Whiplash Neck Injury Case Seeking Damages for a Rear-End Collision*



Case Summary:

This is a review of a whiplash neck injury lawsuit. The Plaintiff in the case contended she suffered whiplash and spinal injuries after the Defendant collided with her car. The Plaintiff filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for what she alleged were serious and possibly permanent injuries.

The Defendant in the case responded to the lawsuit by filing a Motion for Summary Judgment which disputed the severity of the woman's injuries.

Statement of Facts...

On January 2nd, 2010, Barbara Woo was in her minivan while stopped behind a school bus which was loading students.

Driving behind her in his pickup truck was Charles Jones. Jones was texting his sister, and as a result didn't notice Woo had stopped behind the bus. As a result, Jones struck Woo's vehicle from behind.

None of the students were injured. The impact of the collision forced Woo's head and shoulders to snap back, but the headrest absorbed much of the shock. There were no other passengers in Woo's vehicle. Jones was not injured.

Both parties sustained property damage to their respective vehicles.

Jones asked Woo if she was alright. Although he didn't mention he was texting at the time of the collision, he did apologize, telling her his cell phone had fallen from its cradle, and while bending down to pick it up he lost sight of her vehicle.

Woo said she felt "shaky," but other than that she was alright. Woo asked Jones if he was injured, and he demurred, finally sheepishly saying he was fine. After exchanging insurance information both parties went about their separate ways.

Woo was an obstetrics nurse. After leaving the scene of the accident she drove straight to work. She worked a 12 hour shift that day. During the day she began to feel numbness in her shoulders, and pain and discomfort in her neck.

Woo thought she might have a whiplash neck injury, so she took the next day off to see an orthopedic surgeon she knew from the hospital. He examined her and had cervical spine X-rays taken as well as an MRI. The X-rays revealed a mild curvature of the spine. The doctor explained the curvature was a result of a pre-existing condition called Scoliosis, but it could have been aggravated by the impact of the collision.

The MRI also revealed disk herniation. Neither the X-rays nor MRI revealed any fractures or subluxation.

The doctor advised Woo she had suffered a whiplash neck injury. He advised her to seek physical therapy in an effort to move the herniated disk back into place, and to relieve some of the pain and discomfort she contended still remained in her neck and shoulder area.

Woo received chiropractic treatment in the form of weekly electrical stimulation. She also received daily massages. Her combined treatment lasted 4 weeks at which time her disk herniation had been fully resolved.

The Lawsuit & Hearing...

Woo filed suit against Jones alleging she sustained serious bodily injuries. Woo claimed her injuries resulted in a serious and permanent curvature of her spine. She also claimed her whiplash neck injury caused her severe pain and discomfort which could incapacitate her indefinitely.

Jones responded by asking the Court to postpone the trial so he could have Woo examined by two separate orthopedic surgeons. The Court agreed and Woo was ordered to submit to the examinations.

After Jones reviewed the results of the examinations, he filed a Motion for Summary Judgment against Woo.

A Motion for Summary Judgment is a legal document filed by the Defendant asking the Court to dismiss the Plaintiff's case before the case goes to trial.

In the Motion, the Defendant attempts to convince the Judge the lawsuit filed by the Plaintiff is not supported by "material facts or law" sufficient to bring the case to trial. Without material facts or law to support the Plaintiff's case, there are no issues to be tried. Without any issues, having a trial would be a waste of the time and expense a trial requires.

In his Motion, Jones argued Woo's injuries were not serious. To support his position Jones entered into evidence two separate Verified Medical Affidavits, each from the orthopedic surgeons who recently examined Woo.

The first Affidavit stated Woo was found to have a pre-existing injury called Scoliosis. The surgeon explained the scoliosis was a degenerative disease whose onset was probably 3 - 4 years prior to the date of the collision.

The same examination revealed no apparent disk herniation and that if there was any disk herniation, it had been fully resolved. Although the patient Woo continued to complain of the symptoms of a whiplash neck injury, he could not find any evidence to support the patient's claim.

The second Affidavit confirmed the diagnosis of Scoliosis, adding the degenerative disease was hereditary. The Affidavit went on to say any disk herniation had been fully resolved and that although the patient complained of lightheadedness, and numbness in her neck and shoulder area, such symptoms could not be readily supported by medical evidence.

In her Response to the Motion Woo argued her injuries were serious and that the Scoliosis from which she suffered was aggravated by the collision. She entered into evidence a Verified Medical Affidavit from her orthopedic surgeon. In it was a description of her disk herniation and diagnosis of Scoliosis.

Woo took the witness stand and testified she still suffered from serious back and neck pain. She said she was unable to work longer than about three hours a day because her neck and shoulder area caused her acute and lasting pain and discomfort.

Outcome...

After both sides rested and closed the Court took the matter under advisement. Three days later each side received a copy of the Court's decision. It read in part:

"Although there is clear and convincing evidence Woo suffered a whiplash neck injury as a result of the collision caused by Jones' negligence, the Plaintiff failed to prove the injuries to her spine were caused by the Defendant. Although the Court recognizes such a collision probably aggravated the Plaintiff's Scoliosis, the Court cannot confirm nor deny the degree of the injuries which were caused by Jones.

Absent testimony from the Plaintiff defining the degree and severity, the Court is unable to rely solely on the Plaintiff's testimony in determining the seriousness of the Plaintiff's injuries.

Both of the Defendant's Verified Medical Affidavits confirmed the Plaintiff's disk herniation had fully resolved. Although the Plaintiff testified she continued to suffer acute pain and discomfort, she was unable to introduce any recognizable medical evidence to that effect.

Absent the requisite evidence to support a finding of serious bodily injury the Court has no option but to sustain the lower Court's decision. Therefore the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted and the Plaintiff's whiplash neck injury case is dismissed with prejudice."

Important Points...

  • When pre-existing injuries or disease are aggravated as a result of a vehicular collision, and the Plaintiff submits the pain and discomfort from the aggravation as the main or sole basis of a claim of serious bodily injury, that claim will be suspect and subject to a challenge by the Defendant.

    Absent defining, credible medical testimony setting apart the degree and nature of the aggravation of the injuries, a Plaintiff's claim of serious bodily injury will seldom be successful.

  • Whiplash injuries, although previously seen by many as unsubstantiated and sometimes contrived, are very real injuries. Whiplash injuries are inclusive, and may take into account injuries to several regions of the neck, shoulder, and spine areas.

    A complaint of a whiplash neck injury should be taken seriously, and treatment should be on a level comparable to other serious bodily injuries.


*This case example is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.

Print Friendly and PDF

How Much Is Your Case Worth?

Find out now with a FREE case review...

> > > Case Study: Rear-end Collision