An recent interesting case to note in nearby Gwinnett County: A jury decided that a plaintiff's neck injuries were not caused by a car collision in which the
plaintiff and his adult son were struck by a drunk driver. The adult son later treated for minor injuries. Photographs of the cars taken after the accident showed a cracked bumper and a small dent to the plaintiff's sedan. The insurance company behind the defense was State Farm which had denied liabilty along the course of the litigation, but prior to trial, offered $40,000 to settle the case. The plaintiff had approximately $135,000 in medical bills, which included neck surgery for a herniated disk. The offer of $40,000 made at mediation to resolve both the plaintiff and his adult son's cases was refused.
This jury acted conservatively and responded to the defense attorney's arguments that because there was minor damage to the car, the plaintiff was not injured by this wreck. Any neck problems were pre-existing. All of those arguments are standard-issue defense arguments in jury trials (as a former defense attorney, I am intimately familiar with those arguments). However, the arguments were convincing in this particular case likely because of the following factors:
- The plaintiff waited almost two weeks to seek treatment for his neck injury;
- Neither the plaintiff or his son reported any injury at the scene;
- The plaintiff allegedly had a degenerative but asymptomatic and painless pre-existing neck condition (bone spurs in neck);
- The plaintiff was 350 pounds which the defense argued contributed to his neck problems;
- The plaintiff first sought treatment at a large chiropractic "clinic" which advertises heavily during daytime tv programming.
The plaintiff's attorney relied on the fact that the driver was irresponsibly and illegally driving drunk and that his client had had neck surgery as a result. He likely felt the jury would find those factors aggravating and persuasive. And, many times, aggravated negligent behavior on the part of the at-fault driver are egregious enough for insurance companies to settle or for juries to return fair verdicts for injured individuals While this case involved a drunk driver, it didn't involve serious immediate injuries or significant damage to the plaintiff's vehicle. Causation was really the issue here.
Juries are wildly unpredictable but my guess is that they didn't feel comfortable awarding a large verdict when they simply were unsure of the evidence. They likely felt that the impact of the collision (as reflected in damage photographs of the vehicles) wasn't enough to cause the severe neck injury. The plaintiff's delay in seeking treatment for his injury may have indicated to the jury that it simply wasn't a severe injury at all. Although the plaintiff testified that his neck was stiff and became increasingly painful after the wreck, the jury may have felt the plaintiff was exaggerating his injury. Whatever the jurors' precise reservations about the case were, those concerns resulted in a decision not to award any damages to the plaintiffs.
Source: "Jury not convinced wreck caused neck injuries,"
Fulton County Daily Report, October 24, 2011.
Case: Steven Kanaknui et al. v. Leslie Brannon, No. 10C-05613-4