evidence is not harmful in terms of a jury verdict, and therefore does not require reversal. However, in this medical malpractice case, the court thoroughly analyzed this issue and determined the trial court committed reversible error in allowing hearsay evidence to be heard by the jury, despite that evidence being cumulative of other evidence. The court determined that because the hearsay evidence went to the core issue of the case (whether the neurosurgeon committed malpractice by leaving too much cotton fiber in the patient’s brain) it was reversible error to allow it, even though it was cumulative of other evidence in the case. Because the plaintiff needed to only prove her case by a preponderance of the evidence, the court reasoned, allowing the improper evidence to bolster the proper evidence could easily tip the scales in the defendant’s favor.