Case details

Plaintiff’s failure to look caused parking lot accident: defense





Result type

Not present

foot, fracture, heel, right talonavicular joint, tissue
On Jan. 6, 2012, plaintiff Melanie Chase, 49, a wholesale-store employee, was assisting two coworkers in the parking lot of a store located at 6750 Stanford Ranch Road, in Roseville. As she stepped back to brace a flatbed cart that she was holding while store employees loaded an object into a customer’s vehicle, her right heel became pinned under the driver’s side rear wheel of a 2004 Nissan Maxima. Chase claimed that her foot was fractured during the incident. Chase sued the driver, Bruce Woodward Hunt, on claims of negligence. Chase’s counsel asserted that Hunt drove his car too close to the loading zone when there was plenty of room on the opposite side. According to Chase, she did not see Hunt’s car before the incident and did not look behind her before she stepped backward. Chase claimed that people yelled for Hunt to stop, but that Hunt failed to do so in time. She further claimed that it was only after Hunt backed his car up that she was able to free her foot and walked away. Chase’s coworker testified that after Chase screamed, he saw that Chase’s toes were near the line delineating the loading zone and that her heel was outside the loading zone. He also testified that the tire pinned the rear, rubber-portion of Chase’s athletic shoe. The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert estimated that Hunt’s speed at the time of impact was between 0.2 and 3.2 mph. (This estimation was supported by the defense’s accident reconstruction expert.) Hunt testified that while he was driving slowly in the parking-lot aisle, looking for a parking spot, he saw workers in the adjacent loading zone. He claimed that he was 3-feet from the loading zone when he heard a commotion, looked over his left shoulder, and saw Chase behind him, near his rear wheel. Defense counsel maintained that Chase was solely responsible for causing the accident, as Chase backed into the driver’s side rear tire without looking behind her or seeing Hunt’s car before the incident. The defense’s accident reconstruction expert faulted Chase for taking about four steps backward without looking, which put her outside the loading zone and into Hunt’s lane of travel., Chase claimed she suffered an impact fracture to the right talonavicular joint. However, she returned to work after the accident and continued working for the next six months before seeking medical attention. She claimed that she worked through her foot pain, which led to an impaired gait, because she previously filed a workers’-compensation claim prior to the incident with Hunt and feared that filing another claim would jeopardize her job. Chase was initially diagnosed with plantar fasciitis (pain and inflammation of a thick band of tissue in her heel) and was fitted with a walking boot. As a result, she did not work from July 2012 to December 2012, during which she treated with physical therapy while consulting with a workers’-compensation physician. She then worked part time between December 2012 and March 2013. In April 2013, Chase underwent surgery to remove a bone spur at the right talonavicular joint. She was then out of work again while she treated with further physical therapy through August 2013, at which time she returned to part-time work. Chase continued to be monitored, and returned to work full-time in October 2013. While at work on Jan. 4, 2014, Chase was running some frozen food back to the store’s freezer when she allegedly felt pain in a different part of her right foot, the plantar plate (where the toes intersect). Following the incident, she received cortisone injections, wore orthotics, and treated with further physical therapy, which she was continuing at the time of trial. Chase claimed that the injury to her plantar plate was related to the prior injury she sustained when Hunt ran over her foot. Chase claimed that she is now only able to work 25 hours a week. She testified that she is in pain every day and has to wear a walking boot, which she wears most of the time. She also claimed that she no longer runs or goes dancing as a result of her foot condition. Chase’s treating podiatrist, expert podiatrist, and radiology expert causally related Chase’s impact fracture and damage to the right talonavicular joint to the accident with Hunt. The physicians also opined that Chase’s condition led to her injury to the plantar plate in January 2014. Chase’s treating podiatrist, Dr. John Benson, further opined that Chase requires a fusion of the talonavicular joint. Thus, Chase sought recovery of $30,292.02 in stipulated medical costs, $98,461 in past loss of earnings, $147,180 to $250,151 in future loss of earnings based on varying retirement ages through age 70, and an unspecified amount of future medical costs. She also sought recovery of damages for her past and future pain and suffering. Defense counsel noted that Chase waited six months before seeking any medical treatment because she allegedly feared filing a workers’ compensation case. During those six months, Chase sought treatment for unrelated issues on six different occasions, during which she never mentioned any pain to her right foot, according to the defense. The defense’s expert orthopedic surgeon acknowledged that Chase would need a fusion to her talonavicular joint, but opined that the fusion and/or Chase’s alleged was unrelated to the accident. The defense’s accident reconstruction expert disputed Chase’s physicians’ opinion that when Chase’s foot became pinned underneath Hunt’s tire, her heel was forced forward, thereby causing the impact fracture. Instead, the defense’s accident reconstruction expert opined that the direction force was incorrect and that Chase’s heel was forced down and to the right, which was an insufficient mechanism for an alleged impact fracture. According to defense counsel, there was an issue of authenticity regarding Chase’s radiographic studies. Defense counsel had subpoenaed Chase’s medical records, which included X-rays and an MRI that predated the accident, but the films were anonymous, as Chase’s name and birth date were missing, and that other films were produced that did include her identifying information. The defense’s neuroradiology expert confirmed that it was Chase’s foot in the X-rays, which showed degeneration in her talonavicular joint and was similar to the findings in her post-accident X-rays. However, the custodian of records from the subpoenaed facility and Chase’s radiology expert testified that it was not Chase’s foot in the pre-accident X-rays or MRI.
Superior Court of Placer County, Placer, CA

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