Case details

Plaintiff claimed spinal injuries from 2010 collision





Result type

Not present

back, bulging disc, herniated disc, lower back, lumbar
On June 5, 2010, at approximately 1:09 p.m., plaintiff Mario Gomez, a television cable installer, was operating his 1997 Toyota 4Runner on westbound Capitol Expressway, intending to get onto Monterey Road, also known as State Route 87, in San Jose, when he applied his brakes for a red light. A 1994 Honda that was traveling behind Gomez and operated by Claire Pfeiffer, 17, also applied her brakes. However, Claire was unable to stop before rear-ending Gomez’s vehicle. Gomez claimed to his neck and back. Gomez sued Claire and the owner of the Honda, Claire’s father, Patrick Pfeiffer. Gomez alleged that Claire was negligent in the operation of the Honda and that Mr. Pfeiffer was vicariously liable for his daughter’s actions. The defendants conceded liability., The collision caused $3,031.01 in damage to Gomez’s vehicle and caused severe front-end damage to the Pfeiffers’ vehicle, totaling it. At the accident scene, Gomez complained of right-sided back pain that radiated down his right leg, which he rated as being 10 out of 10. He did not exit the vehicle, but, rather, summoned the police and an ambulance. Gomez was then placed in a cervical collar and head immobilizer, and transported via American Medical Response to Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose. At the hospital, Gomez complained of neck and lower back pain, and an exam revealed moderate soft-tissue tenderness to his right mid- and lower back. He was also determined to have mildly limited range of motion in his back. The remainder of the exam was normal. Lumbar X-rays were also taken and determined to be negative. Thus, Gomez was given Vicodin and Ibuprofen, and released with instructions to follow-up with his primary care physician if the pain persisted. Within a few days, Gomez presented to Rhodes-Jacobs Chiropractic complaining of neck and lower back pain. Gomez previously treated at Rhodes-Jacobs Chiropractic in 2004, following a work-related injury to his low back. During the 2010 visit, he claimed that his lower back pain was severe and received relief from chiropractic treatment to his neck, but not his lower back. His 2010 treatment consisted of adjustments, an ultrasound, electrical stimulation, exercises, and other manual therapy. Gomez acknowledged that the chiropractic assistant gave all treatment, except the adjustments that were administered by a chiropractor. In total, Gomez underwent about 25 chiropractic visits. Gomez testified that since chiropractic treatment did not improve his lower back and bilateral leg pain, in which he claimed both legs were numb, the chiropractor referred him for an MRI with a neurosurgeon. On Sept. 7, 2010, Gomez underwent a lumbar MRI and his treating neurosurgeon determined that the results revealed disc herniations at the L4-5 level. The treating neurosurgeon’s exam also revealed tenderness and positive straight leg rising at 90 degrees bilaterally, but the remainder of the exam was normal. However, Gomez reported that he was unable to sit or stand for long periods. Thus, the plaintiff’s treating neurosurgeon recommended an EMG of both legs and continued conservative multi-disciplinary care, which included chiropractic treatment. The neurosurgeon also stated that he wanted to see Gomez back one month after the EMG. The EMG was recommended by both the plaintiff’s treating neurosurgeon and treating chiropractor and a nerve conduction study was recommended by the plaintiff’s treating physical medicine expert. On March 29, 2011, Gomez underwent a nerve conduction study and EMG at First Call Diagnostics Medical Center Inc. His treating physical medicine physician administered the tests and determined that the nerve conduction study was normal, but that the EMG was abnormal and suggestive of a lumbar radiculopathy, primarily involving bilateral L4 and L5 nerve roots. Gomez then returned to his treating neurosurgeon in July 2013 and underwent a further MRI, which revealed an increased disc bulge. The neurosurgeon subsequently recommended surgery, which Gomez testified he would like to undergo given his severe back pain. However, Gomez had a follow-up visit with his treating neurosurgeon on Dec. 13, 2013, but the surgery was not scheduled at that time. Prior to the accident, Gomez had many jobs, including a television cable installer, a pizza delivery person, and a satellite installer, and he took disability from all those jobs for an extended period of time. He testified that as a result of the accident, he can no longer work as a television cable installer, as he cannot bend or climb into small spaces. As a result, he switched jobs, post-accident, and now works on an assembly line, which is a standing position. Thus, Gomez did not make a wage loss claim. Gomez acknowledged being in a prior work-related accident in 2004, at which time he injured his lower back. However, he claimed his pre-existing back pain resolved a couple of years after the 2004 accident and he denied any ongoing back pain at the time of the subject incident. In December 2011, Gomez was involved in another accident, but he claimed it was extremely mild and it did not exacerbate his lower back pain. Thus, Gomez sought recovery of $205,000 in total damages, including $15,531.31 in past medical costs and $40,000 in future medical costs for the estimated cost of the surgery, as well as recovery of damages for his past and future pain and suffering. Defense counsel argued that Gomez’s ongoing lower back pain was a result of the 2004 work-related incident, rather than from the subject accident. The defense’s orthopedic surgery expert, who was the only doctor to review the MRI films from 2005, 2010 and 2013, opined that the 2005 and 2010 MRIs are virtually the same and as a result, Gomez’s current 6-millimeter disc bulge was due to the prior accident and age, rather than the 2010 automobile accident. Thus, defense counsel asked the jury to award Gomez only $3,500, which would include the hospital bill and about six chiropractic visits.
Superior Court of Santa Clara County, Santa Clara, CA

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