Case details

Plaintiff claimed rear-end crash caused back and neck injuries





Result type

Not present

aggravation of pre-existing condition, arthritis, back, decreased range of motion, neck, soft tissue
On Aug. 23, 2012, plaintiff Eric Harbison, 47, was stopped in his vehicle on Moraga Avenue, in Oakland, when his vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle operated by Melissa Johnson-Scranton. Harbison claimed to his back. Harbison sued Johnson-Scranton, alleging that Johnson-Scranton was negligent in the operation of her vehicle. The matter proceeded to mediation. According to plaintiff’s counsel, Johnson-Scranton’s insurer offered $7,000 to settle the claim at the mediation on Aug. 17, 2014. However, Harbison rejected the offer. The mediator then recommended that the case settle for $50,000, which Harbison allegedly would have accepted, but Johnson-Scranton’s insurer refused. The insurer then made a statutory offer of $8,266 on March 3, 2015, 10 days before trial, and the offer was again rejected by Harbison. Johnson-Scranton’s insurer then increased its offer to settle the case to $72,000 on the first day of trial. However, according to plaintiff’s counsel, Harbison refused the offer because, by that late date, Harbison had already incurred over $15,000 in costs. As a result, the matter proceeded to trial. At the start of trial, Johnson-Scranton admitted liability., Harbison claimed the accident involved a moderate-force collision at about 20 mph, causing soft-tissue to his neck and back. He also claimed the impact aggravated an unknown pre-existing condition of arthritis in his spine, leading to an onset of diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis, which is calcification, or a bony hardening of ligaments in areas where they attach to the spine. On the night of the accident, Harbison’s wife drove him to a local hospital, Sutter Delta Medical Center, in Antioch, in order to obtain emergency room treatment. Thereafter, he followed up with his primary care physician, received multiple courses of physical therapy, had multiple MRIs and X-rays done, and consulted with two different orthopedic surgeons. The biomechanical experts for by both the plaintiff and defense testified to an 18- to 24-mph impact speed and to a delta-v of 10 to 13 mph. The experts also both acknowledged that the impact could cause some injury to Harbison. In addition, the plaintiff’s expert orthopedic surgeon testified that Harbison suffered a permanent injury to his spine. Harbison alleged that he suffers a loss of range of motion and flexibility to his back. He also alleged ongoing chronic pain and stiffness in his thoracic spine, which limits his ability to engage in physical activities. He claimed that he can no longer run or walk more than a mile and that he has to take frequent breaks at work and when driving long distances. He also claimed he can no longer participate in sports, such as basketball, which he enjoyed before the accident. Harbison further claimed that he is greatly limited in doing household chores and yard work. In addition, he claimed that was not yet employed as a legal marketing representative at the time of the accident, but that he had an offer and was scheduled to start work on Sept. 1, 2012. However, he contended that due to , his start date was delayed to Oct. 15, 2012. Harbison continues to work as a legal marketing representative, but he claimed his back pain prevented him from continuing to work part-time as a youth basketball referee. Thus, Harbison sought recovery of $11,150 in paid or owed (Howell) medical expenses, $5,200 in lost wages due to the delay in starting his legal marketing job, and approximately $3,150 in lost wages for each year since the accident due to the loss of his part-time work as a youth basketball referee. He also sought recovery of $2,000 a year for future medical expenses over the next 30 years. Defense counsel argued that Harbison suffered, at most, soft-tissue cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine strain and/or sprain , which should have resolved within six months. The defense’s orthopedic surgery expert also testified that there were only minor soft-tissue to Harbison’s neck and back. In addition, defense counsel argued that Harbison’s wage-loss claims were speculative and not supported by the evidence.
Superior Court of Alameda County, Oakland, CA

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