Case details

Plaintiff: Diabetic should have boosted sugar before driving





Result type

Not present

back, bulging disc, cervical, cervical disc injury, fusion, head, neck
On Dec. 3, 2009, plaintiff Tara Frisk, 30, a homemaker, was driving on Highway 49 across a two-lane bridge over the Mokelumne River. As she crossed the bridge, her vehicle was hit nearly head-on by Catherine Cowan, 53. Cowan, a diabetic, had blacked out from low blood sugar, crossed the center line, and collided with Frisk, who sustained to her neck, back, and head. Cowan was cited for violating California Vehicle Code § 21460, for crossing a double-yellow line. Frisk sued Cowan, alleging negligent operation of a vehicle. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that Cowan felt that her blood sugar was getting low, but decided to drive anyway. However, plaintiff’s counsel argued that a reasonable diabetic would have addressed the low blood sugar condition before driving. Counsel also argued that the risk of a blackout was known to Cowan, a Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetic since age 14, and that she should not have driven if she felt the onset of low blood-sugar symptoms. Cowan denied liability. She said that prior to the accident, she had locked her keys in her car at a Kmart in Jackson and had contacted her husband to bring her the spare key. While waiting, she allegedly felt her blood sugar getting low and decided to drive the relatively short distance to a restaurant to get something to eat. At trial, Cowan argued that while she sensed her blood sugar was beginning to fall, she had no warning that she would lose consciousness. Her counsel contended that Cowan’s driving record was clean, with no history of collisions or medical restrictions. Counsel also contended that test results in Cowan’s medical records demonstrated that her diabetes was well controlled. Cowan’s personal physician testified that Cowan’s average historical blood sugar readings were in a range that indicated an ideal level of control. Cowan’s husband testified that in the moments before his wife got behind the wheel, she seemed normal and didn’t mention any concerns before driving away., After the collision, Frisk was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she was treated and released. She subsequently had short courses of physical therapy and chiropractic care, but with no relief of her neck symptoms. A cervical MRI showed mild disc bulges from C5-6 to C6-7. Frisk eventually had a single-level disc replacement at C5-6, which was performed in August 2013. Although surgery alleviated much of the pain, Frisk claimed that recreational activities, household chores, and playing with her three young daughters all increase her pain, which she manages with prescription medication. The plaintiff’s treating surgeon testified that Frisk will likely need a double-level fusion in the future. The plaintiff’s treating pain-management physician testified that Frisk will likely require pain management care for the rest of her life. Before trial, Frisk amended her complaint to include a claim for punitive damages. In closing argument, her counsel argued that Cowan’s conduct was egregious and justified an award of punitive damages to punish Cowan and deter such conduct. Counsel argued that the jury should award Frisk the full measure of her past and future damages, and only punish Cowan in the amount of $1 to send Cowan the message that her conduct was not acceptable in the community. Defense counsel disputed the monetary value Frisk placed on her past and future care, as well as the need for her past disc replacement. The defense’s orthopedic surgeon testified that Frisk’s cervical and surgery could not be found to be related to the collision. A statutory demand for Cowan’s $250,000 policy was made in October 2011, after Frisk learned she would need single-level disk replacement. Cowan’s insurer allowed the demand to expire. The policy limits were not tendered until March 2014.
Superior Court of Amador County, Amador, CA

Recommended Experts


Get a FREE consultation for your case