Case details

Plaintiff claimed rear-end crash caused spinal injuries





Result type

Not present

back, bulging disc, lumbar, neck, neurological, radicular pain, radiculitis, stenosis
On Feb. 12, 2013, plaintiff Maricela Sotelo, 45, a certified nursing assistant, was driving in Santa Barbara when her vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle operated by Brooke Holland at the intersection of East Victoria Street and Santa Barbara Street. Sotelo claimed to her neck and back. Sotelo sued Brooke Holland and the owner of Brooke Holland’s vehicle, Julia Holland, Brooke Holland’s mother. Sotelo alleged that Brooke Holland was negligent in the operation of her vehicle and that Julia Holland was vicariously liable for her daughter’s actions. The Hollands admitted negligence., Sotelo claimed she suffered a central lumbar disc bulge at the L2-3 level and severe spinal stenosis at the L4-5 and L5-S1 levels. On the day after the accident, Sotelo presented to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital emergency room, in Santa Barbara, with complaints of neck and back pain. The hospital diagnosed her with a neck strain, prescribed Ibuprofen, and instructed her to return if her pain did not resolve. Sotelo’s attorney referred her to an orthopedic surgeon, who first saw Sotelo on March 4, 2013, three weeks after the accident. The treating orthopedist sent Sotelo to physical therapy for four months, but when she did not improve, Sotelo was referred for a lumbar MRI, which showed a central disc bulge at L2-3 and severe spinal stenosis at L4-5 and L5-S1. On June 6, 2014, the treating orthopedist performed an epidural steroid injection, but it failed to relieve Sotelo’s lower back pain, which allegedly had radiating symptoms down her legs. Sotelo claimed that her neck injury resolved, but that her back injury did not. She claimed that as a result, her treater recommended, in June 2014, that she undergo a microdiscectomy at L4-5. As a result, Sotelo underwent the microdiscectomy at L4-5 on April 28, 2015 and was off of work for 10 months. At the time of trial, Sotelo was 48 years old, divorced, and with one child, a daughter, who was in college studying to be a registered nurse. She claimed that prior to the subject incident, she had no neck or lower back or treatment of any kind and that her lower back injury was caused by the subject accident. She also claimed that all of her resulting medical care was reasonable and necessary. In addition, Sotelo claimed that despite returning to work as a certified nursing assistant, working 30 hours per week since approximately June 2016, she continues to suffer from lower back pain and that as a result, she takes 90 pain pills a month. She further claimed that her limitations include lifting, bending, stooping and standing for more than an hour at a time. Thus, Sotelo sought recovery of approximately $51,000 in past medical costs that were on a lien, approximately $45,000 in past lost income, and approximately $507,000 in future lost income. She also sought recovery of $500,000 to $1.5 million in damages for her past and future pain and suffering. (Plaintiff’s counsel noted that they served their C.C.P. § 998 demand and Kahmann’s recommendation to the defense, but the defendants refused/declined to accept.) Defense counsel noted that the subject collision on Feb. 12, 2013 caused less than $1,000 in damage to the rear bumper of Sotelo’s vehicle and that four months later, on June 14, 2013, Sotelo ran a stop sign and was broadsided on her driver’s side door by a sport utility vehicle. Counsel contended that Sotelo’s second accident occurred during the course of her physical therapy, but that Sotelo did not tell the physical therapist nor the orthopedist about the second accident. Defense counsel also contended that although Sotelo’s treating orthopedist recommended that Sotelo undergo a microdiscectomy in June 2014, Sotelo was still working at two different facilities, working 60 to 80 hours per week at that time. However, defense counsel noted that on Feb. 15, 2015, Sotelo fell from an exam table at her doctor’s office and allegedly sustained . Thus, defense counsel contended that Sotelo underwent the microdiscectomy in April 2015, more than three years after the two car accidents, and just two months after the fall from the exam table. In addition, counsel noted that Sotelo underwent a neck surgery in November 2015, but the plaintiff’s treating surgeon claimed that was unrelated to Sotelo’s two car accidents three years earlier. Defense counsel argued that the minor rear-end accident was not a substantial factor in causing Sotelo’s lower back injury. Instead, defense counsel argued that Sotelo’s lower back surgery was caused by a pre-existing congenital defect of her spine, which caused severe stenosis and severe degenerative disc disease. Counsel also argued that Sotelo’s alleged neck and lower back were caused or contributed by the subsequent collision on June 14, 2013 and/or by Sotelo’s fall from the doctor’s exam table on Feb. 15, 2015.
Superior Court of Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara, CA

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