Date of Verdict:

December 5, 2012.

Court and Case No.:

C.P. Philadelphia No. 061200934.

Judge:

Shelley Robins-New.

Type of Action:

Motor vehicle.

Injuries:

Arm, back and wrist injuries.

Plaintiffs Counsel:

Warren I. Siegel, Bernhardt, Rothermel & Siegel, Philadelphia.

Defense Counsel:

Charles J. Lanzalotti, Bennett, Bricklin & Saltzburg, Philadelphia; Steven G. Leventhal, Reger Rizzo & Darnall, Philadelphia.

Plaintiffs Experts:

Dr. A. Lee Osterman, hand surgery, Philadelphia; Michael Donohoe, chiropractic, Hatfield, Pa.

Comment:

On December 12, 2004, plaintiff Daniel Morales, 38, was turning left from Castor Avenue onto Aramingo Avenue, in the Port Richmond section of Northeast Philadelphia, when the rear of his Honda Civic was struck by a Chevrolet Malibu being operated by Nicole Robinson. At the time, co-plaintiff Carmen Serrano, 26, a cashier, was a front-seat passenger in Morales’ vehicle. Serrano alleged that the accident caused her to suffer carpal tunnel syndrome, among other injuries, while Morales likewise claimed that he suffered injuries sufficiently serious to pierce the limited-tort threshold.

Following Morales and Serrano’s filing of suit against Robinson (who impleaded Morales), Serrano was awarded $25,000 following a court-mandated arbitration, while Morales was awarded $6,000. Robinson appealed those results; Morales subsequently withdrew his claim and remained in the case as a third-party defendant.

At trial, Serrano maintained that Robinson’s failure to maintain a safe distance caused the collision.

Robinson maintained that immediately prior to the collision, she, too, had been turning onto Aramingo Avenue, as permitted by the green light in her favor, when, for an unknown reason, Morales slammed on his brakes, which prevented Robinson from being able to stop her vehicle in time. She claimed she tapped the back of the Morales vehicle.

Morales argued that Robinson violated the state statute of assured safe stopping distance, thereby making her negligent per se for the accident.

Following the accident, Serrano, complaining of neck and lower-back pain, was taken by ambulance to Northeastern Hospital, where she was examined and released.

On December 15, she presented at Healthline Chiropractic and underwent treatment three times a week through June 2005; she then treated sporadically through September 2, 2005. On January 24, 2005, Serrano underwent an EMG of her upper extremities, which revealed bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and bilateral Guyon’s canal syndrome (compression of the ulnar nerve). (During the collision, Serrano claimed, she had extended her hands, and they struck the dashboard of Morales’ vehicle.)

In 2007, Serrano, with continued complaints of lower-back pain, resumed treating with the family physician with whom she had been treating for lower-back pain prior to the subject accident. That physician prescribed further pain medication. An MRI was taken, which allegedly was read as showing an L5-S1 disc protrusion. Physical therapy was recommended, but Serrano declined.

In September 2008, Serrano, with complaints of difficulty grasping objects, was referred to a hand specialist, who conducted another EMG, the results of which apparently were normal. Despite the negative findings, the physician claimed to have observed objective findings of injury, and he recommended a nerve-root decompression procedure. Serrano declined the surgery, and no further treatment was administered. Her suit sought to recover $2,400 in excess medical expenses.

In his report (the case was tried pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1311.1), Serrano’s treating hand specialist opined that the accident involving Morales and Robinson had caused Serrano to suffer bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and Guyon’s canal syndrome, and that she was a candidate for surgery. Her treating chiropractor concluded in his report that her treatment and neck strain were causally related to the rear-end collision.

Serrano testified that she continues to experience gripping issues in her hands, causing her to frequently drop objects. She said that this prevents her from carrying things at work. Her suit sought to recover unspecified amounts of non-economic damages, for past and future pain and suffering.

Counsel for Robinson pointed to the emergency-room records, which allegedly made no mention of Serrano’s wrist pain. Moreover, it was not until April 26, 2005, that any mention of hand symptoms was made by Serrano, it was argued. (Counsel for Serrano maintained that she did mention it, because an EMG was conducted that January.)

The defense asserted that none of Serrano’s physicians had causally related the L5-S1 disc protrusion to the accident, and that any back complaints were pre-existing and degenerative in nature.

Robinson’s counsel also cited Serrano’s deposition testimony, in which she testified that pre-accident, she cleaned her bathtub three to four times a week, whereas post-accident, she could only do it two to three times a week. However, at trial, Serrano testified that she has not been able to clean her bathtub since the date of the accident, according to the defense.

The jury found Robinson had been negligent with respect to the accident, but that her negligence was not a factual cause of injury to Serrano. Morales was found not to have been negligent.

This report is based on information that was provided by counsel for Robinson and for Morales. Counsel for Serrano did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.

— This report first appeared in VerdictSearch Pennsylvania, a publication of ALM •