Case details

Plaintiff claimed crash caused concussion and neck injury





Result type

Not present

back, blurred vision, brain, brain injury, brain syndrome, cognition, concussion, confusion, dizziness, head, headaches, herniated cervical disc, herniated disc, impairment, insomnia, mental, nausea, neck, nerve impingement, nerve impingement head, neurological, post-concussion, psychological, radicular pain, radiculitis, sensory, speech, vision
On Feb. 15, 2013, plaintiff Thomas Collins, 43, a radiology technician, was driving a 1997 Lexus on southbound John Jay Hopkins Drive, in San Diego, when the left front corner of the Collins’ vehicle was struck by the front of a 2010 Honda CRV operated by Zenaida Ortega, who was making a left turn into a driveway from northbound John Jay Hopkins Drive. Collins claimed to his head and neck. Collins sued Ortega, alleging that Ortega was negligent in the operation of her vehicle. Ortega conceded liability., Collins claimed that he suffered a concussion and a herniated cervical disc with C6 nerve root impingement. He was subsequently transported to an emergency room and was allegedly diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. Collins claimed he developed neck pain the following day, so he presented to his family medicine physician. He then took pain medication for one month before returning to his treating family physician with complaints of persistent neck pain. The treating physician prescribed physical therapy, which Collins underwent in eight sessions. Collins claimed he suffered post-concussion syndrome for eight months following the collision. He claimed that during that time, he experienced dizziness, nausea, headaches, confusion, blurred vision, forgetfulness, and making errors at work to a level that back up plans, or “fail safe” precautions, were necessary. He also claimed he suffered from attention problems, trouble concentrating, mixing up letters and words, and insomnia. Over the following year, Collins allegedly continued doing home exercises to treat his neck pain. He claimed that several years before the crash, he had an unrelated shoulder injury and was able to rehabilitate it by doing exercises recommended to him by his health care providers. So, he claimed that he would not go to a physician every time his neck hurt and, instead, he just continued with similar home exercises to treat his neck injury. One year after the physical therapy, Collins told his treating family physician that he again had some neck pain. He then attended another three sessions of physical therapy, but he claimed the sessions did not help his pain, which now included radicular pain into his left arm and hand. Collins retained counsel, 1.5 years after the accident, and was referred to a spinal surgery expert, who ordered an MRI of the neck. The MRI showed a 2-millimeter osteophyte complex of the C5-6 vertebrae. After doing neurological testing and reviewing the MRI film, the expert diagnosed Collins with a cervical disc herniation at the C5-6 level with C6 nerve root impingement. As a result, the expert recommended cervical decompression and fusion surgery, which he opined would cost $132,000. Collins claimed that he experienced neck pain on a daily basis since the crash and that he has not been able to play golf, go to gym, or snowboard due to the radiating pain. He contended that he never had any neck problems prior to the collision, but that he will now require a future neck surgery and miss six months of time of work. Thus, Collins sought recovery of $12,886.64 in past medical costs, $132,000 in future medical costs, $1,176 in past lost earnings, and $12,000 in future lost earnings. He also sought recovery of $200,000 in non-economic damages for his three years of past pain and suffering, and $550,000 in non-economic damages for his future pain and suffering over his life expectancy of 33 years. Defense counsel argued that Collins had no neck injury, as there was no pain reported at the conclusion of his physical therapy and as there was a one-year gap in treatment. Counsel also contended that Collins failed to comply with physical therapy prescriptions after the collision, as Collins missed five appointments. Counsel contended that Collins even reported that his neck pain rated a 0 out of 10 during the last two sessions in June 2013 and that Collins told the physical therapist that he had paddle-boarded on the weekend and that there was no pain. Defense counsel further contended that Collins saw his treating family physician twice during that one-year period of time, but that no mention of neck pain was on the record. In addition, counsel contended that Collins’ MRI film did not show a disc herniation or any nerve root impingement. Thus, defense counsel argued that Collins’ neck pain was from a degenerative condition, which had nothing to do with the collision, and that surgery was definitely not warranted, as Collins had not yet exhausted conservative treatment, such as epidural injections. The defense’s neurosurgery expert opined that Collins did not suffer from a concussion, but that the symptoms of dizziness, headaches, and minimal forgetfulness at work were more likely related to Collins’ pre-existing anxiety disorder, stress related to fertility issues, and side effects from unrelated medications. Defense counsel noted that the plaintiff’s treating family physician testified that many of the medications that Collins was taking were unrelated to any injury allegedly related to the collision and could have also caused the alleged complaints that Collins claimed were due to a head injury. Defense counsel also noted that Collins saw a treating neurologist once on Sept. 26, 2013, and that the MRI of Collins’ brain on Oct. 15, 2013 was normal. As far as Collins’ alleged lost earnings, defense counsel argued that although Collins claimed that he had to reduce his work schedule because of his head complaints, Collins did not quantify the amount of time from work that he allegedly lost. The defense’s neurosurgery expert further testified that Collins’ neck surgery, although not related to the subject crash, would have cost no more than $30,000, not the $132,000, as testified by the plaintiff’s spinal surgery expert. Thus, defense counsel argued that if the jury were to award anything, it should only award Collins $25,000 based upon past medical costs of about $3,000 and past lost earnings of $1,176.
Superior Court of San Diego County, San Diego, CA

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