Case Summary: Whiplash Neck Injury Lawsuit

Follow the resolution of a whiplash neck injury lawsuit filed after a rear-end collision. See why medical evidence is vital to a successful whiplash claim.

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.

While most car accident injury claims are settled directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, sometimes negotiations fail. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

So long as the statute of limitations hasn’t expired, the injured person has the right to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver to seek compensation for their damages.

Here we review a whiplash neck injury lawsuit arising from a rear-end collision. The injured woman insisted she suffered whiplash and spinal injuries that left her in constant pain.

When the insurance company wouldn’t pay her demand, the woman filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for what she alleged were severe and possibly permanent injuries.

How the Accident Occurred

The accident occurred on a clear and dry weekday morning. Both vehicles were traveling north on a two-lane road in a residential section of town.

Barbara Woo was headed to work in her minivan and 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 didn’t notice Woo had stopped until it was too late.

With no time to react, Jones rear-ended Woo’s minivan. Both vehicles were damaged but drivable.

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, 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 said he was fine. After exchanging insurance information, both parties went their separate ways.

Whiplash and Neck Injuries

The impact of the collision forced Woo’s head and shoulders to snap back, but the headrest absorbed much of the shock. She was wearing her safety belts at the time of the accident.

Woo was an obstetrics nurse. After leaving the scene of the accident, she drove straight to work. Woo 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 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 pre-existing condition called Scoliosis, but the impact of the collision could have aggravated it.

The MRI also revealed disk herniation. Neither the X-rays nor MRI revealed any fractures or dislocation of the bones in her spine.

The doctor diagnosed Woo with a whiplash neck injury. He advised her to have physical therapy to move the herniated disk back into place, and to relieve some of the pain and discomfort she contended 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 four weeks, by which time her disk herniation had resolved.

The Lawsuit and Motion Hearing

Woo filed suit against Jones, alleging she sustained significant 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.

It helps to understand some legal terms used in insurance claims and lawsuits:

  • Plaintiff: The injured person who files the lawsuit. An attorney chosen by the injured person usually represents the Plaintiff.
  • Defendant: In car accident lawsuits, the Defendant is the driver accused of causing the accident. Most car accident defendants are represented by an attorney hired by their insurance company.
  • Motion: A legal document that asks the Court to do something. For example, a motion is filed to ask the Court to enter a Summary Judgment.
  • Summary Judgment: A summary judgment is a final decision on a case made by the Court for one party against the other party without waiting for a trial.
  • Affidavit: A sworn, written statement.

His auto insurance company provided Charles Jones’s defense attorney. Jones’s attorney filed a motion asking the Court to postpone the trial, so he could have Woo examined by two separate orthopedic surgeons selected by the defense.

The Court agreed, and Woo was ordered to submit to the medical examinations. Each of the doctors examined Woo and prepared a detailed report of their findings.

After Jones’s attorney reviewed the medical reports, he filed a Motion for Summary Judgment against Woo, asking the Court to dismiss the Plaintiff’s case before the case goes to trial. Jones’s attorney stated that the lawsuit filed by the Plaintiff was 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 time and expense.

In other words, the defense contended that Woo didn’t have enough proof of her injuries to justify her lawsuit.

The Motion for Summary Judgement

Through his attorney, Jones argued in the Motion that Woo’s injuries were not serious. To support his position Jones entered into evidence two sworn affidavits, each from the orthopedic surgeons who recently examined Woo.

First Medical Affidavit

The first orthopedic surgeon reported that in his examination, Woo was found to have a pre-existing condition called Scoliosis. The surgeon explained that Scoliosis was an abnormal curving of the spine that probably developed in childhood.

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.

Second Medical Affidavit

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, the medical evidence did not support such symptoms.

Plaintiff’s Response to the Motion for Summary Judgement

In her Response to the Motion, Woo argued her injuries were serious and that the collision aggravated the Scoliosis from which she suffered.

Woo entered into evidence an affidavit from the orthopedic surgeon she saw after the collision. Her doctor described her disk herniation and his diagnosis of Scoliosis. However, Woo’s doctor did not link her current complaints of pain to the rear-end collision.

Woo testified that she still suffered from severe 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.

The Court’s Ruling on the Case

After both sides argued their position, the Court took the matter under advisement, meaning the Judge would take some time to think it over.

Three days later, each side received a copy of the Court’s decision.

The Court’s decision 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 evidence 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 medical experts 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.

Without the necessary evidence to support a finding of serious bodily injury, the Court has no option but to find for the Defendant. Therefore, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is granted, and the Plaintiff’s whiplash neck injury case is dismissed with prejudice.”

In plain language, the Judge agreed that Woo did not have enough proof of her injuries to justify continuing with the lawsuit. Because the case was dismissed with prejudice, it means Woo would not be awarded any money and can’t bring her case back to Court.

Important Points About Injury Lawsuits

  • Consider talking to an experienced personal injury attorney before filing a lawsuit. Find out if you have enough evidence to support your case.
  • Insurance companies have a duty to defend their insured in a lawsuit. If you’re sued after a car accident, your insurer will usually hire an attorney to represent you in Court.
  • By the same token, if you file a lawsuit, expect the Defendant to show up with a lawyer who is paid for by their auto insurance company.
  • A pre-existing condition doesn’t have to undermine your car accident injury claim, but you must be prepared to prove how the collision impacted your condition.
  • Most injury claims can be settled without a lawsuit if you’re willing to negotiate with patience and persistence.

 

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Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>