California Court Finds Substantial Evidence Supported Jury’s Finding that Defendant’s Negligence Did not Cause Plaintiff’s Injuries in Rear End Collision

Recently, a California Court of Appeals addressed issues concerning the testimony of a defendant’s expert in a car accident lawsuit, and whether the special verdict form incorrectly submitted the issue of causation to the jury.  Additionally, the plaintiff in this lawsuit alleged that the jury’s finding that there was no causation was not supported by substantial evidence.

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Defendant Edgar Reyes Curameng’s sport-utility vehicle (SUV) rear-ended plaintiff Dora Elizabeth Valdez’s car on the freeway during rush-hour traffic. After exchanging information, Ms. Valdez drove to a work-related appointment, but later that night, she experienced neck pain. One week later, she began physical therapy, and a little over a year later, she underwent rotator cuff surgery.

Ms. Valdez then sued Mr. Curameng for negligence.  Mr. Curameng relied on a biomechanics expert who would not testify as to medical issues but would be allowed to offer testimony concerning the speed and impact of defendant Mr. Curameng’s vehicle, and whether the forces were consistent with the plaintiff’s alleged injuries.

Mr. Curameng’s biomechanics expert testified as to the impact of the collision and its effect on human anatomy. Ms. Valdez contended that he was not qualified to render a medical opinion concerning causation and that biomechanics is a “new scientific technique” not to be admitted, according to case law.

The appellate court stated the evidentiary rule that a trial court may act within its discretion under California law by allowing experts to testify on a topic based on a matter on which that expert may reasonably rely if it is based on reason, supported by the material relied upon, and not speculative.  In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the biomechanics expert to testify.

The expert had not provided a medical opinion but had opined that the forces at issue were not consistent with the plaintiff’s alleged traumatic shoulder injury.  Here, the expert had stated he determined the relative speed of the two vehicles, when comparing the damage they sustained to that sustained by tested vehicles tested at different speeds. He also relied upon Newtonian physics principles to calculate the acceleration of Ms. Valdez’s truck, and he stated that these forces could not have caused the type of injury that Ms. Valdez alleged she suffered.  The court held that his conclusions were supported by his reasons and were not speculative. Instead, his conclusions were based on evidence, upon which experts can reasonably rely.

The appellate court did state that other jurisdictions have found in favor of holding that defendants must meet the additional requirement of showing the reliability of its expert’s technique.  However, in this case, the biomechanical expert testified as to the laws of physics.  Beyond the testimony concerning physics, the appellate court stated that California courts have allowed for this subject in expert testimony.

Finally, the court stated that even if the trial court erred in allowing evidence of whether the forces could have caused Ms. Valdez’s injuries, the court stated it is not probable that admitting this testimony would have led to a different result.  The court stated that Mr. Curameng’s medical expert also independently stated his opinion that Ms. Valdez’s rotator cuff injury was unlikely to have been sustained in a rear-end collision.

Turning to the special verdict form, the appellate court stated that Ms. Valdez asserted the jury should not have been asked whether Mr. Curameng’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing her injuries.  The court stated that there was no error because a trial court must seek a special verdict finding as to every element of a claim when there is a dispute or the special verdict is “fatally defective.” In the case at hand, the court stated that causation was in dispute.

The court of appeal affirmed the judgment and order of the trial court.

The car accident attorneys at Sharifi Firm provide guidance and representation to victims throughout Southern California in personal injury claims for compensation. Contact our office today for a free consultation at 866-422-7222 or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Appellate Court Finds that Plaintiff in Car Accident Lawsuit Had Not Properly Proven Reasonable Value of Medical Services Provided, Remands Case for New Trial on Damages, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog,  July 27, 2016

California Court of Appeal Finds in Favor of Plaintiff in Car Accident Lawsuit When Evidence Fails to Show Plaintiff’s Consent to Settlement Agreement, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog,  June 9, 2016

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