Case details

Defense argued plaintiffs’ back conditions pre-existed crash





Result type

Not present

emotional distress, mental, psychological
On April 19, 2011, plaintiff Juan Villegas, a 55-year-old man on disability, was driving his 2004 Ford Mustang on northbound Interstate 5, near the Lakewood exit in Los Angeles, when he slowed down for traffic. His wife, plaintiff Rosa Villegas, 57, also on disability, was a front seat passenger, while his daughter, Gisela Villegas, an unemployed 26 year old, was seated in the rear seat with her son, Jaciel Ruiz, 5 months old, in his car seat. As Mr. Villegas slowed down for traffic, a 1997 Ford Contour operated by Michelle Garl rear-ended his vehicle. As a result, Mr. Villegas, his wife and daughter all claimed back , while Jaciel allegedly suffered emotional distress. Mr. Villegas, Rosa Villegas, Gisela Villegas and Eduardo Ruiz, acting as Jaciel’s guardian ad litem, sued Michelle Garl and the owner of her vehicle, James Garl. The Villegases and Eduardo Ruiz alleged that Ms. Garl was negligent in the operation of her vehicle and that Mr. Garl was vicariously liable for her actions. Mr. Garl was ultimately let out of the case, and Ms. Garl conceded liability., Two days after the collision, Mr. Villegas, his wife and daughter all presented to their treating physician at San Diego Spine & Rehab for treatment of back pain. They each claimed soft-tissue to their back. Mr. Villegas claimed that his back pain was 10 out of 10 and that it would be 11 out of 10, if possible. However, Jaciel was treated at the Emergency Department at Rady’s Children Hospital in San Diego, two days after the accident, and was found to have no injury. Mr. Villegas, his wife and daughter all treated with the family’s treating chiropractor for three months, after which Gisela Villegas alleged that her back issues had resolved. However, Mr. Villegas and his wife, Rosa, claimed they had continuing back pain, but that they could not continue with chiropractic treatment due to financial reasons. As a result, Mr. Villegas and his wife both claimed limitations, including not being able to play with their grandkids or walk for too long. The plaintiffs’ treating chiropractor testified that the Villegas’ were injured from the car accident, and that they reached their maximum level of improvement at three months. Thus, plaintiffs’ counsel asked the jury to award Mr. Villegas $13,000 in total damages, including $5,176 in chiropractic bills; Rosa Villegas $12,000 in total damages, including $4,984 in chiropractic bills; and Gisela Villegas $14,000, including $4,924 in chiropractic bills. Although Jaciel was not physically harmed in the accident, Eduardo Ruiz claimed Jaciel suffered from emotional distress. As a result, he sought recovery of an unspecified amount of damages for Jaciel’s pain and suffering. Defense counsel contended that Mr. Villegas and his wife both had pre-existing conditions and though Mr. Villegas testified that his pain was immediately a 10-out-of-10 after the impact, he still waited two days to seek treatment. Counsel also contended that Mr. Villegas was on disability due to a back injury for more than five years prior to the subject accident, walked with a cane, and was already receiving treatment for his back pain three months prior to the subject accident. Counsel further contended that Rosa Villegas had a degenerative back condition and a medical record dated to two months before the subject accident, in February 2011, which indicated that her back condition was getting worse. In addition, defense counsel contended that Rosa Villegas’ medical record from February 2011 ordered that she receive an MRI, which she had done after the subject accident, instead of before. The defense’s expert, an internist who reviewed the medical records, testified that it would have been viable for the plaintiffs to receive an initial evaluation after the collision, but that due to the pre-existing conditions and nature of the small impact, anything else was excessive and unnecessary. The expert also testified that Jaciel was 5 months old at the time of the subject accident and, therefore, could have no cognitive ability to recognize the alleged traumatic event. The defense’s accident reconstruction and biomechanical experts opined that the force of the impact could not have caused the plaintiffs’ alleged because the impact from the vehicle was so minor.
Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Norwalk, CA

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