Date of Verdict:

March 22.

Court and Case No.:

C.P. Philadelphia No. 11080349.


Shelley Robins-New.

Type of Action:

Motor vehicle.


Herniated discs.

Plaintiffs Counsel:

Cary B. McClain, Ardmore, Pa.

Defense Counsel:

J. Michael Kvetan, Norristown, Pa.

Plaintiffs Experts:

Dr. Richard Saunders, internal medicine, Pottstown, Pa.; Dr. Jeffrey Heebner, osteopathic manipulative medicine, Conshohocken, Pa.; Dr. Steven Valentino, orthopedic surgery; Dr. Zach Dillow, chiropractic.

Defense Experts:

Dr. James Mackell, orthopedic surgery, Doylestown, Pa.; Dr. Michael Brooks, neuroradiology, Darby, Pa.


A 12-member Philadelphia jury awarded $700,000 to a state trooper who was injured when her vehicle was rear-ended.

In August 2009, according to the plaintiff’s settlement memorandum, plaintiff Joanne Dragotta, a Pennsylvania state trooper, was stopped at a red light in Philadelphia when a 1996 Ford Econoline 250 Van, owned by defendant PHS Corp. and driven by defendant Dorsey Graham, struck Dragotta’s vehicle from behind.

The plaintiff’s memorandum alleged that, at the accident scene, Graham claimed he had tried to apply his brakes but they failed.

However, according to the plaintiff’s memorandum, a subsequent investigation showed the brakes worked perfectly.

The defense, in its own pretrial memorandum, did not dispute liability but did argue that Dragotta exhibited no visible signs of injury.

The plaintiff’s memorandum said Dragotta experienced immediate back and neck pain and was examined in the emergency room of Hahnemann University Hospital, with a follow-up examination by her family physician, Dr. Richard Saunders, the next day.

At the time, Dragotta complained of back pain, headaches, a stiff neck, nausea and night sweats and was prescribed Flexeril, Vicodin and Ibuprofen, according to the plaintiff’s memorandum.

On September 10, 2009, Dragotta saw Saunders again, complaining of back and neck pain, as well as numbness in her right fifth finger and right large toe, and was given a prescription for X-rays and an MRI, according to the plaintiff’s memorandum.

On September 17, 2009, Dragotta had X-rays of her cervical, lumbosacral and thoracic spine, along with MRIs of her lubosacral spine and cervical spine at Pottstown Memorial Hospital, the plaintiff’s memorandum said.

The lumbosacral spine MRI showed a mild disc bulge at L3-L4, a disc bulge with left lateral disc protrusion at L4-5 and a disc bulge with right lateral disc protrusion at L5-S1, according to the plaintiff’s memorandum.
The cervical spine MRI showed marginal ventral cord impingement and bilateral foraminal narrowing, the plaintiff’s memorandum said.

On September 16, 2009, Dragotta was examined by Dr. Jeffrey Heebner, a workers’ compensation physician, who referred her to Conshohocken Physical Therapy, the plaintiff’s memorandum said.

Dragotta’s attorney, Cary B. McClain, said some of these were pre-existing conditions that were aggravated by the accident.

Dragotta had 49 physical therapy visits through March 4, 2010, according to the plaintiff’s memorandum.

On December 28, 2009, Dragotta had a follow-up MRI, which revealed a small left foraminal protrusion-type disc herniation at L4-L5 and a small right foraminal protrusion-type disc herniation at L5-S1, the plaintiff’s memorandum said.

Dragotta continued to experience numbness in her right arm, hand, leg and big toe and Heebner referred her to Dr. Stephen Sacks for a nerve conduction, EMG, which revealed findings supporting L4-5 nerve root involvement of the right lower extremity and C6-7 nerve root involvement of the right upper extremity, according to the plaintiff’s memorandum.

Heebner also referred Dragotta to Dr. Steven Valentino, an orthopedic and reconstructive spine surgeon, who performed left and right sacroiliac injections and transforaminal lumbar epidural steroid injections on three separate occasions in 2010, the plaintiff’s memorandum said.

Valentino said in a May 2012 report that Dragotta would need spine surgery, according to the plaintiff’s memorandum.

In July 2010, according to the plaintiff’s memorandum, Dragotta saw a chiropractor, Dr. Zach Dillow, who provided treatment in the form of manipulation, electric stimulation, ultrasound, manual therapy, therapeutic exercises and mechanical traction over the course of 57 visits between July 15, 2010, and September 28, 2011, according to the plaintiff’s memorandum.

The plaintiff’s memorandum said Dragotta continues to treat with Valentino.

The defendants, however, argued in their memorandum that while Dragotta suffered sprains and strains of her cervical, lumbar and thoracic spine, those injuries, according to orthopedic surgery expert Dr. James Mackell, have since healed.

Neuroradiology expert Dr. Michael Brooks reviewed Dragotta’s treatment history and found no pathology related to trauma, according to the defense memorandum.

"Plaintiff was and still is a state trooper," the defense memorandum said. "She was out of work until March 2010. A workers’ compensation doctor submitted an affidavit to the effect that plaintiff could return to work in January 2010. Some time after she returned to work she was promoted to corporal with management duties over a team of plain-clothed troopers stationed at a casino in Chester. She has never requested altered duty."

The plaintiff’s memorandum, however, said Dragotta’s new position at Harrah’s Casino is as a plain-clothes state trooper rather than a patrol trooper, as she had been before.

McClain said he thought the verdict was a "great result."

"The jury certainly valued that she had an aggravation of a pre-existing condition and she needed money set aside for future medical costs," McClain said.