verdicts and settlements

Date of Verdict: March 19.

Court and Case No.: C.P. Northampton CV2012010700.

Judge: Stephen G. Baratta.

Type of Action: Personal injury.

Injuries: Soft tissue; back; laminectomy.

Plaintiffs Counsel: Thomas R. Yorko, Thomas R. Yorko P.C., Philadelphia.

Defense Counsel: Kent H. Herman and Catherine L. Stehlin, King, Spry, Herman, Freund & Faul, Bethlehem, Pa.

Plaintiffs Expert: Dr. Amir Katz, physical medicine, Allentown.

Defense Expert: Dr. Peter Feinstein, orthopedics, Wilkes-Barre; Andrew J. Rentschler, biomechanist, Penns Park, Pa.

Comment: According to the plaintiffs’ pretrial memorandum, on Dec. 14, 2011, Perseberanda Espinal Santos brought her 2002 Ford Explorer to an Aamco Transmission Center in Easton, Pa., that is owned by defendant Zrams Inc. She sought to have the left rear wheel bearings serviced. The plaintiff alleged that while the mechanics removed the tire and left rear wheel, they either did not replace the lug nuts on the wheel, or replaced them negligently. Santos then paid for the service and drove home, her memo said.

The following day, Santos was driving at about 55 mph westbound along State Route 22, when she heard a noise come from the vehicle. The vehicle began to swerve uncontrollably, the memo said. According to the memo, she forced the vehicle to the left and was able to stop in the traffic lane. After police arrived, an officer began to drive Santos’ vehicle, and the left rear wheel and tire came off the vehicle, the memo said. In her memo, Santos claimed that the swerving caused her body to whip inside the vehicle, which led to back and shoulder injuries.

Santos sued Zrams, alleging that the work and supervision was negligent and that the employees failed to properly inspect the vehicle.

According to Santos’ memo, Zrams was immediately notified, and the principal of the company acknowledged responsibility and offered to give her a refund and pay for repairs to the vehicle.

Zrams, in its pretrial memo, said the vehicle had been road tested, and that Santos was comparatively negligent.

Zrams contended that Santos had reported noises on the day of the incident, and that she was told to not to drive the car anymore, but instead to bring it back to the repair shop. Zrams contended that she did not return to the repair shop, but instead got onto State Route 22 and drove nearly 10 miles. Zrams also contended in its memo that the lug nuts were tight when work on the vehicle was completed.

According to a statement from plaintiffs counsel, Santos suffered cervical and shoulder strains as well as a herniated disc in her lumbar spine.

The plaintiffs’ statement said Santos went to the emergency room but did not complain of injuries to her shoulder and lower back. Four days after the accident, she went to a chiropractor, who indicated she had injuries of her upper back, the plaintiffs’ statement said. According to the plaintiffs’ statement, three weeks after the accident, a physiatrist diagnosed her with a possible herniated lumbar disc, as well as cervical and lumbar strains and sprains. Santos was prescribed pain medication, and underwent nine injections; however, she continued to report pain, the plaintiffs’ statement said.

A year after the accident, Santos was referred to a neurosurgeon, who performed a successful laminectomy, the plaintiffs’ statement said.

According to the plaintiffs’ statement, while Santos had worked as a property manager, she was on family leave and receiving unemployment at the time of the accident.

The plaintiffs’ memo said Santos sought $358,984 in past and future lost value of household services, $1.1 million in past and future economic loss, $31,764 in a Department of Public Welfare lien, $6,450 in outstanding medical bills, and a lifetime of disability pain and suffering. The plaintiff’s husband also sought loss of consortium.

In its memo, Zrams noted that by the time Santos stopped the vehicle, it had not struck any object and the wheel remained on the car. Zrams further said Santos did not complain of injuries at the scene. Zrams also contended in its memo that when Santos presented to a doctor about one month after the accident, she gave a “completely inaccurate history” of her accident, as she said the tire came off and the vehicle went into the divider.

Zrams, in its memo, further noted that Santos had been treating for a gynecological condition that necessitated surgery and that she had been out of work due to the condition. Zrams further contended that the treatment Santos underwent on the day of the accident was for an unrelated condition and that the chiropractor Santos saw after the accident had been previously treating her for a lower back condition.

According to the plaintiffs’ statement, the defense experts opined that the force was insufficient to cause a herniated disc, and therefore the treatment was unrelated to the incident.

The parties stipulated to $41,038 in medical expenses, but the jury awarded $450,000 in lost wages and $500,000 in pain and suffering. According to the plaintiffs attorney, a confidential high-low was in effect.

“The defense was well represented and pulled out all of the stops to disprove causation,” Thomas R. Yorko, who represented the plaintiffs, said in the statement. “We overcame this attack by impeaching the defense fact and expert witnesses, which may have been the deciding factor.”

Kent H. Herman, who represented Zrams, did not return a call for comment.

— Max Mitchell, of the Law Weekly •