September 24, 2002 - Negligence Bound to Be a Factor
Defendant caused some harm to plaintiff, experts agreed, when medical experts for both parties agreed that an accident caused some injury to the plaintiff and the defendant's negligence was disputed. The jury, after finding the defendant was negligent, is bound to find the defendant's negligence a substantial factor in bringing about at least some of the plaintiff's injuries, the Superior Court has ruled in a memorandum opinion.
The holding came in Meyer v. Mayo, in which both parties' medical experts testified that plaintiff Larisa Meyer sustained injuries in a motor vehicle accident, but the jury determined that defendant Mark Eugene Mayo's conduct was not a substantial factor in causing the harm. "While the jury may then find the injuries caused by the accident were incidental or noncompensable and deny damages on that basis, the jury may not simply find the accident did not cause an injury, where both parties' medical experts have testified to the contrary," the court said.
The lawsuit stemmed from a July 1997 incident when Mayo's car struck the car in which Meyer was traveling as a passenger. According to the court, Meyer filed suit in December 1998 alleging that she sustained serious injury and impairment in the collision. However, the plaintiff testified at trial that she returned to work immediately after the incident and that the damage to the vehicle she occupied was minimal, the opinion stated. "[Meyer] testified that, upon impact, her head and wrists hit the dashboard, and following the accident, she had no immediate pain," the court said. But according to the court, Meyer did feel pain the next day. She consulted a neurologist, who prescribed six months of physical therapy, pain medication, an anti-inflammatory and a muscle relaxant. Meyer missed about one week of work due to her pain, and her activities were restricted for some time.
During the next six months, the plaintiff consulted two additional doctors, the court said. The first, an orthopedic surgeon, testified that a herniated disc and a bulging disc were caused by the July 1997 accident. However, during cross-examination, the doctor said that he had not reviewed any medical reports related to a separate 1995 motor vehicle accident in which Meyer was involved, the opinion stated. He also admitted that the disc abnormalities could have been caused by natural degenerative processes or some other traumatic event. The plaintiff's second expert, again an orthopedic surgeon, said the 1997 accident caused whiplash to the plaintiff's neck and right shoulder, and nerve injury to both wrists, the court said. Like the first expert, this doctor had not consulted previous medical records. On cross-examination, he testified that Meyer had sustained soft tissue damage during her 1995 accident.
A neurologist who testified for the defense had reviewed medical records dating back to 1988, including records revealing carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, degenerative changes to the plaintiff's left shoulder, muscle spasms, degenerative disc disease to the cervical spine and spondylosis, or degeneration of the vertebra of the lumbar spine, the court said. The neurologist said that while Meyer suffered soft tissue damage as a result of the July 1997 accident, the harm was temporary and the plaintiff had fully recovered. On cross-examination, however, the opinion states that doctor admitted that Meyer sustained some injury due to the accident.
According to the court, the jury found that Mayo was negligent, but decided that the negligence was not a substantial factor in causing Meyer's injuries. As such, the jury never got to the question of damages.
The plaintiff followed the verdict with a post-trial motion that was subsequently denied, the court said. Meyer appealed, contending that a new trial was necessary, since the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence. "[Meyer] contends that, since [Mayo's] expert witness ... admitted that [Meyer] suffered some cervical and lumbar sprain, the jury erred in concluding that [Mayo's] negligence was not a substantial factor in causing [Meyer] harm," the opinion states. "Rather, [Meyer] contends that the jury should have proceeded to determine whether [Meyer] incurred a serious impairment of bodily function as a result of the accident of July 14, 1997."
The court agreed, reiterating Superior Court opinions Andrews v. Jackson and Majczyk v. Oesch. "The jury should have answered 'yes' to the substantial factor question," the court wrote, "and then [it] should have proceeded to determine whether the injury was compensable. ... We find it necessary to reverse and remand for a determination of damages only. On remand, the jury may determine, if it so desires, that [Meyer's] discomfort was the sort of transient rub of life for which compensation is not warranted."
Bucks County solo practitioner Manuel A. Spigler represented Meyer and her husband, Douglas K. Jenkins of Booth & Tucker and Jason A. Jenkins, formerly of Booth & Tucker, represented Mayo.
In all motorcycle accident cases it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the accident in question, and to enable physicians or other expert witnesses to thoroughly evaluate any injuries. If you or a loved one is a victim of an motorcycle accident, call Napier & Partners now at 1-877-AZINJURY (1-877-294-6587) or CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A SIMPLE CASE FORM. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Donít delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.