Carlos A. Bodden and W. David Bennett
Carlos A. Bodden and W. David Bennett (Melanie Bell)

Details: On June 29, 2010, Dr. Rene Casanova, a family practitioner, was driving from his home in Weston to his clinic in Deerfield Beach. He was northbound on the Sawgrass Expressway, north of the Sample Road exit, when he was rear-ended by another driver.

Case: Rene Casanova v. GEICO General Insurance

Case no: CACE11014521

Description: Auto negligence

Filing Date: June 24, 2011

Trial Dates: June 17-24, 2014

Judge: Broward Circuit Judge Jack Tuter

Plaintiff attorney: Carlos Bodden, W. David Bennett, Ellis, Ged & Bodden, Boca Raton

Defense attorney: Earleen Cote, Siamak Nejad, Kubicki Draper, Fort Lauderdale

Verdict amount: $1.4 million

As a result of the accident, Casanova suffered a lower back injury that required surgery. He was unable to fully recover and the other driver was under-insured. Casanova sued his own insurer, GEICO General Insurance Co.

Plaintiffs case: An accident reconstructionist for the plaintiff, Col. John Smith of Denver, described the structural damage to the car and gave the opinion that the force of impact could have caused the injury.

Casanova’s medical experts were his treating physicians—neurosurgeon Yonas Zegeye of Lake Worth and Lawrence Gorfine, a Lake Worth anesthesiologist. Zegeye performed surgery on the lumbar, and Gorfine gave facet injections.

“They said that he had no history of problems with his lower back, and that the herniation came from this crash,” plaintiff attorney Carlos Bodden said.

Zegeye said the MRI revealed disc herniation at the L5-S1 disc, just above the tailbone.

The defense argued the facet injections were inconsistent for treatment of a disc herniation, but on rebuttal Casanova’s doctors said he could have two conditions that were not mutually exclusive.

An economist discussed damages. These include loss of future earnings because Casanova had a second business, doing research in Miami for pharmaceutical trial studies. The injury curtailed his ability to travel and he lost that contract.

Robert Rodriguez, Casanova’s partner at the clinic, said the injury hampered Casanova’s ability to work, Bodden said.

Defense case: Earleen Cote did not introduce an accident reconstructionist, but questioned the extent of damage from a common sense standpoint, noting that the photographs showed very little damage to Casanova’s car, she said. Casanova was able to drive the car away from the accident.

GEICO admitted liability as to the accident but questioned causation.

GEICO’s medical expert was Dr. Rolando Garcia, an orthopedic surgeon in Aventura. He testified that the disc injury, if it existed, was pre-existing. He based this opinion on alleged inconsistencies in the medical record.

Garcia noted that Casanova did not leave the accident in an ambulance but went to his office instead.

Casanova claimed he was seen by a physician’s assistant at his own clinic, but there was no record of him being there that day, Cote said.

Garcia claimed the MRI showed no disc herniation and said the surgery was unnecessary. He also claimed the treatment for facet joints was inconsistent with treatment for a disc herniation.

Cote said the main issue in the case was earnings capacity. A forensic accountant for the defense was able to show the jury there were no past lost earnings, Cote said. However, GEICO was hampered by what it could argue about future earnings, she said.

Prior to trial, a ruling was made that prevented GEICO from discussing a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation that snared Casanova and ultimately led to him losing his license to prescribe narcotic drugs. Cote insisted this was germane to his future earnings capacity.

Casanova claimed lost income when he was no longer able to do a drug trials in Miami, but Cote told the jury he was still conducting trials with a different company.

“He had a lot of businesses going on, but they tried to show the jury just a narrow slice of the pie,” Cote said.

Outcome: The jury found the negligence of the under-insured driver, Eduardo Hernandez, was the legal cause of Casanova’s injury and loss, and that the injury was permanent. For past and future medical costs, Casanova was awarded $299,770. For loss of future earning capacity, he was awarded $1,029,486. For pain and suffering, he was awarded $90,000.

Comments: “Casanova still has pain and discomfort. He hasn’t been able to work in his practice as before. His partner said he wasn’t the same person since the crash,” Bodden said.

Post-verdict: A final judgment is still pending, Bodden said. GEICO has filed a motion for a new trial and to reduce the jury award, because the jury awarded too much for future earnings and future medical costs.

Bodden has filed a motion to increase damages, because the jury did not compensate Casanova for past lost earnings.