California Appellate Court Holds in Favor of Defendant, Supports Jury Finding that Rear-End Collision Did Not Substantially Cause Plaintiff’s Alleged Injuries

The California Court of Appeal recently held in favor of the defendant in an underlying Southern California car accident lawsuit brought after a rear-end motor vehicle collision. The plaintiff in this case appealed the lower court’s judgment in favor of the defendant, finding that her negligence had not substantially caused the plaintiff’s harm.  On appeal, the court held that the trial court had not abused its discretion in allowing the defendant’s expert to testify that the plaintiff had not suffered his alleged injuries in the accident.

The defendant in this case rear-ended the plaintiff on the 405 freeway in Costa Mesa, pushing the plaintiff’s car into the vehicle in front of him.  The defendant’s airbags deployed upon impact, but the plaintiff’s airbags did not.  The insurance companies held that both vehicles were total losses.

At the scene of the crash, the plaintiff’s visible injury was a cut on his lip, and he did not accept treatment from the paramedics.  Prior to the accident, the plaintiff had not suffered back pain. The plaintiff experienced pain in his lower back and eventually underwent an MRI that revealed a herniated disc.  Eventually, the plaintiff underwent fusion surgery to correct a herniated disc.

The plaintiff brought a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging that the crash caused his herniated disc and general pain.  The defendant disputed that the accident caused the plaintiff’s herniated disc or other compensable injuries, although she did not dispute her negligence caused the accident.   In support of her argument, the defendant retained a biomechanical engineer and accident reconstructionist, who testified that the forces involved in the collision were not strong enough to cause a herniated disc in the lower back.  The plaintiff sought to exclude the testimony on the ground that the experts lacked the ability to offer an opinion on this rear-end accident.

In support of his claim for damages, the plaintiff relied on medical testimony from his treating physicians, who opined the crash caused his herniated disc.  The defendant’s own orthopedic surgeon examined the plaintiff and offered the opinion that the plaintiff’s complaints of pain were consistent with degeneration, due to age, rather than a traumatic event.

The jury was asked to answer whether the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in harming the plaintiff, and what, if any, were the total damages for the plaintiff.  The jury found the defendant’s negligence was not a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s harm and awarded no damages to the plaintiff.  The court entered judgment for the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court held that the trial court had not abused its direction in allowing the testimony of the defendant’s biomechanical engineering expert.  The court cited the Evidence Code, which held that individuals with special knowledge, skill, or training are considered experts.  Whether a witness has the skill or knowledge that may assist a jury is the determinative issue.

In this case, the court stated that when discussing the forces generated by a particular accident, expert testimony may be required in order to determine whether an accident caused a herniated disc.  Here, the plaintiff argued that the expert’s testimony had not helped the jury and should not have been admitted, and that the jury was misled by the testimony.  But the court stated that the plaintiff had not raised this argument on his motion in limine. The court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the expert had misled the jury when he stated that the plaintiff had a narrow spinal canal, which made him susceptible to a disc injury. This, stated the court, was a disputed fact for the jury to decide.  The court noted that the plaintiff’s “one-sided” view of the evidence did not establish an abuse of discretion in allowing the expert’s testimony.

Next, the court stated that the jury was not required to award the plaintiff damages.  According to the substantial evidence standard, evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party.  The issue is whether substantial evidence supports the findings made by the jury.  If there is substantial evidence in support of the jury’s findings, the decision will be affirmed.

The appellate court stated they may not reconsider the evidence or reassess witness credibility. In this case, the jury held that the defendant had not been a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s alleged harm.  This means that the plaintiff did not meet his burden of showing the defendant caused his damages.  The court, they stated, must assess whether the plaintiff showed evidence that required the jury to find the defendant caused his injuries and award him damages for those injuries. The jury was free to find that the plaintiff’s evidence was not credible. The court noted that the plaintiff had not set forth evidence of his medical bills or expenses, but instead he cited testimony from the defendant’s medical experts.

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendant.

The motor vehicle collision lawyers at Sharifi Firm help people hurt in collisions throughout Southern California.  To discuss the details of your legal claim with a skilled car accident attorney, contact our office by calling (866) 422-7222 or online.  We provide a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Finds Substantial Evidence Supported Jury’s Finding that Defendant’s Negligence Did not Cause Plaintiff’s Injuries in Rear End Collision, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 4, 2016

California Appellate Court Affirms No Evidence of Contact by Phantom Vehicle Supporting Uninsured Motorist Claim After Rear-End Collision, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 3, 2017

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