The California Court of Appeal recently affirmed a jury award in a personal injury claim against a negligent truck driver and his employer. In this recent case, the plaintiff was rear-ended by the defendant, who was operating a vehicle in the course of his employment. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendants for the back injuries he sustained in the collision. Although the defendants admitted that they were responsible for the collision, they disputed the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and the amount of his damages. Following a trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff over $2 million in damages. The defendants appealed, contending that the trial court erred in excluding expert testimony from their witness and that there was insufficient evidence to support the $200,000 award for future medical costs.
In the case, the plaintiff stopped on the road to allow another vehicle to make a turn. The defendant failed to use his brakes and rear-ended him at a speed of approximately 10 to 30 miles per hour, causing the plaintiff’s car to lurch forward 5-10 feet. The plaintiff experienced major back pain and went to the emergency room later that night. For the next several years, the plaintiff sought treatment for his neck and back pain. At trial, the plaintiff presented expert testimony from his doctors that his preexisting degenerative disc disease was exacerbated by the motor vehicle accident, and that the condition was permanent. The defendants rebutted with expert witnesses who testified that the accident did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries, which were the result of ongoing degenerative change in his back. The defendants also sought to present testimony from a biochemical engineer to attest to the medical causation of the injury. However, the trial court ruled that the expert could not testify as to the medical effects caused by the impact of the car accident, since the evidence would be more prejudicial than probative.