The Virginia Supreme Court recently upheld a jury verdict in a car accident lawsuit in which plaintiff won the case, but was awarded zero damages. In effect, she lost because she was unable to prove she suffered damages arising from the personal injuries she reportedly suffered when she was rear-ended by defendant.
The case highlights the importance of proving damages in any injury lawsuit. In this case, the defendant who rear-ended plaintiff’s vehicle conceded liability at the outset. But unless a plaintiff can prove demonstrable harm caused by that incident, he or she won’t get much compensation. There is an erroneous assumption that if you simply go to the hospital and are treated following a crash, that will be all you need to prove the crash caused your injuries. While it does certainly help to seek immediate medical attention following a collision, your personal injury lawyer will likely need more than that to prove your ongoing treatments were linked to the crash. This is especially true if you have a pre-existing condition or if the accident was low-impact.
This is not to say those with pre-existing conditions can’t receive compensation for aggravation of those conditions or that those in low-impact crashes don’t have the right to file an injury claim. However, they are probably going to need additional proof. That was essentially the error in this case.
Plaintiff sought damages for personal injuries she reportedly sustained when her vehicle was struck by defendant’s. Plaintiff was stopped at a traffic light. She had both of her hands on the steering wheel and suddenly heard a “boom.” She began hurtling toward traffic and she pounded her foot back on the brake to stop the car. She realized defendant had struck her when she looked behind her and saw defendant backing up.
In the crash, plaintiff noted that she was wearing her seat belt and no part of her body came in contact with any part of the vehicle. She didn’t suffer any immediate bruising, swelling, cuts or scrapes. She did take two photos of her bumper, which the court noted lacked any evidence of discernible damage, but plaintiff did circle two marks that indicated there was some evidence of impact.
Plaintiff was transported by ambulance to a local hospital complaining of pain in her lower back and neck. They gave her medicine and she returned to work the following day. Thereafter, she followed up twice with a doctor, complaining of severe neck and lower back pain. The doctor gave her some pain medicine and recommended she see an orthopedic physician. There, she did reveal she had previously undergone surgery on her back several years earlier. She was referred to a neurologist who ordered an MRI. This was approximately 10 months after the crash. She received a steroid injection, which reportedly resulted in 90 percent immediate improvement. She also underwent surgery on her shoulder for a partial tear around her bicep tendon and a labral tear.
The doctor who performed the surgery was the only medical expert witness in the case, and he testified there were a number of conditions in plaintiff’s shoulder and neck that pre-dated the car accident that could have been the cause of plaintiff’s injuries.
Plaintiff sought compensation for $73,000 in medical bills. But while jurors did find defendant was at-fault in the crash, they did not find he was responsible for plaintiff’s injuries. The Virginia Supreme Court affirmed.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Gilliam v. Immel , Jan. 19, 2017, Virginia Supreme Court
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Could A Law Stop Distracted Driving In Its Tracks?, Jan. 20, 2017, Charlotte Car Accident Lawyer Blog