Friday, June 3, 2011

Severe Car Crash Injuries Results in Modest Verdict, Why?

In the Bucks County, Pennsylvania car crash case of Bouffard v. Johnson, the plaintiffs were a mother and daughter who alleged injuries resulting from a car accident that occurred on July 19, 2005. The defendant driver was operating a work truck, owned by the defendant moving company, when he made a left turn directly in front of the plaintiff daughter's vehicle, causing a significant impact.

The plaintiff mother claimed negligent infliction of emotional distress as a result of the accident since she was travelling just a few car lengths behind her daughter at the time of the crash.  In Pennsylvania you typically have to show that you suffered some type of objective injury as a result.   The plaintiff mother's claim was dismissed prior to trial, because she was not claiming physical injury or manifestation of symptoms due to the distress of seeing her daughter pinned under the moving truck. In what I believe is generally a mistake in many cases, the parties stipulated to liability and the case tried only on the issue of damages to the daughter.

The mother testified that she saw her daughter pinned inside her vehicle under the defendant's box truck. As a result of the impact, the daughter suffered a fractured right femur, comminuted fracture of her nose, fractured ribs and a lacerated spleen. Following an overnight stay in the ER the daughter's orthopedic surgeon inserted a sixteen inch titanium rod into her right femur, anchored by four screws. The surgeon performed a subsequent surgery in 2007 to remove the two screws in the plaintiff's knee, due to knee pain and swelling. The plaintiff's knee had been drained four or five times prior to the removal of the screws.
The plaintiff also underwent an osteotomy to her nose, performed by a facial plastic surgeon. If all of that wasn't bad enough, the daughter developed extra cartilage on the bridge of her nose, resulting in a bump. She had to undergo additional facial plastic surgery to reduce the ridge on her nose. The facial plastic surgeon testified that plaintiff's nose was "shattered" in this incident and that subsequent surgeries to reduce the bump on her nose would be difficult since the comminuted fracture left plaintiff's nose in a "possibly" unstable state.  The Plaintiffs sought recover of $28,000 in medical bills.

The defense, as they always do, argued that the daughter's ortho surgeon's medical notes of 2006 released the plaintiff daughter to "normal activity".  They also pointed out that other notes indicated that thedaughter  was without tenderness and had full range of motion. Though I am not sure what life's pleasures would be affected by a broken nose, on cross exam the daughter's plastic surgeon admitted he placed no limitations on any of the daughter's activities of daily living and that he had not treated her in teh 18 months prior to trial.

After two days of trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff daughter $60,000 in damages. The defendants had offered $ 325,000 to settle the case prior to trial....ouch.

Do you think that is a fair outcome?  I am pretty surprised that the plaintiffs did not take the $325,000 offer prior to trial.  That leads me to believe that the plaintiffs had unrealistic expectations.  Yes, the daughter was badly injured.  But limited period injuries no matter how catastrophic are can have limited damages at trial.  On the flip side, I think $60,000 is an insulting verdict for the extent of injuries suffered and in light of stipulated liability.  This leads me to believe that the plaintiffs may have come off as greedy...causing the jury to award minimal damages.  Juries reward humble, optimistic and honest plaintiffs.  If a jury gets a whiff of anything less than that, expect the recovery (if you get one) to be severely truncated. Share this post :
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