Powell v. Christopherson – $500k Car Accident Injury Verdict Affirmed

Seeking immediate medical attention right after a car accident is a smart thing to do not only for the benefit of ensuring your health, but also because it could preserve your personal injury claim.
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Failure to at least get a check-up following a crash opens the door to a successful defense assertion that some other incident or condition is the cause of injury, as opposed to the crash. Injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents aren’t always immediately apparent, so if they do crop up later, it’s important to have as much documentation as possible.

This was shown recently in the North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Powell v. Christopherson, involving a distracted driver who blew through a red light and slammed into plaintiff’s vehicle as she proceeded through an intersection.

According to court records, plaintiff right away complained of neck and left shoulder pain, and was transported to the hospital for treatment. X-rays were taken and she was released the same day. Afterward, she sought treatment for a chiropractor, though she did continue to work as a postal service employee without restrictions.

Several months after the crash, however, plaintiff suffered an on-the-job accident that caused her injury to her left shoulder. She reported pain and burning and after a brief course of physical therapy, she was referred to a neurosurgeon and underwent three procedures. Doctors would later opine the injuries were likely related to a cervical spine problem as opposed to her work injury. She was diagnosed with a condition known as a Chiari I malformation. This is a genetic condition, but it may go unnoticed and undetected if not aggravated by some traumatic impact. In this case, doctors believed it was the accident rather than the work injury that was the trigger.

Subsequently, plaintiff filed a negligence action against the at-fault driver, alleging the crash resulted in permanent injuries, pain and suffering.

Defendant conceded her actions caused the crash, but denied the collision was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries.

The case went to trial, and defendant twice moved for summary judgement. Both motions were denied, and jurors sided with the plaintiff, awarding her $500,000 in damages for her injuries.

Defendant appealed, arguing trial court erred in denying her motions for summary judgment, in refusing to allow defendant to question plaintiff about her admitted marijuana use and for not impeaching plaintiff with regard to purportedly inconsistent statements.

The appellate panel found no error. The issue of plaintiff’s marijuana-related arrest, which did not result in conviction, was irrelevant, the court found. Trial court allowed defense to question plaintiff’s doctors about statements she made to them about drug use during treatment, but that issue had no real bearing on the outcome of the case.

Further, the court found plaintiff’s expert witness to be credible in his assertions regarding the cause of plaintiff’s injuries. He did not, as defendant argued, rely solely on the fact that the purported injury emerged close in time to the crash. Rather, he based this conclusion on examination of the patient, review of her medical records, review of medical literature and the type of injury, as well as on his own experience and skill. Therefore, the court ruled, the doctor based his expert medical opinion on causation on “more than a scintilla” of supporting evidence, and thus denial of summary judgment for defense was proper.

Our Asheville injury lawyers know had plaintiff failed to seek immediate medical treatment following the crash and only sought treatment once her symptoms emerged or following her work-related injury, it’s possible she may have had a more difficult time proving causation in this case.

Contact our South Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Powell v. Christopherson, Jan. 6, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Home and Vehicle Safety During the Winter Months, Dec. 13, 2014, Asheville Accident Lawyer Blog

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