Date of Verdict:

February 5.

Court and Case No.:

C.P. Philadelphia No. 101103654.

Judge:

Ricardo C. Jackson.

Type of Action:

Motor vehicle.

Injuries:

Disc herniation, cervical radiculopathy.

Plaintiffs Counsel:

Leo M. Flynn, Martins Mill Legal Center, Philadelphia.

Defense Counsel:

Theodore M. Schaer and Bryan P. Werley, Zarwin, Baum, DeVito, Kaplan, Schaer & Toddy, Philadelphia.

Plaintiffs Experts:

Dr. Steven D. Grossinger, neurology, Ridley Park, Pa.; Mark Lukas, vocations, Media, Pa.; Chad Staller, economics, Philadelphia.

Defense Experts:

Dr. Michael Brooks, radiology, Thornton, Pa.; Dr. Neil Kahanovitz, orthopedic surgery, Bala Cynwyd, Pa.; Irene C. Mendelsohn, vocations, Penn Valley, Pa.

Comment:

The attorney on the defense side of a Philadelphia jury verdict of $34,000 from earlier this month said the award fell hundreds of thousands below the plaintiff’s demand because the jury did not believe the plaintiff’s theory that an operation she had stemmed from injuries suffered in the underlying rear-end motor vehicle accident.

“I don’t think they believed the surgery was tied to the accident at all,” attorney Theodore M. Schaer said. “And I thought the verdict was a repudiation of plaintiff’s overreaching in this case.”

Schaer represented Tipton Trucking Company Inc., which admitted its driver was liable in a 2009 rear-ender underlying the case of Corbitt v. Tipton Trucking Company and offered $400,000 to settle the case.

Plaintiff Catherine Corbitt, a computer technician, had claimed her disc herniation and cervical radiculopathy and other injuries that caused her to have lumbar fusion surgery at Johns Hopkins University were caused by the accident and declined the settlement offer. She was traveling in a work van at the time.

The defense contested in the pretrial court papers that the operation was to treat the “progressive and long-standing degenerative disease and in no way would be related to [Corbitt's] work-related injury.”

The extent to which the accident exacerbated her existing condition was a key consideration for the jury, attorneys said, and the relatively small damages, compared to the plaintiff’s demand and special damages presented at trial, may indicate the jury saw a connection, albeit a minimal one.

Schaer said he thought the jury believed the accident caused a “sprain and strain and temporary exacerbation of underlying condition.” The plaintiff’s pre-existing condition, according to defense papers, was degenerative disc disease.

Because the jury believed she exacerbated this condition in the accident, they awarded her a portion of medical and physical therapy bills, but “cut it off” well short of the $750,000 demand before trial, Schaer said.

Leo M. Flynn, Corbitt’s attorney, declined to comment on the jury’s award specifically, saying he did not know how they came to their conclusion.

“It was our position that two of the defendant’s experts had confirmed the aggravation of a pre-existing condition,” Flynn said. “However, the jury is ultimately left to parse through those arguments and reach their conclusion.”

In addition to causation, according to Schaer, the defense stressed at the five-day trial the fact that Corbitt’s own experts conceded she was able to return to sedentary work but apparently had made no effort to do so.

That “really resonated with the jury,” Schaer said.

Schaer said he told the jury, “That must be nice. I’m sure everybody would like to do that.”

According to Schaer, the plaintiff presented special damages totaling more than $1.3 million.

Schaer said the parties had reached a high-low agreement before trial and, although he would not comment on the specific terms of the agreement, Schaer said he would be mailing the plaintiff a check for the low end.

Added Flynn: “We were pleased there was a measure of security built into the proceeding that was agreed to by both parties.”