Case details

Drivers disputed who merged and caused crash with third vehicle





Result type

Not present

back, brain, brain injury, cognition, emotional distress, head, mental, neck, psychological, traumatic brain injury
On April 3, 2012, plaintiff Stacey Rippey, a packaging engineer in her 20s, was driving in the number four, right-most, lane of State Route 87, in San Jose, when her vehicle was struck by a vehicle operated by George Onwumere. The impact caused Rippey’s vehicle to roll across the freeway and stop on its roof at the median. Prior to the accident with Rippey’s vehicle, Onwumere was traveling in the number three lane when he was involved in a collision with a vehicle operated by Mark James Miller Blackwell, who was traveling in the number two lane. When one of the drivers attempted to merge into the other’s lane, the front of Blackwell’s vehicle struck the back of Onwumere’s vehicle, causing Onwumere’s vehicle to spin to the right across the highway and collide with Rippey’s vehicle. Rippey claimed to her neck, back and head. Rippey sued George Onwumere; Mark James Miller Blackwell; and the owner of Mark James Miller Blackwell’s vehicle, Mark Lee Blackwell. Rippey alleged that Onwumere and Mark James Miller Blackwell were negligent in the operation of their respective vehicles and that Mark Lee Blackwell was vicariously liable for Mark James Miller Blackwell’s actions. The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert opined that Mark James Miller Blackwell was at fault for the accidents and testified that he did not believe Onwumere was at fault. Onwumere contended that Blackwell negligently merged into his lane. He claimed that he was traveling in the number three lane when Blackwell, who was traveling in the number two lane, attempted to merge into his lane. However, Onwumere claimed that Blackwell’s vehicle hit the back of his vehicle, causing his vehicle to spin into Rippey’s vehicle, which was traveling in the number four lane. Onwumere’s accident reconstruction expert testified that the action of Blackwell merging into Onwumere’s lane was consistent with the physical evidence. However, the expert admitted that the accident could have happened either way, with Onwumere merging into Blackwell’s lane or Blackwell merging to Onwumere’s lane, but that Blackwell was still negligent for striking the back of Onwumere’s vehicle and causing it to strike Rippey’s vehicle. Blackwell claimed that Onwumere merged into his lane, making Onwumere solely at fault for the accidents. Blackwell’s accident reconstruction expert also agreed that the initial collision was caused by Onwumere attempting to merge into Blackwell’s lane., Rippey sustained soft-tissue to her neck and back. She also claimed she sustained a mild traumatic brain injury as a result of the accident. Rippey was subsequently taken to a hospital for treatment. Rippey claimed she had difficulties with her memory after the accident. She also claimed that as a result of being upside down in her vehicle on the roadway and believing that oncoming cars were going to hit her, she developed post-traumatic stress disorder. She alleged that her condition temporarily prevented her from driving. As a result, Rippey began treating with a therapist, who diagnosed the PTSD and who continues to treat Rippey. The plaintiff’s retained neuropsychology expert testified that Rippey has symptoms of a mild traumatic brain injury. The expert also opined that Rippey will need lifetime treatment for her PTSD. Thus, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award Rippey $2 million in damages. Onwumere’s counsel argued that, if anything, Rippey only had a mild case of PTSD, which was diagnosed by both the plaintiff’s neuropsychology expert and Onwumere’s own neuropsychology expert. However, Onwumere’s expert neuropsychologist opined that while Rippey suffered some PTSD, she did not suffer a brain injury. Thus, Onwumere’s counsel disputed that Rippey sustained a traumatic brain injury, noting that all objective tests were negative.
Superior Court of Santa Clara County, Santa Clara, CA

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