It’s very common to remember the actual day of an auto accident. Sometimes it’s as though you experience a freeze frame image of your life that day. It’s an experience that can be hard to recover from, or to take action to deal with. In the case we’re going to talk about here, the days where medical treatment started, and identified the victim’s real injuries, can be just as memorable. In a way, the day you medically establish your injury can be crucial on the road to recovery. This is because the legal system, when an experienced trial attorney helps, helps make sure that adequate medical attention is provided. Delaying advice from a trial attorney after an auto accident can be vital in identifying the validity of medical treatment. The back injury described in the facts below was masked by both pain and by a sore neck. The facts also touch on how the woman’s medical condition created more than her own pain: in this case, the husband also had been potentially harmed (by the loss of his wife’s consortium, or pre-injury companionship).
II. Going From Freeze Frame to MRIs
September 19 was the day of the accident, and would understandably always be remembered by Maude Cherry and her husband, William. She was also to have good reason to remember June 14, almost an entire year later, as the day she finally received her needed surgery.
She had wisely sought advice of her family physician, who could refer to her pre-existing or prior medical conditions. What followed (in addition to excruciating pain) was a series of medical evaluations, reevaluations, and sometimes conflicting treatment recommendations. Ten treatments by a chiropractor. Revisiting the question of her lumbar pain. Her own complaints about neck pain. Ultimately, however, she received a referral to an orthopedic specialist, Doctor Robert Appert. Dr. Appert disclosed a herniated disc. As is not uncommon in these cases, it was only the actual spinal surgery which confirmed that her disc had in fact been herniated.
As is also not uncommon, the injury victim went from complaining about her neck pain to back pain. Trial attorneys who specialize in auto and soft tissue injuries aren’t surprised that back injuries can radiate conditions elsewhere. The overlap between neck and back pain is well recognized. In fact, 60 to 80% of all adults experience back pain during their life lives; well 20 to 70% of all adults will experience some type of neck pain. At any given time, up to 20% of all adults will be experiencing either back or neck pain. Injured victims often feel pressured to simply “get better,” without receiving proper medical treatment or experienced trial attorney consultation. Fortunately, the treatment plan here had been well recorded, beginning with her trip to an emergency room.
The trial had gone well in terms of finding negligence against the other driver. But there was a problem, even in this victory. The trial court had not allowed the jury to hear Dr. Appert’s definite testimony, relating the car accident to the woman’s back injury. This issue left uncertain the actual damages related to the injury: had the September 19 accident been the cause of the disc injury? Before looking at the battle over this issue, it’s worth quickly noting that after a loved one is injured in an auto accident, the effect on spouses or partners or family is also important. Only an experienced trial attorney, who has handled the myriad wrinkles of an auto accident, is fully qualified to address these impacts. In this case, this meant Maude Cherry’s husband was also a plaintiff to the lawsuit, and he sued separately for loss of his wife’s consortium.
III. “Weight” Watching: balancing medical evidence.
Courts realize that a trial attorney has sifted all the facts of the case. At the same time, the court wants to be sure how to put the right amount of weight on the evidence that’s presented. It’s also important to note this auto injury case had already been decided and won by the trial attorney in front of a jury. That meant that the appeals court was going to be especially careful not to “invade the province of the jury.”
Respecting as jury is a pretty straightforward, understandable rule of fact deciding. The jury is given special duties and rules to apply a collective understanding to real-world problems. Courts also want to keep about what they call “baseless conjecture” in testimony. Put in the legal terms, the word often is “scintilla.” The trial attorney here was fighting to get all of Dr. Appert’s testimony admitted. Without this evidence, the trial attorney noted, the jury could not have properly calculated the actual damages.
North Carolina rules of evidence (especially Rule 704 in this case) allow expert testimony even if it’s an opinion, so long as it’s a qualified expert. Part of the safeguard for allowing this reliance on expert testimony is the recognition that the expert can always be aggressively “voir dired” (asked ahead of giving an opinion) or later cross examined by opposing counsel, to disclose the underlying facts of their opinion.
The trial attorney for the injured woman won this appeal, and the right to present the omitted medical testimony in a new trial. This gave the trial attorney an opportunity to actually increase the original award: as well as giving an added incentive to the defendant to settle the case.
The rules used to evaluate the weighing and balancing of evidence can change. Expertise achieved through years of auto injury practice help assure that these rules are followed fairly. The reality is that experts are important, to help give medical skills and facts that may be unavailable. Fortunately, diligent work of a trial attorney can mean the most important days for an injury victim are ahead of them. If you, a family member or a loved one have been hurt in a vehicle or accident related to a motor vehicle, or involving related claims or your legal rights or hearings, please contact us. You will speak with an auto accident/ trial lawyer who can best answer your questions. There is never a fee for this initial consultation.