Case details

Crash caused permanent neck injury, truck driver claimed





Result type

Not present

cervical injury, head, headache, headaches neck, herniated cervical disc, herniated disc, neck, neurological, njured neck, radiculopathy
On the night of Feb. 14, 2015, plaintiff Mario Rivas, 40, a truck driver, was seated in his sleeper bunk in his tractor, which was separated from a 53-foot trailer and parked at a loading dock in a Coca-Cola distribution facility in Downey. At about 11 p.m., a tractor-trailer unit being operated by Cary Rose backed into the front of Rivas’ tractor, knocking off the grill and bumper, and causing Rivas to allegedly strike his head on a cabinet adjacent to the sleeper berth. Rivas claimed he injured his neck. Rivas sued Rose and the owner of Rose’s truck, Rose’s employer, Knight Transportation Inc., which was a foreign corporation doing business as Arizona Knight Transportation Inc. Rivas alleged that Rose was negligent in the operation of his tractor-trailer due to Rose being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the collision. Rivas also alleged that Knight Transportation was vicariously liable for Rose’s actions. In addition, Rivas alleged that Rose actions constituted malice, oppression, and/or fraud. Rose admitted that he had a breath alcohol measurement of 0.04 percent and that he was negligent in the operation of his tractor-trailer. Knight Transportation also admitted that it was vicariously liable for Rose’s actions. However, Rose denied operating his vehicle with malice, oppression, and/or fraud, claiming that he was sent away from the Coca-Cola distribution center, as he was late, and told to return the next day. He alleged that as a result, he went to a nearby truck stop and had several drinks, thinking he was not going to be driving for a number of hours. However, Rose claimed he then received a Qualcomm message telling him to return to the Coca-Cola center. Thus, he claimed he never had any intent to injure anyone. Defense counsel moved for a judgment as a matter of law in regard to punitive damages, arguing that the plaintiff could not proffer any evidence regarding Rose’s current financial condition, a requirement for assessment of punitive damages. The motion was granted, and the issue was never submitted to the jury., Rivas claimed that he sustained a herniated cervical disc at the C4-5 level. After the impact, a friend drove Rivas to a local truck yard, where Rivas’ employer gave him another tractor with a sleeper berth to spend the night. However, Rivas claimed that when he woke up the next day, he had a headache and pain in his neck. As a result, he went to a local physician and was ultimately diagnosed with a C4-5 disc herniation. Over the next three years, Rivas underwent conservative treatment, which consisted of physical therapy, chiropractic care, and five epidural injections. Rivas claimed that despite treatment, he developed radiculopathy down his right side and that, on a scale of one to 10, his residual pain varied between a six and a 10. He claimed that as a result, he was unable to return to work as a truck driver due to pain and decreased range of motion in his neck. He also claimed that he is unable to turn his head to the right. The plaintiff’s treating neurosurgeon testified that Rivas never had any prior neck complaints before the crash, and he opined that the cervical injury was caused by the collision. He further opined that Rivas will eventually need a cervical fusion. Rivas’ trucking expert testified that truck drivers require significant mobility of the neck in order to observe traffic and road conditions all around their vehicle while working. Thus, the expert opined that Rivas would need full range of motion to his neck in order to perform his job. Rivas sought recovery of past and future medical costs, and past and future loss of earnings based on his previous earnings of $50,000 per year as a truck driver. Rivas also sought recovery of damages for his past and future pain and suffering, and recovery of punitive damages. Defense counsel argued that there were discrepancies in the way Rivas described the collision and noted that medical records variously indicated that Rivas was asleep, or belted and seated, at the time of the impact. Thus, counsel argued that Rivas’ cervical complaint was not caused by the collision. The defense’s expert orthopedist testified that a disc herniation can only be caused by axial compression (downward loading of the spine) and rotation of the head, but that neither of those things could have possibly occurred due to the way Rivas claimed he struck his head inside the tractor. He also testified that he examined Rivas and determined that Rivas had a full range of motion in his neck. In addition, defense counsel offered into evidence video surveillance of Rivas allegedly walking in a normal fashion.
United States District Court, Central District, Los Angeles, CA

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