Case details

Lumbar injury impossible for seat-belted driver: defense





Result type

Not present

back, herniated disc, lower back, neck, stenosis
In May 2014, plaintiff Angela Tenorio, 46, an in-home care provider, was driving in heavy stop-and-go traffic in Los Angeles. As she was at a complete stop, her Toyota Corolla was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer operated by Cesar Flores. Tenorio claimed to her back. Tenorio sued Flores; Flores’ employer and owner of the tractor-trailer, Barraza Refrigerated Transportation Inc.; and the owner of Barraza Refrigerated Transportation, Hector Barraza. Tenorio alleged that Flores was negligent in the operation of the tractor-trailer and that Barraza and Barraza Refrigerated Transportation were vicariously liable for Flores’ actions. Barraza was ultimately dismissed prior to trial based on an agreement between the parties. Thus, the matter continued against Flores and Barraza Refrigerated Transportation only. Defense counsel contested liability. Flores claimed that he saw the traffic begin to move and took his foot off the brake. He alleged that as a result, the tractor-trailer rolled forward and struck Tenorio’s vehicle., Tenorio claimed that she sustained 4.3-millimeter herniated lumbar disc at the L4-5 level. After the collision, Tenorio stayed in her vehicle and dialed 911 two or three times. She then drove home and, later, to an emergency room, where she was checked out and then released home. Tenorio then sought treatment on lien basis from a multitude of healthcare providers over next several months. Ultimately, approximately 18 months to two years after the accident, Tenorio underwent an L4-5 microdiscectomy by her treating neurosurgery expert. Tenorio missed 110 week of work, and she claimed she suffers from on-going spinal stenosis, as well as strains and sprains. Her treating neurosurgery expert opined that it was possible that Tenorio would eventually require another lumbar surgery. Thus, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award Tenorio between $2 million and $8 million in total damages, including damages for Tenorio’s past and future lost wages, future medical costs, and general damages for her past and future pain and suffering. Defense counsel estimated that the impact speed was between 2.5 and 4.2 mph. Thus, counsel denied that Tenorio’s alleged were causally related to the accident. The defense’s medical expert, who performed an independent medical examination of Tenorio, opined that Tenorio might have suffered a strain/sprain to her neck and back, but that the were not significant and did not require continuous treatment. The expert also opined that Tenorio’s necessary damages should have been limited to the emergency room visit and up to three months of conservative treatment. The defense’s expert biomechanical engineer opined that the empirical data from the subject accident made it virtually impossible for a lumbar injury to have occurred. The expert explained that Tenorio was a seat-belted driver and that there were no significant forces on the lumbar levels to cause any injury. Thus, defense counsel proffered that Tenorio likely sustained an injury from her profession, rather than from the subject accident, and asked the jury to award Tenorio no more than $10,000.
Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA

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