Case details

Plaintiff claimed crash caused spine and knee injuries





Result type

Not present

anxiety, back, cognition, emotional distress, emotional disturbance, herniated disc, herniated disc knee neck, knees, legs pain, mental, neck, psychological
On Dec. 4, 2010, plaintiff Kimberly Muniz, 26, a recently laid-off dental laboratory technician, was driving in Sacramento when when the passenger side, front quarter of her Subaru Impreza wagon was struck by a Jeep Liberty operated by Susan Van Rein. Experts from both sides described a “moderate” impact collision involving a change in velocity of 12 to 15 mph in a tenth of a second. Muniz’s airbag deployed and the seat belt functioned properly, but Muniz’s knees hit the interior of the driver compartment. She subsequently claimed to her back, neck, knees, and legs. Muniz sued Kimberly Van Rein (sued as Kimberly “Vanrein”) and the owner of the Jeep Liberty, Jerry Van Rein. Muniz alleged that Ms. Van Rein was negligent in the operation of her vehicle and that Mr. Van Rein was vicariously liable for Ms. Van Rein’s actions. Ms. Van Rein admitted negligence., At the scene of the collision, Muniz exited the vehicle and then returned to rescue a dachshund from her car. The traffic collision report noted a complaint of pain to Muniz’s neck, back and legs, and she was brought to an emergency room for treatment. Muniz then sought treatment at a clinic for low-income families lacking insurance one month after the crash, during which her left knee bruise and shins were the focus of the initial clinical treatment. Muniz claimed that she developed an acute fear of driving or riding in any vehicle immediately after the collision. She also claimed memory problems immediately following the collision, such that she cannot compute her current age, cannot spell her middle name, and cannot sketch drawings, which she enjoyed as her primary pastime. Muniz also claimed that she suffers from anxiety panic attacks and chronic sleep disturbance. Eight months after the collision, the clinic treating Muniz’s knees referred her, internally, to a staff chiropractor for lower back and neck complaints. Muniz subsequently underwent four weekly chiropractic therapy sessions. She was ultimately released from further medical treatment of her knees at the clinic 11 months after the crash. However, Muniz claimed she still had lingering pain in her knees. One year after the collision, Muniz’s mother arranged consultation with the family chiropractor because of alleged continued complaints of pain in the lower back, neck and knees. Muniz’s family testified that the onset of Muniz’s lower back pain and neck pain began immediately after the collision. An MRI ultimately confirmed a large herniation blocking 80 percent of the spinal canal. As a result, orthopedic surgery was recommended immediately, but financial constraints allegedly delayed surgery an additional year. Due to an emergent onset of lost sensation, Muniz ultimately underwent an emergency microdiscectomy. The plaintiff’s treating orthopedic surgeon testified that it was 95 percent likely that the herniation he operated on was caused by the collision. He also opined that it is certain that Muniz will require a fusion surgery to remove the remaining disc in order to improve function. Muniz claimed that surgery was successful in reducing her acute lower back pain symptoms, but that her physical and mental function decreased below the sedentary work standard, the lowest Department of Labor standard. Thus, she claimed that she would not be able to return to work as a dental technician. (Muniz worked as a dental technician for five years before a layoff the year before the collision.) The plaintiff’s expert physiatrist opined that the collision was linked to Muniz’s various , including the herniation. Based upon his physical examination and interview of the patient, the expert recommended lifetime treatments for Muniz’s chronic pain and limited function, including trigger point injections, four hours of daily home health aide, and a service animal for life. The plaintiff’s expert neuropsychologist opined that the collision was linked to the loss of 24 IQ points to Muniz’s auditory working memory. The expert’s diagnostic impression included panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and brain dysfunction caused by severe emotional disturbance imposed on an unusually susceptible abnormal brain. As a result, the expert recommended three to five years of therapy and treatment, and endorsed home health care and a service animal for the Muniz’s safety and well-being. In addition, the plaintiff’s expert life care planner testified regarding the cost of future medical needs, which were evaluated by the plaintiff’s expert economist. Defense counsel emphasized the fact that Muniz was a morbidly obese, recently laid-off dental lab technician who lived a sedentary lifestyle with her mother and father before the collision. Counsel also noted that although the traffic collision report noted a complaint of pain to Muniz’s neck, back and legs, records from emergency medical technicians and the emergency room only mentioned pain to Muniz’s knees. Counsel also noted that when Muniz eventually sought treatment at a clinic one month later, her questionnaire did not indicate any lower back or neck issues. Thus, defense counsel disputed the nature and extent of Muniz’s alleged . Defense counsel stipulated that Muniz’s post-surgical pain complaints and lack of function were legitimate, and counsel did not offer evidence to contradict Muniz’s alleged incapacity to work. However, defense counsel argued that the herniation, discovered one year after the collision, could not have been related to the crash. According to the defense’s expert neurosurgeon, the collision could not have been a factor in causing the herniation because back problems were not documented in medical records until the clinic chiropractor eight months after the collision. The expert also testified that every day events such as bearing down on a bowel movement could cause a large herniation. Thus, the defense’s expert neurosurgeon opined that since the herniation could have been caused by anything, it was most likely caused close in time to the onset of the herniation-related symptoms (eight months later), and not caused by the collision. Defense counsel contended that pre-collision records revealed that Muniz suffered from a brain seizure disorder as a child and was placed in special education classes up to high school graduation. Thus, the defense’s expert neuropsychologist testified that he was unable to complete his examination of Muniz, but that his incomplete diagnostic impression was that Muniz is possibly schizophrenic, and not brain injured. Defense counsel offered reduced life care plan numbers through the plaintiff’s billing and economics experts. Counsel further argued that Muniz’s unemployed status at the time of the collision negated her claim for future lost wages. In response, Muniz’s mother testified that her daughter’s back and neck problems were raised at the clinic, even though the complaints were not reflected in the records at the time treatment ended, but that Muniz’s initial clinical treatment mainly focused on her complaints of pain to her left knee and shins. Plaintiff’s counsel also disputed the testimony of the defense’s expert neurosurgeon, noting that the defense’s expert never even met Muniz.
Superior Court of Sacramento County, Sacramento, CA

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