Case details

Rear-ender aggravated lower back condition, plaintiff alleged





Result type

Not present

left eyelid, legs, lower back, neck
On the afternoon of Nov. 11, 2011, plaintiff Joe Odom, 49, a heavy equipment operator/personal trainer/preacher, was driving a rental vehicle on westbound Hegenberger Road in Oakland, on his way to return the vehicle to the Hertz Rental Yard at Oakland International Airport. While stopped at the intersection with Doolittle Drive, waiting to make a right turn, Odom was rear-ended by a taxicab operated by Amanuel Woldelassie. Odom claimed to his neck, lower back, both legs, and left eyelid. Odom sued Woldelassie and the registered owner of the taxicab, Friendly Cab Co. Inc. Odom alleged that Woldelassie was negligent in the operation of the cab and that Friendly Cab was vicariously liable for Woldelassie’s actions. Specifically, Odom claimed that Woldelassie was inattentive as he approached the intersection, causing the rear-end collision that pushed his vehicle through the intersection. Woldelassie contended that Odom started to move forward at the subject intersection and then stopped suddenly for no apparent reason. He testified that his cab moved forward at an idle speed and only “bumped” into Odom’s Cadillac. Defense counsel noted that photos of the taxi showed no damage, while the Cadillac sustained a small scratch on the vinyl rear bumper. (Hertz claimed $379.77 in costs of repair damages.), Three weeks after the accident, Odom presented to his primary care doctor with complaints of lower back pain, left-sided sciatica, left neck pain, and left-sided headaches. Several weeks later, he developed ptosis, or “droopiness” of his left eyelid. Odom initially underwent physical therapy over the course of nine months and received epidural steroid injections to his lumbar spine in late 2012. On Aug. 20, 2013, he underwent surgery, consisting of a bilateral interlaminar decompression at L4-5 and L5-S1, with bilateral laminotomies, medial facetectomies, and foraminotomies with microscopic technique. Odom claimed he suffered disabling limitations after the accident that prohibited him from working until after he underwent the lower back surgery. He alleged that as a result, he hopes to return to full-time work as a heavy equipment operator in the fall of 2014. The plaintiff’s expert physicians testified that the accident “lit up” Odom’s asymptomatic degenerative spine condition. In addition, both medical experts opined that Odom is in need of decompression surgery on the cervical spine. Thus, Odom sought recovery of $45,173.04 in past medical costs, and $20,000 to $25,000 in future medical costs. He also sought recovery of past and future lost earnings, and recovery of general damages for his pain and suffering. The defense’s expert orthopedist testified that Odom could not have experienced the and symptoms he complained of as a result of such a minor event. The expert also testified that nothing was seen on images or during surgery that could be characterized as “traumatically” caused. Defense counsel argued that the surgery performed on Odom’s lower back addressed pre-existing degenerative conditions only. Counsel contended that if Odom was, in fact, not having radicular symptoms before the accident, his later developments of these symptoms were related only to “wear and tear” changes that pre-existed the accident. Thus, defense counsel argued that the accident, at worst, only caused minor soft-tissue strains and sprains. Defense counsel further argued that Odom was unable to produce documentation showing receipt of any income within six years of the accident, as all of the income alleged during that period was undocumented cash payments. As a result, defense counsel suggested that if the jury were to award damages, Odom’s economic damages should only total $12,493 and Odom’s non-economic damages should only total $5,000 to $7,500.
Superior Court of Alameda County, Oakland, CA

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