Case details

Defense disputed plaintiff’s ongoing complaints





Result type

Not present

chest, fracture, rib elbow
On Aug. 16, 2015, plaintiff William Hawkins, 54, an electrical specialist, was operating a 2015 KTM motorcycle on Bennett Valley Road, in Santa Rosa, when a 2010 Toyota Prius operated by Rita Purcell made an abrupt lane change to her left. As a result, Hawkins was struck by Purcell’s car, causing Hawkins to be ejected off of the motorcycle and onto the street. Hawkins claimed to his chest, and right knee and elbow. Hawkins sued Purcell, alleging that Purcell was negligent in the operation of her vehicle. The court granted plaintiff’s counsel’s motion for summary adjudication on the issues of Purcell’s negligence and Hawkins’ lack of negligence. Thus, the matter was tried on the issue of damages., Hawkins claimed that he sustained nondisplaced fractures of ribs three through seven on the right side, three pneumothorax incidents, a chest wall contusion, bilateral knee pain, an abrasion of the right knee, and discomfort in his right elbow. He was subsequently transported by ambulance from the scene and brought to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, in Santa Rosa, where he was hospitalized overnight. Hawkins was then discharged and followed up at the Kaiser Permanente Fairfield Medical Offices, in Fairfield. He continued to complain of rib pain and, ultimately, his Kaiser internist referred him to a thoracic surgeon at Kaiser for a “rib plating” procedure, which Hawkins underwent on two of his rib fractures on Oct. 20, 2015. Hawkins then continued to follow up at Kaiser for his rib complaints through Dec. 17, 2015. In early October 2015, Hawkins was diagnosed with “Stage I” hypertension by his Kaiser internist. Hawkins was subsequently placed on a low dosage of blood pressure medication until Dec. 1, 2015. He did not report any hypertensive blood pressure readings for several months. However, Hawkins returned to see his internist at Kaiser Fairfield on May 13, 2016, as it was thought at that time that Hawkins again had “Stage I” hypertension. As a result, Hawkins was again placed on a low dosage of a mild hypertensive medication. In late October 2016, Hawkins notified his internist that he was still having rib pain, particularly with certain movements and sneezing. As a result, he was referred to a pain management specialist within the Kaiser system. The specialist performed a “nerve block” procedure on Dec. 6, 2016, which resulted in a pneumothorax and a hospitalization, during which a chest tube was inserted. In April 2016, Hawkins attempted acupuncture at the Fairfield Medical Offices, but he claimed it was to no avail. As a result, he attempted a second nerve block procedure, which was performed by a pain management specialist on April 26, 2017. Hawkins claimed that the procedure resulted in a diminishment of some of his “tingling” complaints, but did not result in a diminishment in his pain complaints in the rib/chest area. Thus, at time of trial, Hawkins contended that he still had chest pain and “tingling” with certain rib movements. He contended that the accident caused him to develop chronic, permanent rib/chest pain that restricted his activities. He also contended the accident caused high blood pressure, requiring treatment. Hawkins alleged that as a result, he was prohibited from engaging in activities that he enjoyed, such as playing the drums and golfing. He also alleged that he had to transfer many uses to his left, non-dominant, upper extremity due to his continued pain. In addition, Hawkins missed three months from work at the Shell Oil Refinery, in Martinez. The plaintiff’s expert in cardiopulmonary medicine and medical physiology testified that Hawkins’ life expectancy had been shortened by several years due to the onset of hypertension (even though it was being treated), increased risk of pneumothorax, and enhanced susceptibility to pneumonia. The parties stipulated that the amount of Hawkins’ medical expenses incurred for his initial round of treatment during the four months following the accident amounted to $157,664.23. However, Hawkins claimed that he also incurred additional treatment expenses in 2016 and 2017, which amounted to $33,996.15. The parties also stipulated that Hawkins’ wage loss during the three months he was out of work amounted to $31,200. However, Hawkins claimed that he incurred an additional loss of earnings for the 12 days he was absent from work in December 2016 in connection with the first nerve block attempt and that the sum of the additional lost earns was $5,006. Defense counsel disputed the reasonableness and necessity of Hawkins’ alleged medical expenses and lost wages in 2016 and 2017. Counsel contended that there was a complete absence of any rib pain complaints in the records for more than 10 months from Dec. 17, 2015 until late October 2016, which caused the defense to question the severity of Hawkins’ complaints. Defense counsel also pointed out that Hawkins had just about every risk factor imaginable working against him for the development of hypertension, including severe obesity; chronic, obstructive sleep apnea; a remote smoking history; and other factors. Counsel conceded that the development of hypertension for several weeks after the accident was probably due to pain caused by the accident, but argued that the reappearance of hypertension more than six months later, in the spring of 2016, was more likely attributable to the presence of Hawkins’ independent risk factors. The defense’s expert orthopedic surgeon testified that Hawkins recovered from all of his contusions and abrasion . The expert also testified that there was no evidence of any disuse, loss of muscle strength, or other indication that Hawkins had been substituting his left, non-dominant upper extremity for his right, upper extremity in performing daily tasks due to ongoing rib pain issues, as Hawkins alleged.
Superior Court of Sonoma County, Sonoma, CA

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