Case details

Defense claimed plaintiff not injured in multiple vehicle crash





Result type

Not present

annular tear, back, cervical, lumbar, neck, neurological, radicular pain, radiculitis, strain, thoracic
On March 6, 2013, plaintiff Niv Russo, a 28-year-old unemployed man, was stopped in the number one (far left) lane on Interstate 5, in downtown Los Angeles, when his 2001 Hyundai Elantra was rear-ended by a 2008 Honda Accord operated by Phong “Paul” Dinh. The impact caused Russo’s vehicle to rear-end the 2007 Honda Civic that was stopped in front of him. Russo claimed an injury to his back. Russo sued Phong Dinh, and the owner of Phong Dinh’s car, Chu Dinh. Russo claimed that Phong Dinh was negligent in the operation of his car and that Chu Dinh was vicariously liable for Phong Dinh’s actions. Chu Dinh was dismissed from the case. Plaintiff’s counsel noted that the police at the scene found that Phong Dinh was traveling at an unsafe speed, making him at fault for the accident. Phon Dinh conceded liability., Russo claimed he sustained cervical, thoracic and lumbar strains with radiculitis and annular tears at the lumbar level. After the accident, Russo complained of thoracic, lumbar and left flank pain, as well as upper abdominal tenderness. He went to the emergency room at Sherman Oaks Hospital, in Sherman Oaks, later that day and underwent chiropractic treatment the next day. In June 2013, Russo sought care with an orthopedic surgery expert, who recommended MRIs, epidural injections and additional physical therapy. The treating orthopedist opined that, based on the MRI, Russo sustained annular lumbar tears as a result of the accident. He also believed that Russo had discogenic pain and that the epidurals would address that condition. In November 2013, Russo treated with his a pain management expert and received three epidural lumbar injections. The physician found that Russo was a surgical candidate for a lumbar microdiscectomy at the L4-5 and L5-S1. Russo’s treating orthopedic surgery expert agreed with the pain management physician that Russo’s condition warranted the two-level microdiscectomy, which would cost $80,000, and opined that all of Russo’s medical costs were reasonable, necessary and related to the subject accident. Russo, who worked in construction sales and was not working at the time of the accident, testified that after the epidural injections, he was doing better, but that he still had lower back pain that rated a two out of 10. He claimed that at that time, he could not do any house activities, but that by the time of trial, he was able to return doing household activities. Russo sought recovery of $153,742 in total damages, including $58,742 for past medical costs, $75,000 for future medical costs, $10,000 for past pain and suffering, and $10,000 for future pain and suffering. Defense counsel noted that Russo’s MRIs of the thoracic and lumbar levels showed degenerative changes. The defense’s neuroradiology expert testified that it was not unusual for someone’s Russo’s age to suffer degeneration, but that there was no evidence of an acute injury on the MRI. The defense’s orthopedic surgery expert testified that, based on his exam of Russo, there were no neurological deficits, radiculopathy or neuropathy. Based on his findings, the expert opined that Russo was not injured nor was Russo injured from the subject accident. The expert also opined that Russo was not a candidate for future back surgery, regardless of how it was caused. The defense’s billing expert noted that Russo’s past medical costs were approximately $60,000 and that they were mostly with Russo’s pain management treater. However, the defense expert testified that his reasonable calculation found Russo’s past medical costs to be only $6,364 to $8,238. The defense’s biomechanical engineering expert testified that he determined the delta-v of the accident to be between 12 and 14 mph and that, based upon his experience and training, there was no likelihood of a lower back injury form the subject collision. Defense counsel presented video surveillance footage as evidence that allegedly showed Russo acting in a way that was inconsistent with Russo’s injury claims. In one video, Russo presented to a residence with a job supervisor to take down a wooden fence. The video showed Russo grabbing a handheld sledgehammer and knocking a gate off its hinges. Defense counsel argued that Russo was not injured in the subject accident, so the jury should award him nothing. However, counsel argued that if the jury felt that Russo did suffer potential minor strains from the accident, then it should award Russo between $1,500 and $2,000.
Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Long Beach, CA

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