Case details

Separate rear-enders caused neck injury, plaintiff claimed





Result type

Not present

carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical disc injury, neck, neurological, radicular pain, radiculitis, radiculopathy, wrist
At approximately 8 a.m. on July 24, 2008, plaintiff Cynthia Hall, 47, an inspector for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, was driving east on Highway 24, approaching the Caldecott Tunnel in Oakland, when she was rear-ended by a vehicle operated by Douglas Harelson. Hall did not report any injury to the investigating officer. On April 24, 2009, Hall was parked outside the main courthouse in downtown Oakland when she was rear-ended by a vehicle operated by Geraldine Kyles, who was trying to pull into a parking space behind Hall. At roughly 5 p.m. on May 14, 2009, Hall was involved in another rear-ender, when she was struck by a vehicle operated by Dennis Rugg, while in stop-and-go traffic on northbound Interstate 680, just south of Sycamore Valley Road. Hall was in the course and scope of her employment during each accident, and received worker’s compensation benefits. She claimed she was promoted to Captain of Inspectors after the third accident, but that due to her upper extremity weakness and tingling in her fingers, she was forced to take medical retirement in December 2011. Hall sued Harelson, Kyles and Rugg, as well as Rugg’s employer and owner of his vehicle, ACME Press Inc. She alleged that Harelson, Kyles and Rugg were negligent in the operation of their respective vehicles, and that ACME was vicariously liable for Rugg’s actions. The matter proceeded to a bench trial. Hall contended that the impact speed of the Harelson accident was between 10 to 12 mph, creating $1,300 in property damage, and that the speed of the Kyles accident was between 3 to 5 mph. Hall further contended that the speed of the Rugg accident was 8 to 10 mph, causing $380 in property damage. Harelson claimed that the impact speed of his collision with Hall was 3 to 5 mph, which was below the threshold for a cervical disc injury. Rugg contended that the speed of his collision was 3 to 5 mph. Kyles, who appeared pro per, did not dispute the plaintiff’s assertions., In March 2009, Hall began treating for progressively worsening neck pain, which she claimed was from the first accident. Her family practitioner then referred her for physical therapy to treat her epicondylitis. During her therapy, it was noted that Hall had possible radicular symptoms stemming from her C5-6 nerve root. On April 24, 2009, one hour before the second accident, Hall was referred to a physiatrist for nerve conduction velocity and electromyography (NCV/EMG). As a result, she claimed that the second accident caused an exacerbation of neck pain, requiring her to undergo a cervical MRI that showed degenerative disc disease in her spine, including desiccation and osteophytes. Hall’s initial NVC/EMG was negative for radiculopathy, but positive for carpal tunnel syndrome. While a repeat NVC/EMG, performed one year later, was positive for chronic cervical radiculopathy. Months after undergoing the tests, Hall began receiving more physical therapy and epidural injections. On March 21, 2011, she underwent a cervical arthroplasty at C4-5 and C5-6, with artificial disc replacement. Following the surgery, Hall claimed she experienced minimal post-operative discomfort and regained complete range of motion, but that she suffered from upper extremity weakness and hand tingling/numbness, causing her to retire. Hall claimed that she can no longer work as an inspector since her residual symptoms prevented her from tasks like arresting and controlling suspects. Thus, she claimed $9,800 in damages for her past medical costs (post-Howell), $125,000 in damages for her future medical costs (revision surgery), $150,000 in damages for her past lost earnings, and $700,000 to $1.1 million in damages for her future lost earnings and benefits. Counsel for Harelson and Rugg argued that Hall sustained no more than cervical sprains in each respective accident, as the forces from each were insufficient to cause a cervical structure injury. They further argued that Hall had a pre-existing degenerative condition stemming from a work-related motor vehicle accident in 1984, as well as wear and tear caused by her occupation (including training) and athletic endeavors. Defense counsel contended that Hall was destined for cervical spine surgery, irrespective of the subject accidents, as she had been intermittently symptomatic for more than a decade with recurrent radicular symptoms. Defense counsel contended that Hall could return to all required job tasks of a Lieutenant of Inspectors, since she had a successful surgery. In addition, counsel argued that the promotion to Captain was speculative and that Hall would have only worked up to three more years, regardless.
Superior Court of Alameda County, Oakland, CA

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