verdicts-and-settlements-article

Mahaffey v. Havers

$306,000

Date of Verdict: March 29

Court and Case No.: C.P. Bucks County, No. 2013-08117

Judge: Robert J. Mellon

Type of Action: Insurance-subrogation, motor vehichle

Injuries: Leg, back injuries

Plaintiffs Counsel: Anthony D. Damiano, Law Offices of Anthony D. Damiano, West Chester; Amy Sokolson, Hoffman, Sternberg & Karpf, Southampton.

Plaintiffs Experts: Dr. Gene Salkind, neurosurgery; Huntingdon Valley; Douglas Kimmel, family medicine, Feasterville-Trevose.

Defense Counsel: Richard C. Howard Jr., Weber Kracht & Chellew, Perkasie; Geoffrey S. Peterson, Bennett, Bricklin & Saltzburg, Blue Bell.

Defense Experts: Marc Manzione, orthopedic surgery; Huntingdon Valley.

Comment:

On Feb. 4, 2013, plaintiff Ryan Mahaffey, 29, a production assistant, was driving north in the left lane on York Road/Route 263 toward Bristol Road, in Warminster. He asserted that he had entered the intersection on a yellow light when a sport u tility vehicle approached from the opposite direction. The SUV driver attempted to turn left, and in doing so, the front of the SUV struck the front driver’s side of Mahaffey’s sedan. Mahaffey claimed back injuries.

Mahaffey sued the driver, Roseann Havers, alleging negligence. He also sued the owner of her SUV, Christopher S. Havers Construction Inc. The company’s insurer, plaintiff Erie Insurance Exchange, paid $16,200 for the damage to the sport utility vehicle.

In a separate matter which was later consolidated, Erie, as a subrogee, sued Mahaffey for recovery of the $16,200.

At trial, Mahaffey recounted how he had entered the intersection on a yellow light. A witness, who had been stopped at a red light on Bristol Road, heard the collision between Mahaffey and Havers’ vehicles and testified that her light was still red when the collision occurred; a second or two after, her light turned green.

Counsel for Mahaffey, both as a plaintiff and as a defendant, maintained that the witnesses’ testimoney indicated that Mahaffey had entered the intersection on a yellow light, not a red light, and that Havers improperly turned in front of Mahaffey, who had the right-of-way.

Havers confirmed that she had entered the intersection on a yellow light, but assumed that, because the light was yellow, Mahaffey would have stopped, and so she attempted to make her left turn, at which point the accident occurred. Havers’ counsel maintained that Mahaffey should have seen Havers in the process of turning and therefore should have allowed her to turn before entering the intersection, and thereby avoid a collision.

Havers cited the testimony of a witness. The witness, who had been traveling behind Mahaffey in the right northbound lane, stated that the light was either a late yellow or it had just turned red as Mahaffey entered the intersection.

Mahaffey was taken by ambulance to an emergency room, where he was examined and released. Within a day or so, he followed up with his primary care physician, who put him on a course of physical therapy. For approximately 10 months, Mahaffey treated with physical therapy, including massage and exercise. An MRI showed a herniation at lumbar intervertebral disc L4-5. An EMG was negative. A nerve conduction velocity test was positive for right-sided radiculopathy stemming from disc L4-5. Mahaffey alleged numbness and tingling throughout his right leg. He was also diagnosed with headaches and strains and sprains to his neck and left non-dominant wrist; these injuries later resolved.

Throughout 2013 and 2014, Mahaffey saw a number of physicians, including a pain-management specialist, who administered two epidural injections of a steroid-based painkiller. The injections initially proved successful, as Mahaffey stopped treating for the next two years. In 2016, Mahaffey returned to his doctor for one visit with continued complaints of low-back pain and right-leg pain and numbness. In 2017, however, with his symptoms having worsened, he received two more epidural injections for pain to his lumbar spine. In 2018, he underwent three facet-block injections under anesthesia, which resolved the numbness and tingling in his right leg and reduced the pain in his low back. He sought to recover a stipulated amount of $6,000 in medical costs.

Mahaffey’s primary care physician and expert in neurosurgery causally related his injuries and treatment to the accident. The expert recommended a future rhizotomy, estimated at $3,500.

Mahaffey, who was in his mid-30s at the time of trial, testified that his injuries made him feel old. He had never anticipated that he would be restricted in his activities when he was relatively young. This includes difficulty keeping up with his young son and physically interacting with him. His wife testified that Mahaffey was an athlete who had regularly played football, went to the gym and enjoyed hip-hop dancing.

Following the accident, Mahaffey could barely pick up a full laundry basket, she said. Mahaffey sought damages for past and future pain and suffering.

Havers’ expert in orthopedic surgery, who examined Mahaffey, acknowledged that his herniation was acute, but it was small in nature. According to the expert, the epidural injections that Mahaffey had received were reasonable and necessary, but the facet-block injections were not.

The jury found Havers 85 percent liable and Mahaffey 15 percent liable. Mahaffey was determined to receive $306,000, which was accordingly reduced to $260,100. Since the jury found Havers more than 50 percent liable, Erie could not recover on its claim against Mahaffey. The trial lasted three days.

This report is based on information that was provided by counsel for Mahaffey as plaintiff and as a defendant. Counsel for Havers, Christopher S. Havers Construction and Erie Insurance Exchange did not respond to calls for comment.

—This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication.