Case Notes: Masterson vs. Siemens Industry, Inc., COA NPO 10/31/2014

An interesting read on the complexity of multiple issues and need to keep on your toes in a car accident case with issues involving causation, pre-existing, burdens, expert testimony, laying foundation for medical bills, vicarious liability, burdens, and more.

Masterson vs. Siemens Industry, Inc.
COA Not Published 10/31/2014; Affirming in part, reversing in part (Jefferson County, J. McDonald)

In this nonpublished decision by the Kentucky Court of Appeals, a multitude of issues were addressed within the context of a motor vehicle collision personal injury claim. We had a defense expert versus a treating physician,  introduction and proof of the medical bills, causation and pre-existing conditions, vicarious liability,  motion for a new trial and the application of an affirmative defense the sudden emergency doctrine.

This was a rear end collision, with the plaintiff contending that he had sustained a herniated disc. He treated with a  neurosurgeon who  who performed surgery with the plaintiff claiming over $200,000 in medical expenses. Plaintiff treating physician did testify at trial. The defense hired Dr. Martin Schiller as their expert  who testified at trial and was the only defense witness. The jury found  in favor of the defense and that the plaintiff’s injuries were pre-existing  (degenerative disc disease).

Although Dr. Schiller had testified that the medical treatment was a result of the accident,  the key issue was the lumbar disc herniation which had been successfully treated with surgery. The neurosurgeon for the plaintiff testified that his treatment was for degenerative disc disease which clearly preexisted the collision. With his conflicting evidence, the jury found in favor of the defendant and determined  the collision did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries.

First of all, a jury is not bound to accept as an absolute truth the testimony of a plaintiff or his doctors. Furthermore the plaintiff in a personal injury case bears the burden of proving his case. Since the jury did have information upon which to base it’s decision, the jury’s determination must stand.

However some interesting twists came in the form of expert testimony. The plaintiff contended that the defense expert changed his opinions on causation as contained in the expert disclosures and the discovery deposition.  the plaintiff contending the expert should not of been able to change his testimony and it should have been excluded.  The Court of Appeals took issue with that point and concluded Dr. Schiller did not change his testimony. Since the jury heard from the plaintiff, plaintiff’ research, and Dr. Schiller, it was allowed to decide for itself the issue of causation which can be based on expert testimony as well as lay testimony.

The next issue related to the admissibility of medical expenses. The plaintiff argued that Kentucky permits the introduction of medical expenses through the plaintiff, and that once the medical bills were admitted into evidence, the no-fault act requires the defendant to rebut the presumption that the bills were reasonable in amount and necessary. The Court of Appeals  put a damper on this one and noted that it was the plaintiffs a burden to show that the medical bills were valid and directly caused by the accident.

Plaintiff’s contention that the medical bills of over $200,000 were not in dispute by the defense expert, was countered by the fact that neither the neurosurgeon nor the examining physician disputed the amount of his medical bills, but rather the issue turned on whether the claims were exaggerated by the plaintiff.   in this case the jury simply believe the bills were not valid, and the court found no error.

In ruling on the new trial motion, the trial judge limited to pain-and-suffering for a particular period of time.   In a really not seen too often and which was not disputed by the appellate court, it was noted that the plaintiff did have a herniated disc and thus it was error to determine he had no pain and suffering. It was within the judge’s discretion to determine the length of time to be covered by that pain and suffering based on the evidence.

This decision also had a cross-appeal on the issue of vicarious liability against the defendant driver’s employer. The defendant one of these issues bifurcated, but they were not  But when it became apparent during the course of testimony that the defendant driver was not in the course of his employment, and motion for summary judgment was made by denied. The court did find that the trial judge made an error in applying the workers compensation standard for employment rather than the tort standard for vicarious liability.

With regard to the sudden emergency doctrine it was noted that “when the defendant is confronted with the condition he has had no reason to anticipate and has not brought on by his own fault, but which alters the duties he would otherwise have been bound to observe, then the effect of that circumstances upon these duties must be covered by the instructions.” Regenstreif v. Phelps, 142 S.W.3d 1, 4 (Ky. 2004). In the case at hand, the defendant driver’s assertion that there was a sudden downpour of rain making it difficult for him to see was a cause of his vision being impaired. The court noted the conditions of the road at his site given this assertion that there was a flood of rainwater across his windshield should be given to the jury as such could be considered a sudden emergency.

With that said, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision in part and reversed in part.

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