Case details

Defense claimed force of crash insufficient to cause injury





Result type

Not present

anxiety, back, cervical, disc protrusion, head, headaches, headaches neck, herniated disc, mental, millimeter cervical disc protrusion, neck, panic attacks, psychological
On Nov. 27, 2013, plaintiff Rebecca Plourde, 23, an employee of a collection company, was driving on Edinger Avenue, in Huntington Beach, when she stopped for a stop light at the intersection with Gothard Street. While stopped, her vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle operated by Hector Ramirez. Plourde claimed to her neck and back. Plourde sued Ramirez, alleged that Ramirez was negligent in the operation of his vehicle. Plourde claimed that prior to the crash, she looked in her rearview mirror and saw Ramirez’s vehicle approaching behind her at a high rate of speed. She claimed that as a result, she knew that Ramirez would not be able to stop in time, so she pulled her vehicle up and to the right in order to try to get out of the way. However, Plourde claimed that Ramirez’s vehicle still did not stop in time and still ended up rear-ending her vehicle. Ramirez estimated that he was traveling between 25 and 30 mph before he noticed Plourde’s stopped vehicle. He claimed that he applied his brakes once he noticed that Plourde’s vehicle was stopped, but that he was unable to avoid hitting her vehicle. He believed that his speed at the time of impact was between 5 and 10 mph. Thus, Ramirez admitted liability., Plourde testified that her body was “jolted” as a result of the collision, in that she went backward and forward in her seat. She claimed that as a result, she struck her head against the headrest, but did not hit the steering wheel. Thus, Plourde claimed that she sustained a 3.5 millimeter cervical disc protrusion, or herniation, at the C5-6 level. Prior to the subject collision in 2013, Plourde was hit by a vehicle while on a bicycle in 2008. She was also in a vehicle that was rear-ended in 2008 and again 2011, and she fell off of a horse in 2011. In addition, she was in a single car accident in 2012. Plourde also had a long history of anxiety and panic attacks. However, plaintiff’s counsel argued that Plourde’s prior history of neck and back pain, as well as panic attacks and anxiety, made her more susceptible than the average person to injury in the subject low-speed collision. Accordingly, Plourde claimed the subject collision aggravated her prior neck and back conditions, causing the cervical protrusion, as well as aggravated her history of anxiety and panic attacks. After the subject 2013 collision, Plourde went home, where, according to Plourde and her husband, she was in “excruciating” pain all weekend. The accident occurred on a Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving, so when they called the emergency room, they were allegedly told that the wait time was approximately four hours. They claimed that as a result, they decided to wait to see a chiropractor the following Monday. However, Plourde claimed that over the four-day weekend, she and her husband were unable to participate in any events, as she had to stay home and put ice on her neck and back, as she could hardly get out of bed. She claimed that she had excruciating pain to her neck and back the entire Thanksgiving weekend and that she also suffered from headaches, anxiety, and panic attacks for months afterward. Plourde first sought medical treatment from her family chiropractor on Dec. 2, 2013, five days after the collision. She then underwent 78 chiropractic treatments over the next eight months. All of her medical treatment was conducted through her treating chiropractor, who testified at trial. Plourde had been previously seeing her treating chiropractor off-and-on since she was a child. However, when she complained of headaches, as well as numbness and tingling in her arms, after the subject accident, Plourde was referred to a neurologist. She then had three different neurological visits, during which she underwent an EMG. When her alleged neck and back pain did not improve, Plourde was referred to an orthopedic surgeon by her treating chiropractor. Plourde then had three orthopedic visits before being referred for an MRI of her cervical and lumbar spine. The results of the lumbar MRI were normal, but the cervical MRI showed degenerative changes and a 3.5 mm disc protrusion at the C5-6 level. The plaintiff’s treating chiropractor testified that a review of a cervical CT scan from one year before the subject collision showed a normal CT scan, but that scan taken after the collision showed a 3.5 mm disc protrusion. Thus, he opined that the scans were proof that the subject collision caused a “herniated disc.” Plaintiff’s counsel contended that all of Plourde’s medical treatment was necessary based on her pain levels and that the collision caused Plourde so much pain that she could not participate in many everyday activities, such as dishwashing, laundry, and chores. In addition, counsel contended that Plourde was unable to ever play beach volleyball again, nor could she go bowling. Plourde testified that her wedding was after the subject accident and that she could not dance or wear shoes at the reception because she was in too much pain. However, she claimed that she now no longer has pain in her neck and back. Thus, Plourde sought recovery of $16,414 in total past medical costs, including $9,184 for her past chiropractic care, $2,080 for the past visits with the neurologist, $1,350 for the past visits with the orthopedic surgeon, and $3,800 for the MRIs. She also sought recovery of $2,100 in past lost wages as a result of the 150 hours of work that she missed as a result of the accident. However, she acknowledged that she was ultimately able to return to work. In addition, Plourde sought recovery of $37,616 in general damages for her pain and suffering. As a result, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award Plourde $56,130 in total damages. Defense counsel argued that the subject 2013 collision was too minor to have caused any of the harm that Plourde alleged. The defense’s accident reconstruction expert testified that the impact speed was between 6 and 8 mph and that the Delta-V was between 4.5 and 6.1, causing the g-forces on Plourde to be between 1.9 and 2.3. As such, the expert opined that the force applied to Plourde was insufficient to have caused any injury, especially to the lower back. The defense’s expert orthopedic surgeon opined that Plourde was not injured in the collision. The expert went through each of the plaintiff’s treating chiropractor’s physical examination tests that were “positive” and explained to the jury how those positive results could not have been caused by a low-speed, rear-end impact. He also explained how the spine degenerates over time, reviewed Plourde’s MRI from 2008, and testified that the post-accident MRIs were exactly what he would expect to see. The defense expert further opined that if any injury occurred as a result of the subject accident, it was only a minor neck sprain and that it would have only required two to three weeks of reasonable chiropractic treatment. Thus, defense counsel argued that Plourde failed to meet her burden of proof with regard to causation of the alleged injury.
Superior Court of Orange County, Orange, CA

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