Case details

Defense argued passenger’s injuries were pre-existing





Result type

Not present

back, herniated disc, lower back
On May 10, 2011, plaintiff Teresa Whittingham, an office manager in her 50s who worked for a plumbing company, was a passenger in a Ford Explorer. While traveling in the Canyon Country area of Santa Clarita, Whittingham’s vehicle was rear-ended by a Chevy Suburban operated by Chad Gittisarn. The Ford Explorer was totaled, and Whittingham claimed to her lower back. Whittingham sued Chad Gittisarn and the owners of the Chevy Suburban, Dena Gittisarn and Niles Gittisarn. Whittingham alleged that Chad Gittisarn was negligent in the operation of his vehicle and that Chad Gittisarn’s parents, Dena Gittisarn and Niles Gittisarn, were vicariously liable for their son’s actions. Dena Gittisarn and Niles Gittisarn were dismissed from the case prior to trial, and Chad Gittisarn conceded liability., Whittingham claimed that she suffered a herniated of the L4-5 intervertebral disc and that she presented to her primary care physician a few weeks after the accident. She claimed she was then referred her to a spinal surgeon. Whittingham ultimately underwent physical therapy and multiple MRIs, and was administered three epidural injectionsof a steroid-based painkiller and one painkilling facet injection. She then underwent an anterior lumbar interbody fusion at the L4-5 level on in August 2013. Whittingham, who has lupus, claimed that she still has ongoing mild pain. She alleged that her condition limits her activities, but that her radicular symptoms were resolved following the surgery. The plaintiff’s expert life care planner testified that Whittingham will require about $687,000 as part of her life care plan. (However, defense counsel noted that the plaintiff’s expert life care planner had revised her plan from $937,000 one week prior to trial.) Thus, Whittingham sought recovery $890,000 in total damages, based upon stipulated $45,000 plus past medical expenses. Defense counsel disputed when Whittingham first presented to her primary care physician, noting that no records existed to confirm that Whittingham presented to her primary care physician a few weeks after the accident. Counsel contended that Whittingham did not have any medical treatment at the scene and that Whittingham’s first documented medical visit was 37 days after the accident, when she presented to her treating spinal surgeon. Defense counsel further noted that Whittingham’s primary care physician was subpoenaed and that the doctor had no record of Whittingham being at the office until after seeing the treating spinal surgeon. Defense counsel argued that Whittingham had pre-existing, degenerative spinal issues and that, if anything, Whittingham was suffering from intermittent pain. Counsel also argued that any surgery, care, or ongoing complaints of pain were unrelated to the subject accident. Defense counsel contended that Whittingham had a fall at work four to five years before the subject accident and that there were reports of similar symptoms of pain. The defense’s expert orthopedic surgeon testified that Whittingham’s back surgery was unrelated to the subject accident and that Whittingham might have aggravated her pre-existing symptoms. However, the expert opined that any care Whittingham received more than a few months was unrelated to the subject accident. The defense’s life care planner presented a plan of $108,000. Defense counsel contended that the physician that was monitoring Whittingham’s lupus prior to the accident had records noting that Whittingham complained of pain one year before the subject accident. The alleged records were excluded by the court, but Whittingham’s treating spinal surgeon testified that he saw a note of pain and radicular symptoms one year before the accident.
Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Santa Monica, CA

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