Date of Verdict:
Court and Case No.:
C.P. Philadelphia No. 150300139.
Esther R. Sylvester.
Type of Action:
Lower back pain, back sprain, back strain.
Joseph L. Coleman, Simon & Simon, Philadelphia.
Joel Feigenbaum, Goldberg, Miller & Rubin, Philadelphia.
Plaintiffs Expert: Maxwell Stepanuk; orthopedic surgery, Elkins Park.
Defense Expert: Andrew Shaer, radiology, Jenkintown.
A Philadelphia County jury awarded a man involved in a motor vehicle accident $105,000.
On Nov. 22, 2013, plaintiff Sylvester Okolo, 47, a business owner, was involved in a sideswipe collision on South Street at 15th Street, in central Philadelphia. He claimed back injuries.
Okolo sued the driver, Michelle Chang, alleging that she was negligent.
A panel found in favor of Chang during court-mandated arbitration, which Okolo appealed.
At trial, Okolo contended that Chang, driving a Nissan Sentra, left the parking lane on his left and struck the driver’s side of his Jeep. His counsel cited photographs of the damage to the vehicles and maintained that Chang gave inconsistent statements about whether Okolo was on the phone at the time of the accident (Okolo stated that he was not).
Chang testified that she was traveling behind Okolo, who was on his phone while stopping and starting, and entered her lane and struck her.
Okolo claimed that he immediately experienced back pain. Five days later, he presented to his primary care physician, who prescribed pain medication. Three weeks afterward, with his back pain persisting, he had physical therapy (e.g., massage, exercises) for about six months.
Okolo underwent an MRI and was diagnosed with a protrusion at lumbar intervertebral disc L5-S1, radiculopathy stemming from the protrusion, and lumbar strain and sprain. No further treatment was rendered.
In his report (the parties agreed to try the case pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1311.1), Okolo’s expert in orthopedic surgery opined that he had suffered a permanent injury and that his prognosis was poor. The expert recommended a future EMG (estimated at $2,000), pain-control injections ($6,000), and surgery ($60,000).
Okolo testified that his ongoing back pain and limitations affect his interactions with his young daughter and playing soccer and basketball with his teenage son. He no longer can perform general-maintenance duties around the house, and working out and running cause pain. He sought damages for past and future pain and suffering. Okolo’s wife, who had withdrawn her claim for loss of consortium, testified about his injuries and limitations.
Chang’s counsel cited medical records to argue that Okolo did not initially complain of back complaints, but of neck and left-hip pain, and that it was not until a month into treatment that he first complained of back pain. According to Chang’s counsel, about two months into treatment, Okolo presented to his primary care physician and told him that his injuries had resolved; however, he continued to treat for a few more months. Chang was discharged from chiropractic care as pain-free. About three months later, Okolo was involved in another vehicular crash, which prompted him to return to his primary care physician, who at the time noted that all of his injuries from the accident with Chang had resolved.
Chang’s expert in radiology opined that Okolo’s alleged protrusion was in fact a pre-existing, degenerative bulge that predated the accident.
The jury found Okolo 20 percent liable and Chang 80 percent liable. Okolo was determined to receive $105,000, which was accordingly reduced to $84,000. The amount was further reduced to $25,000, pursuant to the damages cap imposed by Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1311.1.