Thursday, May 10, 2018

Car insurance company takes a BIG LOSS with a jury verdict in Providence Superior Court

by: Dr Stephen Estner

After nearly 20 years in practice I was called to testify in live court on my first case on March 6, 2018. It involved a young couple on their way to the Wrenthem Outlets, traveling on 95 in Providence when they were rear ended by a driver of another car. The couple pulled off to the breakdown lane to assess the vehicle and found little to no visible damage. They exchanged information with the other driver and continued their shopping trip. Their young daughter was in the car and the parents had promised her a trip to the Disney store. The daughter had no injuries but the following day the parents awoke with complaints of neck, back and some head pain. They proceeded to Kent Hospital and underwent a standard evaluation, but no x-rays or CT scans were conducted. Approximately two days later they contacted my office, Estner Injury Centers to come in for evaluation because they felt their condition was worsening. By that time, they were represented by an attorney.

A general history was taken as well as a medical exam including orthopedic, neurological and chiropractic testing and it was determined they were candidates for treatment. They each had cervical sprain/strain injuries, upper back pain and some headaches likely from striking their head hitting forcefully against the headrest on impact. It was advised that they refrain from all work duties for four weeks but due to financial concerns they were unable to do so. They were sent for neck x-rays which revealed no significant findings with the exception of noted straightening of the cervical spine lordosis likely due to spasm on the wife’s report. A normal course of therapy commenced for nearly the next ninety days totaling approximately twenty visits for each. Because they only had one car, the one from the accident and on nearly all visits they attended together. Therapy consisted of a mixture of chiropractic manipulation to restore normal motion to the spinal joints, electric muscle stimulation to help relax the musculature by reducing spasm and hypertonicity (tightness), laser light therapy to reduce inflammation and pain and advised stretches and exercise to be conducted at home. They had no work restrictions, they were compliant with therapy, treating a standard 3-2-1 per week until discharge at nearly month three. They were never seen again by our facility for treatment and resumed their normal activities of daily living without limitations.

(It is my experience that people who push through the pain, try to maintain their normal daily activities are steadfast in their intent to heal conclude treatment sooner. However, those types of patients are also prone to relapse and often return at a later date, this was not the case with this couple though.)

The insurance company refused to accept a reasonable offer to settle for under $10,000 each including payment of their medical bills which totaled about $2500 each. About three years post discharge, all involved parties were deposed including myself. Within about two months the case was brought to trial in Providence Superior Court in front of a jury of 8. I was the expert witness for the plaintiff. The case seemed to hinge on whether occupants of a rear end collision can be injured if there is no visible damage to the vehicle. I clearly stated that although I am not an expert in physics or biomechanics I have taken physics courses and there is some degree of common sense involved here. I stated not all car bumpers are equal in their ability to absorb impact, the position of the occupants’ body, specifically the head position plays a role, the age of the car is also a factor. Other factors not mentioned include: position of the headrest, damage to the undercarriage of the vehicle, speed of the impacting vehicle and whether or not the car impacted with stopped, moving or hit a vehicle in front. To explain to the jury, the transfer of force, I used a simple visual experiment. I held my cup of water and asked the jury of they thought they would get wet if I was hit somehow from behind. This simple experiment indicated that regardless of bumper absorption, there is some degree of force transferred to the occupants, resulting most probably to an injury to the neck and upper back as well as likely to cause the head to impact into the head rest. It seemed as if the jury was convinced at that point (observing of their expressions). After cross examination by the defense, the case continued into the next day due to the fact that the defendant, an out of state resident elected not to attend and in lieu of live testimony his deposition was admitted into evidence. The jury deliberated for about two hours and a verdict was reached in favor of the plaintiffs. The couple was awarded nearly $8000 each with an additional $3000 interest.

In conclusion, patients present frequently to my office for a variety of accidents, work, auto or slip and falls. The common denominator is that the mechanisms of these types of injuries are multifaceted and do not necessary equate with bodily injuries. In this particular circumstance, the damage to the vehicle could not at all be considered because it was an older car and it was never inspected or appraised, Regardless, we have all seen people walk away unharmed from the worst looking accidents and of course the contrary as well. I have faith in the judicial system and will continue to stand up for the innocent victims of accidents to ensure that they can continue to receive the reasonable and necessary treatment they need to restore their health without being intimidated by insurance companies.

Dr. Stephen Estner is a Chiropractor in Rhode Island with office locations in Pawtucket and Cranston, Rhode Island. His offices offer chiropractic rehabilitation through acupuncture, massage therapy, and manipulation of the spine, joints, and muscles. Dr. Estner treats all spinal injuries, back pain, and symptoms including those due to automobile accidents, workplace and sports injuries, pregnancy, and provides general care and maintenance of the spine.
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