Tuesday, August 23, 2022

No Medical Expert Testimony Needed To Establish Causation Where Causal Relationship is Obvious

In the case of Bixler v. Lamendola, No. 3:20-CV-01819-CCC (M.D. Pa. July 5, 2022 Connor, J.), the court denied a Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in a motor vehicle accident case after finding that expert medical testimony was not required to establish causation given that the driver’s testimony would allow the jury to infer that the claimed injuries resulted from the accident.

According to the Opinion, at the time of the accident, the Plaintiff was driving an empty tractor trailer at a speed of approximately 45-50 mph when the Defendant, who was traveling in from of the Plaintiff in the same direction, attempted to make a U-turn. More specifically, the Defendant’s vehicle moved towards the right side of the road and/or the right shoulder and then, as the Plaintiff’s vehicle approached, the Defendant pulled back onto the road and attempted to turn his vehicle into the opposing lane of travel. The Plaintiff was unable to avoid a collision which occurred while the tractor trailer was still moving at about 25-30 mph.

It was noted that the vehicle that the Plaintiff was operating at the time of the accident was rendered inoperable for about four (4) months following the accident due to the damages sustained.

The Plaintiff testified that, although he was wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, he believed he struck parts of the interior of his vehicle because he had a bump on his head as well as bumps and bruises on his knees and arm. The Plaintiff did admit that he did not immediately notice any pain and declined medical treatment at the scene of the accident. 

Approximately two (2) days later, the Plaintiff began to experience left hand numbness and then sought out medical treatment with his family doctor the day after that at which point he was referred to a neurologist and then began to treat on a continuing basis thereafter.

Post-accident diagnostic tests including x-rays, an MRI, and a nerve test lead the neurologist to diagnose the Plaintiff with a bulging disc in his neck, causing a pinched nerve, which was noted to explain the complaints of left hand numbness.

During the course of the matter, the Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing, in part, that the Plaintiff's failure to produce an expert medical opinion on causation defeated the Plaintiff's claim. 

The court cited to the law of Pennsylvania generally requiring expert medical opinion testimony to prove causation in personal injury cases. 

However, the court noted that expert opinion is not required if there is an obvious causal relationship between the alleged negligent act and the injury complained of. The court stated that a causal relationship is “obvious” if the injury is “either an ‘immediate and direct’ or the ‘natural and probable’ result of” the alleged negligence.

The court further noted that, in those cases in which expert testimony is not required, there are typically two common traits, that is, (1) the Plaintiff began to exhibit symptoms of the injury immediately after the accident or within a relatively short time thereafter, and (2) the alleged injury is the type that one would reasonably expect to result from the accident in question.

The court applied that law to this case and held that the record revealed facts under which expert medical testimony on causation was not required. As such, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in this regard was denied as a jury could easily find that the Plaintiff’s injuries were the natural and probable consequence of the accident.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (July 21, 2022).

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