Case details

Second crash caused more serious back injuries, plaintiff claimed





Result type

Not present

back, bulging disc, cervical, lumbar, neck, neurological, radiculopathy, sprain, stenosis, strain
On April 29, 2011, plaintiff Garnik Hartounian, 61, a retiree, was driving when his vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle operated by Vince Moronez. Hartounian claimed a spinal injury. Nine months later, on Feb. 16, 2012, Hartounian was driving on northbound Penrose Street, in Sun Valley, when his vehicle was sideswiped by a vehicle operated by Nelson Anderson as Hartounian was starting to enter the left turn pocket. During the collision, the front, passenger side of Anderson’s vehicle struck the front, driver’s side of Hartounian’s vehicle. Hartounian claimed back and neck . Hartounian sued Vince Moronez and the owner of Vince Moronez’s vehicle, David Moronez. Hartounian alleged that Vince Moronez was negligent in the operation of his vehicle and that David Moronez was vicariously liable for Vince Moronez’s actions. Hartounian also brought a separate suit against Nelson Rex Anderson (who was initially sued as both “Nelson Anderson” and “Rex Anderson”), alleging that Anderson was negligent in the operation of his vehicle. The matters were partially consolidated, in that the Moronez matter joined the Anderson matter when Anderson’s counsel refused to stipulate that Hartounian’s from the prior accident with Vince Moronez had resolved. David Moronez was later dismissed before trial. Hartounian claimed that during the 2012 accident, Anderson drove through a set of double yellow lines, in violation of Vehicle Code § 21651(a)(1), and caused the subject sideswipe accident. Vince Moronez admitted liability for the 2011 rear-end accident. Anderson disputed liability for the 2012 sideswipe collision, claiming that he was not in between the two double yellow lines before the incident, nor had he crossed any double yellow lines prior to the incident. Instead, he claimed that he was already in the left turn pocket when Hartounian cut him off and caused the accident. In response, plaintiff’s counsel noted that despite that Anderson claiming that he never crossed any double yellow lines prior to the incident, there were photographs to the contrary. However, during his testimony at trial, Anderson claimed that the photos were taken after he pushed the vehicle from the side of the quarter panel and was not an accurate depiction of the position of his vehicle at the time of the collision. Plaintiff’s counsel pointed out that Anderson claimed that he had pushed a 4,000-pound vehicle by himself, but later changed his testimony to say a firefighter help push the vehicle, and then changed his testimony again to include a bystander., Following the 2011 accident, Hartounian complained of pain to his neck lower back. He claimed he sustained garden variety soft tissue , such as sprains and strains, to his cervical and lumbar spine. Hartounian subsequently received approximately three months of chiropractic treatment. He was ultimately released without pain. Hartounian testified that his back pain was 100 percent resolved approximately six months before the 2012 incident. After the 2012 accident, Hartounian complained of minimal cervical pain and lower back pain with radiating symptoms into his left, lower extremity. Specifically, he rated his pain a four or five on a pain scale of 10. Hartounian subsequently sought treatment from a chiropractor on Feb. 17, 2012, the day after the accident. An MRI from April 26, 2012 revealed at a 2 millimeter lumbar disc bulge at the L4-5 level with mild right neural foraminal stenosis and a 2.55 millimeter lumbar disc bulge at the L5-S1 level with central canal stenosis and mild left neural foraminal stenosis. He then underwent three months of chiropractic treatment and an orthopedist recommend epidural injections. However, Hartounian did not receive the epidurals, nor did he undergo any more chiropractic treatments, until 2017, when he received one epidural injection after his EMG came back positive for radiculopathy to his lower extremities with temporary relief. Hartounian claimed that he still suffers from some pain, but that he continues to work and perform the actions of daily living anyway. The plaintiff’s expert orthopedist testified that if symptoms continue to persist without relief from injections, Hartounian may require surgery. According to defense counsel, the plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon testified that Hartounian needed an immediate lumbar fusion. In regard to the 2011 crash, Hartounian sought recovery of noneconomic damages for his past pain and suffering in the amount of $3,000 (consisting of $250 a week for 12 weeks of alleged pain). He did not seek recovery of past medical costs and waived his chiropractor’s bill. In regard to the 2012 crash, Hartounian sought recovery of $49,700 in past medical costs, which included $24,850 for chiropractic treatment in 2012, $4,145 for treatment with an orthopedist in 2012, $1,520 for pain management treatment in 2012, $2,295 for imaging studies in 2012, $2,030 for treatment with an orthopedist in 2017, $1,660 for the MRI, $4,200 for an EMG and $9,000 for epidural injections. He also had a property damage claim totaling $3,714.58, and sought recovery of an unspecified amount of future medical costs and an unspecified amount of damages for his past and future pain and suffering. In closing, plaintiff’s counsel suggested that the jury should award Hartounian $2 million in total damages. Prior to trial, plaintiff’s counsel brought several motions in limine, most notable of which that were granted were motions to preclude the defense’s accident reconstruction expert’s biomechanical testimony and to preclude defense counsel from arguing that Hartounian should have used his Medi-Cal, instead of receiving treatments on a lien. Vince Moronez’s defense counsel argued that Hartounian was not injured in the 2011 accident and that Hartounian had no pain when he was released from the chiropractor in 2011. Counsel also noted that although plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award for three months of pain and suffering, Hartounian’s daughter testified that her father was back to normal some three weeks after the accident. In addition, Vince Moronez’s counsel argued that a surveillance video showed that Hartounian was not credible in his complaints of subjective pain. Thus, counsel asked the jury to award Hartounian nothing in regard to the 2011 incident. Anderson’s defense counsel disputed the cause and extent of Hartounian’s following the 2012 accident. Counsel also disputed the reasonableness and necessity of Hartounian’s treatments. Anderson further argued that the claimed by Hartounian in 2012 were caused by the prior 2011 collision. The defense’s expert orthopedic surgeon stated that he did not believe that the results from the EMG nor the need for the epidural injection in 2017 were related to the 2012 incident. However, all of the testifying doctors, including the defense’s orthopedic expert, ultimately agreed that the from the 2011 and 2012 incidents were unrelated to one another. Defense counsel noted that during Hartounian’s disposition, Hartounian claimed that he was limited in doing everything and could not function, not even to lift a bag of groceries. His daughter also gave a timetable of Hartounian’s alleged daily experience of pain. However, defense counsel produced a sub-rosa video of Hartounian lifting heavy objects, carrying boxes, extensively driving, sweeping the floor and working at his daughter’s store. The jury was shown 13 minutes of footage from the alleged 82 hours of surveillance. Thus, counsel argued that the sub-rose footage impeached any testimony about the need for future surgery and that Hartounian was exaggerating his symptoms and limitations. In response, plaintiff’s counsel noted that the defense’s expert orthopedic surgeon stated that he did not see the EMG before his testimony, despite the fact that plaintiff’s counsel presented the report to defense counsel and made several requests to confirm that the report was provided to the expert. Plaintiff’s counsel also noted that defense counsel, during closing arguments, stated that he intentionally did not provide the report to his defense medical examiner. Plaintiff’s counsel further noted that after seeing the report during his testimony, the defense expert opined that the finding showed that radiculopathy was a new issue because the diagnosis was “Active Denervation,” stating that the word “active” meant that it could not be from five years ago. When asked, “Doesn’t that mean that it was currently active when the testing was occurring?” he stated, “No, it means it’s new and not old or chronic.” As such, plaintiff’s counsel brought in a rebuttal witness, a neurologist who primarily conducts EMGs in his practice. The plaintiff’s expert neurologist testified that the defense’s medical expert was absolutely incorrect, that the term “active” does, in fact, mean that the nerve was actively causing denervation at the time of testing and that the term does not mean it’s new or old, just that it’s active. In regard to the sub-rosa video, plaintiff’s counsel asked if the investigator kept a log or had billing, or if the investigator could otherwise prove that it was only 82 hours of surveillance, and not more. (Plaintiff’s counsel was not aware of the video prior to trial, as Hartounian’s previous counsel never requested the video and discovery was cut off by the time Hartounian’s new counsel was substituted in.) The investigator was unable to provide such proof, claiming that he was never asked in any other trial for such documents, so he never created such logs or billing. In addition, during closing arguments, plaintiff’s counsel argued that the sub-rosa video only showed what Hartounian had testified to at trial, that he is now able to do everything, but that, at times, he has to do things with pain.
Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Long Beach, CA

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