California Court of Appeals Upholds Decision to Grant New Trial on Damages in Bus Accident Case

The California Court of Appeals ruled in a recent personal injury case stemming from a school bus accident. The case, Gaita v. Capistrano Unified School Dist., Cal. Ct. App. (2015), followed a school bus rear-ending another vehicle on the freeway.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury suit against a bus driver who rear-ended her and the school district for which he worked. At trial, the plaintiff purportedly waived her claim for past medical expenses because of the difficulty in differentiating between the medical expenses that were a direct result of the accident underlying the action and those that were a result of an accident she was involved in two years prior. However, the plaintiff did present expert testimony at trial, claiming that this accident caused a permanent, traumatic brain injury, which would result in estimated millions of dollars in future medical treatment. The plaintiff further sought tens of millions of dollars for past and future pain and suffering. The defendants stipulated that the driver was negligent in causing the accident, but they argued that the plaintiff did not suffer a traumatic brain injury and that her injuries were a result of the prior accident.

The jury entered a special verdict, finding that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s harm, and it therefore awarded her $16,150 in future medical treatments. However, it found that she had not suffered any past pain and suffering and would not suffer any in the future. The plaintiff therefore moved for a new trial, arguing that the jury’s damages award was inadequate as a matter of law, since it failed to compensate her despite the jury’s finding. The trial court agreed and granted her motion. The defendants thus appealed.

The plaintiff had been involved in a prior rear-end accident in 2007. As a result, she began suffering headaches and neck, back, and shoulder pain. She received treatment for her injuries, but the pain persisted. The plaintiff subsequently sought treatment from a neurosurgeon, who traced the source of the plaintiff’s pain to a disc in her neck. The neurosurgeon recommended that the plaintiff undergo spinal epidural injections, but the plaintiff declined surgery.

Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff was involved in the accident underlying the lawsuit. While the plaintiff did not report any significant injuries at the scene, she saw her neurosurgeon a few days later and reported that she had temporarily blacked out at the accident scene and “freaked out.” Her doctor diagnosed her with a concussion, anxiety, post traumatic stress, and other conditions in addition to an aggravation to her existing injuries. She was referred to another doctor for further mental treatment. She was ultimately diagnosed with a brain injury after extensive testing following the accident.

The court then engaged in an extensive discussion regarding the standard of review. In order to overturn the decision to grant a new trial, the trial court had to have abused its discretion.

It also stated the relevant standard for a personal injury action, which is that “the measure of damages . . . is the amount which will compensate for all the detriment proximately caused [by the defendant], whether it could have been anticipated or not.” (Civ. Code, § 3333.) Therefore, since the jury found that the defendant was legally responsible for the harm caused, the defendant should have been required to compensate the plaintiff for her pain and suffering.

The order for the new trial was thus affirmed.

If you have been injured in a car accident, it is important to understand your rights so that you can ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. In addition to medical expenses, you may be entitled to additional compensation, such as lost wages. The lawyers at Sharifi Firm, APC have significant experience in handling car accident cases throughout California.  If you have been involved in a car accident, contact us today for a free consultation. We can be reached through this website or by calling (866) 422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeals Finds for SCRAMP in Fatal Motorcycle Accident Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published June 23, 2015

California Court of Appeals Clarifies Foreign Body Language for Medical Malpractice Claims, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published June 19, 2015

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