Morris v. Hobbs

Defense Verdict

Date of Verdict: March 27.

Court and Case No.: C.P. Philadelphia, No. 160800494.

Judge: Edgar C. Wright.

Type of Action: Motor vehicle.

Injuries: Neck, herniated disc.

Plaintiffs Counsel: Matthew B. Cole, Aizazoglou & Mikropoulos; Eddystone.

Plaintiffs Expert: Bruce Grossinger, neurology, Wilmington, Delaware.

Defense Counsel: Kerri L. Macken, Bennett Bricklin & Saltzburg, Philadelphia; William P. Corcoran, SEPTA Law Department, Philadelphia.

Defense Expert: Michael Brooks, radiology, Thornton.


On Oct. 8, 2014, plaintiff Alexander Morris, 50, an autistic-support school aide, was a passenger on a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority bus heading south on Route 202, in King of Prussia. The bus was in one of two left-turn lanes and was turning left onto Mall Boulevard. During the turn, the rear driver’s side of the bus came into contact with the passenger-side mirror of a sport utility vehicle. The SUV, driven by Xiaoling Zhu, was in the inside left-turn lane and was also turning left from Route 202 onto Mall Boulevard. After the collision, Morris claimed neck and low back injuries.

Morris sued Zhu, bus-driver Tavares Hobbs and SEPTA, alleging negligence. In court-mandated arbitration, a panel found in favor of SEPTA, Hobbs and Zhu, and against Morris, who rejected the decision. The claims against SEPTA were dismissed during trial.

At trial, Morris’ counsel faulted Zhu for entering Hobbs’ lane of travel, causing the crash. Counsel also faulted Hobbs, noting that if Hobbs had seen Zhu in his side mirror, as he claimed, then he should have been able to avoid the collision with Zhu’s SUV.

Hobbs and SEPTA’s counsel asserted that Zhu was liable for the accident by entering Hobbs’ lane of travel.

Counsel for the defendants further maintained that even if there was negligence, Morris could not prove that the minimal contact between the vehicles was the factual cause of his alleged injuries.

Zhu was not present at trial, because following the accident she returned to her home in Hong Kong. Her counsel contended that the other parties could not identify Zhu’s SUV as the vehicle involved in the accident, so no negligence was proven as against Zhu. The morning after the accident, Morris, complaining of pain to his neck and chest, which he allegedly struck during the accident, presented to an emergency room, where he was examined and released.

On Oct. 28, Morris presented to a chiropractor/rehab facility with ongoing neck complaints, chest soreness and low-back pain. He treated with physical therapy, including massage, 15 times over 14 weeks. He then stopped treatment for seven months, and in July 2015, he presented to a neurologist/pain management specialist and had an EMG at that facility which was read as positive for cervical radiculopathy. He was to undergo cervical injections in August 2015, but when he returned to pain management for the injections, he told the provider he was pain-free.

From June to December 2017, Morris resumed treatment with chiropractic care, which included spinal manipulation and massage.

In October 2017, Morris underwent additional MRIs and an EMG in December 2017. The October 2017 MRI revealed cervical herniations at intervertebral discs C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7; however, the December 2017 EMG was normal.

In his records, Morris’ neurologist causally related his injuries and treatment to the accident. The parties agreed to try the case pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1311.1. Under the rule, a verdict is capped at $25,000, and expert-witness reports are submitted into evidence instead of live testimony by the expert witnesses.

Morris testified that he has ongoing neck and low-back pain which prevents him from playing in a soccer league. He was also a student working toward a graduate degree and claimed he had to decrease his course load due to his injuries. Additionally, he is unable to sit or stand for long periods, and it is difficult for him to perform activities of daily living due to neck and low back pain. He sought damages for past and future pain and suffering.

Zhu’s counsel noted that Morris waited 19 days to seek further treatment following his Oct. 9 emergency-room visit, that he did not mention the accident to his primary physician for 2.5 years after the accident and that there were significant gaps in his treatment. Moreover, when Morris was recommended injections, he declined them because of resolution of his symptoms and pain. It was not until a visit in April 2017 when he first mentioned the SEPTA accident to his primary care physician, despite having treated with her for other health issues in that time period. Moreover, it was not until October 2017 when he was diagnosed with herniations, after his July 2015 MRI was negative.

Zhu’s counsel cited surveillance footage taken from inside the bus at the time of the accident. According to Zhu’s counsel, Morris was on the phone prior, during and after the impact, and the impact was so minor that Morris did not move in his seat.

Morris claimed that he struck his chest on impact, but the video showed that did not happen, as Morris was sitting facing the aisle, according to Zhu’s counsel.

Zhu’s expert in radiology, who reviewed the July 2015 MRI, stated in a report that there was no evidence of a traumatic injury, no evidence which would support a finding of radiculopathy and only signs of disc degeneration.

The jury rendered a defense verdict. It found that Hobbs was not negligent. It determined that Zhu was negligent, but that her negligence was not a factual cause of injury to Morris.

This report is based on information that was provided by Zhu’s counsel. Plaintiffs counsel and the remaining defendants’ counsel did not respond to calls for comment.

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