Date of Verdict: Sept. 25.
Court and Case No.: C.P. Lancaster No. CI-11-08288.
Judge: James P. Cullen.
Type of Action: Motor vehicle.
Injuries: Disc protrusion, leg injuries.
Plaintiffs Counsel: James Alexander and Scott J. Schleifer, Haggerty Goldberg Schleifer & Kupersmith, Philadelphia.
Defense Counsel: J. Michael Flanagan, Flanagan and DiBernardo, Lancaster, Pa.
Plaintiffs Experts: Louis A. Marotti, neurosurgery, Lancaster.
Defense Experts: None.
Comment: On April 15, 2009, plaintiff Alexander Umana, 35, a lawn care salesman, was preparing to make a left turn at the intersection of Shillington Road and Revere Boulevard in Berks County, the plaintiff’s pretrial memorandum said. As he began to move into the left lane, an unknown vehicle allegedly began to make a U-turn into his path. Umana’s vehicle collided with the rear of another vehicle, which then collided with the rear of another vehicle. Umana sustained injuries of his back and leg.
Umana sought recovery of uninsured motorist benefits from Erie Insurance Co.; however, the carrier denied the claim. Umana sued Erie Insurance, alleging breach of contract, bad faith and violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
The parties agreed to a stipulated amount for damages and only tried liability.
Umana contended that before the collision, he swerved to the right to avoid colliding with the phantom vehicle, according to the plaintiff’s memo. Umana further argued that the phantom vehicle turned behind the other vehicles that were involved in the accident, and therefore the other drivers would not have seen the unknown vehicle, defense counsel said.
Erie Insurance contended that Umana rear-ended the cars in front of him, and contested the existence of the phantom vehicle.
The two drivers involved in the accident both testified that they would have been able to see a phantom vehicle, but that they did not see any unknown vehicle.
The investigating police officer testified that the position where the vehicles came to rest indicated an in-line collision, which was inconsistent with the plaintiff’s claim that the accident occurred as he swerved, the defense counsel said.
Umana claimed that the accident caused a lumbosacral strain, which led to disc protrusions and radiculopathy. He also claimed he sustained a contusion of the lower left leg.
Umana presented to a hospital hours after the accident. He treated with a neurologist and eventually underwent a lumbar laminectomy at L5 and a fusion at L5-S1, according to the defense attorney. He continued to treat with pain medications.
Umana contended that he was unable to return to work as a result of the accident. He sought a workers’ compensation lien, which included some $21,000 annually in lost wages.
After a three-day trial and four hours of deliberations, the jury found that the plaintiff did not prove that an unidentified vehicle caused the accident.
— Max Mitchell, of the Law Weekly •