This case arose from a motor vehicle accident along I-85 on 9-19-2011 in which Defendant rear-ended the vehicle operated by Plaintiff Aminah Singletary. Following the accident, Plaintiff’s husband took her to the emergency room.
Plaintiff was a 49-year-old unemployed/disabled, married female. She a long and significant medical history prior to the 9-19-2011 MVA that included a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2005, migraine headaches, neuropathic pain in both lower extremities, fracture in right ankle, back and neck pain, bilateral shoulder pain, and two fusions in her cervical spine.
Defendant’s auto liability carrier paid its policy limits of $30,000 to Plaintiff prior to trial. Plaintiff’s UIM carrier tried the case.
On 8-10-10, Plaintiff saw her neurologist and reported she had been having difficulties with pain in her neck. Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident on 9-3-2010. She slammed on the brakes but ended up rear ending another car. On 4-26-11, Plaintiff saw her neurologist’s nurse practitioner and complained of increased pain, numbness and heaviness in her right leg.
The overwhelming majority of the medical expenses (approximately $149,000 of the total of the $183,000+ in alleged expenses) were incurred through Plaintiff’s treatment with neurosurgeon in Hendersonville, NC. At trial, Plaintiff only submitted the medical bills associated with the treatment provided by the neurosurgeon; she did not submit the emergency room bills.
Plaintiff’s neurosurgeon testified live and opined that the accident aggravated pre-existing conditions and necessitated two surgeries. The UIM carrier argued that the surgeries were both unnecessary and unrelated to the accident.
The treatment with the neurosurgeon began on 7-26-2012 and included two surgeries. On 9-5-12, he performed a subocciptital craniecotmy to address a chiari malformation. On 6-5-13, the neurosurgeon performed a C2 and C7 undercutting laminostomy and C3-C6 cervical laminectomy for cervical stenosis.
The NC State Medical Board had suspended the neurosurgeon’s license on two occasions: 11-13-2002 (temporary licenses retained beginning on 7-1-2004) and 2-1-2009. At the time of the surgeries, the NC Medical Board had conditions placed on his medical license (independent examinations by a neurologist before performing certain surgeries).
The UIM carrier arranged for Plaintiff to undergo an independent medical examination with a local neurologist on 11-12-13. The local neurologist testified by deposition. The IME physician opined that Plaintiff’s “post accident complaints of pain are likely the result of her underlying disease and not the accident.” The IME physician also opined that “it is possible that the patient's neck pain was exacerbated after the accident as a result of the trauma interacting with her multiple previous cervical fusions. The right ankle fracture . . . was clearly chronic . . . All of her other symptoms have been present since long before the accident and are likely due to other causes.” Finally, the neurologist testified that the surgeries of 9-5-2012 and 6-5-2013 were unnecessary and not related to the accident.
During closing arguments, Plaintiff’s attorney asked for medical expenses of $140,000. He also suggested a per diem for pain and suffering ranging from $100 per day for 800 days to $1,000 per day for 800 days. The UIM carrier’s attorney argued that the surgeries were unnecessary and not related to the subject accident. He also argued that Plaintiff’s neurosurgeon acknowledged that he did not have Plaintiff’s complete medical history, something he admitted was necessary when giving causation opinions.
The jury deliberated for 2 hours, 45 minutes before returning the defense verdict.
Defense Attorney: Allen C. Smith, Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo, LLP, Charlotte, NC