Case details

Plaintiff: Multi-vehicle crash caused mild brain injury





Result type

Not present

brain, brain damage, brain injury, cognition, concussion, head, headaches, impairment, mental, neck, psychological, sensory, speech, traumatic brain injury, vertigo, vision
On March 16, 2016, plaintiff Romulo Rufo, 51, a utility’s land-services agent, was driving on Interstate 710, near Firestone Boulevard, in South Gate. Rufo stopped quickly in traffic, and his car’s rear end was immediately struck by a trailing car that was being driven by James Smith, an employee of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Rufo’s car was propelled forward, and it resultantly struck the rear end of a preceding vehicle. Rufo claimed that he suffered of his back and neck. Rufo sued Smith and Smith’s employers, the U.S. government and the U.S. Department of Justice. The lawsuit alleged that Smith was negligent in the operation of his vehicle. The lawsuit further alleged that the remaining defendants were liable because the accident occurred during Smith’s performance of his job’s duties. Smith and the U.S. Department of Justice were dismissed. The matter proceeded to a bench trial against the U.S. government. Rufo claimed that the accident was a result of Smith having been distracted by something on his vehicle’s center console. Rufo also claimed that Smith was maintaining an excessive speed. Defense counsel conceded some degree of liability but argued that Rufo was responsible for having abruptly braked., Rufo claimed that he suffered a mild injury of his brain, with residual effects that included dizziness, headaches, vertigo and vestibular deficits. He also claimed that he experienced chronic neck pain. Rufo claimed that, during the accident, his head struck his seat’s headrest. He claimed that he recalled staring at the ceiling while his body was moving and that he was dazed after the accident, though he acknowledged that he did not lose consciousness. Rufo further claimed that he initially felt fine and that he was able to exit his vehicle, speak to the other motorists, and create video of the damaged vehicles. He also claimed that he telephoned his wife and work supervisor. He claimed that, by the time the California Highway Patrol officers arrived, he felt pain in his neck and was nauseated. He was transported by ambulance to a hospital, where CT imaging of his brain did not reveal an abnormality. The emergency room physician did not diagnose anything other than a neck strain and a headache. Rufo claimed that, during the ensuing hours and days, he developed concussive symptoms that have persisted since the accident. Rufo further claimed that his symptoms continued to worsen and that, in September 2016, he was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. He claimed that he suffered life-altering as a direct result of the accident and that he continues to be seen and treated by specialists, including a neurosurgeon, a vestibular therapist, a neuropsychologist and a neuro-optometrist. Rufo’s biomechanics expert opined that there was a greater than 50 percent injury potential for a mild traumatic brain injury based on the forces of the collision. Rufo claimed that has been rendered permanently disabled, as he continues to suffer headaches, neck pain, dizziness, nausea, vertigo, vision problems, memory deficits, depression and balance issues. He also claimed that he is unable to drive as a result of his condition. He claimed that he was terminated from his job as part of a downsizing on April 21, 2016, and that he has not been able to work since. Rufo’s counsel presented a life-care plan of $1,350,700, which included the costs of appointments with a neuropsychiatrist, orthopedic spine evaluations, driving evaluations, massage therapy and acupuncture. Rufo sought recovery of past and future medical expenses, and he sought recovery of damages for past and future pain and suffering. His wife, Trina Rufo, sought recovery of damages for loss of consortium. Defense counsel argued that Romulo Rufo’s ongoing symptoms are a result of prior medical conditions, including depression stemming from the loss of his mother. Defense counsel contended that the collision occurred at a slow speed, noting that Smith was traveling about 35 mph at the time of impact. The defense’s biomechanics expert opined that there was only a 5 percent chance of a brain injury based on the forces of the collision. Defense counsel argued that Rufo did not have a mild traumatic brain injury and that, as a result, no future medical or psychological care was needed as a result of the accident. Counsel also argued that Rufo lost his job because of a companywide layoff and that he had been working prior to the layoff. As such, defense counsel contended that Rufo was not entitled to recovery of lost earnings.
United States District Court, Central District, Los Angeles, CA

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