Chicago, Ill. – Chicago Partner Melissa Gardner recently secured a significant victory on behalf of an insured party when a Cook County, Illinois jury returned a complete defense verdict following a four-day trial in a high-exposure, complex matter with a nearly $2 million damages demand from the plaintiff.
In this case, the defendant was stopped behind the plaintiff at a red light. The plaintiff began making a right-hand turn and stopped short when another vehicle made a u-turn in front of her. The defendant, not knowing that the plaintiff had stopped, began a right-hand turn and rear-ended the plaintiff. The plaintiff claimed that as a result of the accident, she sustained cervical and lumbar disc herniations and bulges, a transverse process fracture, post-concussive syndrome, left forearm pain, and permanent pain. She further contended that she struggled with daily pain, had to give up her two dogs because she could no longer care for them, and that her life was drastically altered. With respect to medical care, the plaintiff received emergency room (ER), orthopedic, pain management, and physical therapy treatment, as well as injections, radio frequency ablations, MRIs, x-rays, and pain medication. Prior to trial, the parties stipulated to medical bills totaling $101,677.74, based on the defense’s expert report.
Trial Testimony and Evidentiary Rulings
During trial, the plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon testified that the plaintiff suffered disc herniations and bulges in her neck and back. On cross-examination, however, the surgeon admitted that follow-up imaging showed no fracture and that if the fracture had been present, it would have shown on the follow-up imaging. In addition, the defense’s pain management physician testified and refuted the testimony of the plaintiff’s pain management doctor. Specifically, the defense’s physician opined that the normal nature of the plaintiff’s follow-up imaging demonstrated that a transverse process fracture did not exist. Moreover, the physician explained that (1) the plaintiff could not have had a concussion because she never complained of head pain following the accident or at the ER, (2) the accident was minor and therefore could not have caused the neck and back disc herniations and bulges, and (3) the plaintiff was non-compliant with her prescribed opioid medications and had a substance abuse disorder.
Notably, the court excluded significant elements of the defense’s evidence. First, it precluded evidence of the plaintiff’s prior neck and back treatment, which included injections. It also prevented the defense from introducing evidence of the plaintiff’s car accident that occurred six months after the subject accident. During the subsequent accident, the plaintiff’s vehicle was demolished because she fell asleep at the wheel and drove into a telephone pole. Furthermore, the court excluded numerous social media posts that the plaintiff authored, indicating that she was not struggling with permanent and debilitating injuries and pain. The court did, however, permit the defense to show a single video of the plaintiff using a chainsaw. It also allowed the defense to question her about a video in which she caught a large dog, went paragliding, and hit tennis balls.
Prior to jury deliberations, the court struck the affirmative defense for contributory negligence, concluding that the plaintiff could not be found negligent for yielding to a u-turning car. Likewise, the court did not allow the u-turning statute to be part of the jury instructions.
Plaintiff’s Final Demand and Jury Verdict
At the close of trial, the plaintiff asked the jury to award damages for medical bills, pain and suffering, loss of normal life, future pain and suffering, as well as future loss of normal life. Each damages category was in the six-figure range, such that the plaintiff’s total demand reached nearly $2 million. After deliberating for only 40 minutes, the jury returned a complete defense verdict on liability.
Ms. Gardner is a member of Lewis Brisbois’ General Liability, Insurance Coverage, Bad Faith Litigation, National Trial, and Long-Term Care Practices. She regularly handles complex matters, counseling corporate and private individuals and leading all aspects of litigation – from claim inception through resolution at trial or on appeal. Ms. Gardner has first chaired numerous arbitrations and trials, before both judges and juries.