This is a review of a whiplash lawsuit in which the defendant argued that the plaintiff’s injuries were not serious enough to warrant a jury trial. The plaintiff in this case was a motorcyclist who was struck by another driver and thrown off his motorcycle.
The accident resulted in injuries to the plaintiff’s arm and shoulder, and the plaintiff retained a personal injury attorney to file a lawsuit. Attorneys for the defendant responded by filing a Motion for Summary Judgment asking the court to dismiss the case.
Statement of Facts…
On February 21st, 2011, Karl Stinson was on his Harley Davidson motorcycle. He spent the afternoon with other cyclists delivering toys to the local Children’s Hospital. There was a procession of about 30 motorcycles, all heading west on State Highway 78. They were in tandem, riding two abreast.
Stinson was approaching the intersection. The light was green in his favor. As he began passing through the intersection, Angela Mura who had been waiting at the same intersection in the eastbound lane, began turning left.
As she did, the front right quarter panel of her pickup truck struck the rear wheel of Stinson’s Harley Davidson. As the collision occurred, Stinson was thrown from his bike. He landed on the right shoulder of the westbound lane.
Stinson was transported to the local hospital where he was treated for neck and shoulder injuries. He underwent an MRI examination and X-rays were taken of the regions Stinson indicated were causing him acute pain and discomfort. The results were read by the on-call Radiologist and indicated Stinson suffered a fracture to his left clavicle and a tear to his left bicep. He also suffered from a concussion.
Stinson’s motorcycle was totaled. The front right quarter panel and hood of Mura’s pickup truck were damaged as well. Mura didn’t sustain any personal injuries.
The Lawsuit & Hearing…
Stinson filed a whiplash lawsuit against Mura alleging Stinson sustained “serious bodily injuries” as defined by the state’s no-fault insurance law.
Because the state in which the collision occurred was a no-fault insurance state, unless the Plaintiff is able to prove his injuries rose to the level of “serious bodily injury” a lawsuit could not be sustained and must be dismissed as a matter of law.
In a no-fault insurance state when a vehicular collision occurs, each party must go to their own insurance company to recover compensation for their medical bills and some out of pocket expenses. No fault states do not allow compensation for pain and suffering.
No-fault states prohibit one party from suing another, unless the party suing is able to prove his injuries rise to a level which constituted “serious bodily injury”.
If the Plaintiff in a suit can make that connection he doesn’t have to go to his own insurance company. He can sue the party who he believes is responsible for causing the collision and his resultant injuries. In serious bodily injury cases, including whiplash lawsuits, a Plaintiff can sue a Defendant for his pain and suffering, which can lead to substantial amounts in awards.
The state in which this case would be tried specifically defined “serious bodily injury” as:
“…injury causing death, dismemberment, disfigurement, permanent loss of use of a body part, or medically determined impairment which prevents a victim from performing his normal activities for 90 days or more.”
Stinson’s lawsuit alleged he did meet these criteria for serious bodily injury. Mura’s attorneys responded to Stinson’s lawsuit by filing a Motion Summary Judgment contesting the severity of Stinson’s injuries.
The court scheduled a date for the hearing on the Motion, and both sides prepared their arguments.
At the hearing on Mura’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Stinson offered into evidence the Sworn Medical Affidavits of two physicians. The first was the Radiologist who examined his X-rays and MRI results at the hospital. The second Sworn Affidavit was from a local Orthopedic Surgeon with whom Stinson had consulted 2 weeks after his injuries.
The Radiologist’s medical narrative indicated:
“The patient presented with complaints of acute pain to the area radiating at the left clavicle, and a tear to his left bicep. Patient also presented with bruising to his forehead. The X-rays indicated patient suffered a fracture to his left clavicle, a tear to his left bicep and a concussion.”
The Orthopedic Surgeon had examined Stinson 4 weeks after the collision. His narrative stated:
“Patient’s left clavicle fracture seems to be resolved. Although the damage to his left bicep remains, the injury seems to be resolving. Patient was told to refrain from heavy lifting for another 4 weeks. Patient’s complaints of dizziness have resolved.”
Under the Rules of Evidence, Mura was granted permission to have Stinson examined by two physicians of his choice.
Mura entered into evidence their respective Medical Affidavits. The first Orthopedic Surgeon saw Stinson 6 weeks after the collision. His testimony stated in part:
“Patient presented complaints of continued pain and discomfort to his left shoulder and left bicep. Upon examination the injuries seem to be resolved. Patient’s complaints appear unfounded.”
The second Orthopedic Surgeon saw Stinson 8 weeks after the collision. His Medical Affidavit stated in part:
“The patient presented with complaints of acute pain and discomfort radiating from the left clavicle. He stated he was unable to lift any objects of more than 3 or 4 pounds. Upon examination, evidence of such pain and discomfort seems exaggerated.”
Mura’s attorneys argued Stinson’s injuries were not serious bodily injuries, and didn’t persist for more than 90 days as required by the state’s no-fault insurance law.
After hearing the arguments of counsel and reviewing the evidence submitted by both parties, the Court found the evidence submitted by Stinson to be insufficient to cause his injuries to rise to the state law’s definition of Serious Bodily Injury.
As a result the Court ruled the Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of proof. The Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment was granted and the Plaintiff’s case dismissed with prejudice.
- Whiplash lawsuits are normally difficult to win. “Whiplash” is a medically subjective term describing symptoms of injuries, normally to the head and neck area. Relying on whiplash injuries alone is a tenuous attempt at surmounting the strict definition of a state’s Serious Bodily Injury statute.
- The use of a Motion for Summary Judgment in personal injury cases is commonplace. The Motion is extremely effective in states which have no-fault insurance laws coupled with State Serious Bodily Injury statues.
*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.
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