Case details

HVAC technician claimed he can no longer work due to crash





Result type

Not present

back cervical pain, cervical pain, cervical radiculopathy lumbar disc bulges, head, lower back, lumbar disc displacement, neck, nerve root irritation, pain
At around 11:30 a.m. on March 18, 2010, plaintiff Michael Grays, 54, an HVAC technician, was driving his 1999 Ford E250 work van, while on duty, on westbound Old Bayshore Highway, in San Jose. As Grays entered the intersection with North 10th Street, a 2003 Honda Odyssey van, operated by Shubha Ramachandrappa, attempted a left turn from the left turn lane of eastbound Old Bayshore Highway onto northbound North 10th Street. As a result, the left, front, driver’s side of Grays’ vehicle was impacted by the front of Ramachandrappa’s vehicle. Grays claimed to his head, neck and back. Grays sued Shubha Ramachandrappa and the co-owner of the Honda Odyssey van, Ananda Ramachandrappa, Shubha Ramachandrappa’s husband. Grays alleged that Ms. Ramachandrappa was negligent in the operation of her van and that Mr. Ramachandrappa was vicariously liable for his wife’s actions. Grays’ counsel noted that the investigating officer found Ms. Ramachandrappa to be at fault for the accident and cited Ms. Ramachandrappa for violation of California Vehicle Code § 21801, for failing to yield by making an unsafe, left turn at a controlled intersection without due regard for oncoming traffic. The Ramachandrappas ultimately agreed to tender their $100,000 available insurance policy limit. Grays then sought further recovery via the supplementary-underinsured-motorist provision of his own insurance policy, which was administered by Philadelphia Insurance Cos. and carried a $1 million policy limit. Liability was not disputed., Grays claimed he sustained a mild concussion, resulting in mild post-concussion syndrome, and a 2- to 4-millimeter cervical disc bulge at the C5-6 level with cervical disc displacement, resulting in cervical pain and cervical radiculopathy. He also claimed he sustained multiple lumbar disc bulges, most significantly at the L3-4 and L4-5 levels, with nerve root irritation, lumbar disc displacement, chronic lumbar pain, and lumbar radiculopathy. Grays was subsequently transported by his girlfriend later that day to the emergency room atKaiser Permanente San Jose, where he presented with complaints of head, neck, and lower back pain. Grays was then seen by several physicians, and he underwent physical therapy, chiropractic treatment, and acupuncture. He then followed up with a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, Dr. Allen Kaisler-Meza, who prescribed medication for pain management and administered three trigger point injections in Grays’ cervical and lumbar spine. When Grays moved from San Jose to Madera, he started seeing another physiatrist, Dr. Michael Azevedo, who continued the pain management and physical therapy regimen. However, Grays claimed that none of the treatments performed by either physiatrist had any lasting benefit. As a result, he underwent a number of diagnostic tests, including a cervical MRI scan, two lumbar MRI scans, and two EMGs of the lower extremities in an attempt to verify his complaints of radiculopathy. The first EMG, which was performed in June 2012, was positive, while the second EMG, which was performed in January 2013, came out negative. His March 2010 MRI of the cervical spine showed marked disc degeneration at C5-6 with a 2- to 4-millimeter disc bulge. His June 2011 and August 2013 MRIs of the lumbar spine showed bulging discs at multiple levels, most significantly at the L3-4 and L4-5 levels, with nerve root irritation. In May 2014, Grays consulted with a neurosurgeon who recommended a lumbar spine fusion, which Grays declined. The plaintiff’s treating neurosurgeon testified in his deposition that Grays’ lower back condition and potential surgery were due to a combination of degenerative disc disease and the motor vehicle collision. Grays claimed that he continues to experience chronic lower back pain with occasional radicular symptoms down his lower extremities, including pain and numbness/tingling. He also claimed that he has been unable to return to work as a HVAC service technician as a result of his lower back pain and physical limitations. At the time of the incident, Grays was working as a HVAC Technician with Pappas Piping Inc., in San Jose. He started there in January 2010 and, prior to that, worked for other companies in the industry for 20 plus years. His hourly rate of pay was $37 an hour. After a probationary period of 90 days, he was to get a raise to $41 per hour. However, 2.5 months after getting the job at Pappas Piping, he was involved in the subject collision. Grays claimed that he attempted to return to work after the collision in a part-time, modified working capacity, per doctor’s orders, performing administrative/desk work at $20 per hour until the middle of June 2010. He then attempted to return to regular, full-duty work, without restrictions, but by August 2010, he was placed back on modified duty because the full-duty work allegedly aggravated his neck and back pain. Shortly thereafter, Grays was let go. In September 2010, Grays began working part-time as an independent contractor for Air Mechanix, in San Jose, but he claimed that he had to stop working in May 2011 because he found that he could no longer continue the work due to his lower back pain. The plaintiff’s treating physiatrists, Azevedo and Kaisler-Meza, both testified in their depositions that Grays’ were caused by the subject motor vehicle collision and that Grays would not be able to return to his former occupation as a HVAC service technician. Kaisler-Meza also assigned Grays with permanent work restrictions, which included no sustained overhead work, and no lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying weights of more than 10 pounds on an occasional basis. Kaisler-Meza also precluded Grays from prolonged standing, walking, or sitting of more than 45 minutes to an hour at a time. The plaintiff’s treating neurosurgeon opined during depositions that Grays is a surgical candidate for a spinal fusion, but that Grays declined the procedure. Since Grays was on the job at the time of the collision, he filed for workers’ compensation benefits. As a result, Grays’ past medical costs of approximately $10,441.16 was covered by workers’ compensation. In addition, if Grays decides to undergo any future lumbar surgery, it will be covered as part of his open medical award in the workers’ compensation matter. Thus, Grays sought recovery of $378,862 in past lost wages and a present value of $421,875 in future loss of earning capacity. He also sought recovery of damages for his past and future pain and suffering. Defense counsel contended that Grays’ complaints were due to his pre-existing, degenerative condition in his lumbar spine, as shown on Grays’ MRI findings. Counsel noted that Grays had previously sought medical treatment for his lower back complaints in 2005, 2007, and 2009. The defense’s independent medical examiner, an expert neurosurgeon, opined during his deposition that the L4-5 disc bulge shown in the 2011 MRI was no longer present at the time of the 2013 MRI, as it had healed with conservative care and no longer presented an issue. The expert further opined that the 2013 MRI showed no sign of trauma and that the changes to multiple levels of Grays’ lumbar spine were due to his progressing degenerative disc disease. The defense’s expert further opined that, based on his review of the 2013 lumbar MRI, Grays would not require an operation on his lumbar spine and that if future surgery was required, it would not be a result of the subject collision, but rather due to Grays’ pre-existing degenerative disc disease. Defense counsel asserted that Grays could return to work in some capacity and noted that Grays’ former girlfriend provided video footage that showed Grays cleaning his car, doing sit ups, running on the treadmill, playing a boxing video game on the Wii, putting up Christmas lights on a ladder, etc. She also testified about the video during her deposition, claiming that Grays was physically able to do things that he said he couldn’t, that Grays wasn’t as injured as he claimed to be, and that Grays was using the incident as an excuse to not return to work and retire early.
Superior Court of Santa Clara County, Santa Clara, CA

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