New York Trial Partner Successfully Defends Damages-Only Trial Involving Cervical Fusion, Limiting Award to Only $148,000
New York, N.Y. (January 6, 2020) - New York Partner Alecia Walters-Hinds obtained a very favorable verdict after a two-week damages-only trial in Queens Supreme, limiting a potential multimillion-dollar verdict to a jury award of less than $150,000. The case stemmed from a June 2013 accident in which the plaintiff was a passenger in the co-defendant’s vehicle when it was struck in the front by the insured’s vehicle while it was backing up. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff alleged that she sustained injuries to her neck and right leg, and subsequently underwent a cervical fusion surgery in the form of an anterior cervical interbody arthrodesis of the C4-5, decompression spinal cord nerve roots at C4-5, and placement of a biomechanical device and anterior locking plate screw implant (aka, a fusion) at C4-5. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was a producer for NBC Universal.
The plaintiff obtained summary judgment on liability and, as a result, plaintiff’s counsel demanded millions of dollars. However, we maintained our position that the plaintiff’s injuries and subsequent fusion surgery were unrelated to the accident. To make our case, we retained a biomechanical expert to conduct an injury-causation analysis. Although there were no repair records or photographs, and the vehicles were not available for inspection, his analysis was based on the plaintiff and co-defendant’s testimonies about how the accident occurred. Although repair records, photographs, and/or vehicle inspections are normally required for a biomechanical expert to testify, we successfully defeated a motion in limine to preclude allowing our biomechanical expert to testify.
Our biomechanical expert testified that the plaintiff’s injuries were not caused by the accident. Specifically, the forces and accelerations of the accident were maintained within human tolerance and the plaintiff’s personal tolerance. Furthermore, any movement and loading to the plaintiff’s cervical spine would have been even more reduced had she properly used a seatbelt. Finally, the expert testified that there was no injury mechanism in the subject accident to account for the plaintiff’s alleged cervical spine injuries. Although our driver was not available at the time of trial, Ms. Walters-Hinds called the adverse driver to support our claim that this was a low impact/low energy collision.
We also retained a radiologist and a spine surgeon to dispute whether the plaintiff’s injuries and subsequent cervical fusion surgery was caused by the accident. Both doctors testified at trial that the plaintiff’s soft tissue injuries were pre-existing and not causally related to the subject accident. Our spine surgeon also testified that there was no objective indication that the cervical surgery performed was causally related. The plaintiff’s spine surgeon, Dr. Merola, testified that the injuries and spine surgery were caused by the accident, and that he had visualized the herniation and removed it. He also testified that future treatment and surgery would be needed.
Through aggressive cross-examination, we were able to question the plaintiff’s credibility, highlight the gaps in treatment, and convince the jury that the plaintiff’s surgery was not related to the accident. Plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury for $2.7 million dollars in compensation. After almost three days of deliberations, the jury awarded plaintiff only $148,000. Despite testimony from the plaintiff and her spine surgeon regarding future surgery and pain and suffering, the jury did not make any award for future medical expenses or future pain and suffering. Based on the venue and the types of injuries and surgical procedures involved, this is an outstanding verdict.
To learn more about this case, contact Ms. Walters-Hinds directly. To learn more about our Trial Team, visit our National Trial Practice page.
Alecia Walters-Hinds, Partner