Prevailing in an auto accident case means you have to prove more than negligence of the at-fault driver. It means you have to show the injuries you sustained – those for which you are seeking compensation – were the proximate result of that crash.
This can be especially challenging for individuals who suffered prior health problems or injuries that occurred subsequent to the accident.
Such claims will require extensive medical records, expert witness testimony and the aid of an experienced car accident lawyer.
In the recent case of Golnick v. Callender, defendant actually conceded to his own negligence in causing the crash. What was at issue, however, was whether that crash was the cause of plaintiff’s stated injuries.
Plaintiff, in his 70s, suffered some health issues prior to the crash, and also was injured in a second car accident that occurred after the one in question before the Nebraska Supreme Court.
According to court records, plaintiff filed lawsuit alleging he and defendant were traveling in opposite directions on the same road when defendant, who was texting at the time, veered into his lane of travel and struck plaintiff’s car.
In defendant’s first answer to the claim, he denied the crash occurred as plaintiff alleged. Defendant later amended his answer to say he admitted he was negligent and that this negligence was the proximate cause of the accident. He still denied he was texting at the time (he asserted he swerved to avoid suddenly stopped traffic in front of him), but otherwise conceded he was responsible for the crash. However, what he denied the extent and nature of plaintiff’s injuries.
Plaintiff objected to this amendment, as it pertained to defendant’s denial of being on his phone at the time of the crash. Trial court overruled the objection, saying the issue was whether plaintiff had proper control over his car – which he admitted he did not – not whether he was on his phone at the time. Meanwhile, defendant sought to admit into evidence pleadings plaintiff had made in an unrelated case, from an accident that happened two years after the case at hand. In both cases, he alleged the crash resulted in permanent injuries to his head, neck, shoulders and back.
The court’s ruling on this is not part of the state supreme court record, but we do know defense was allowed to mention plaintiff’s pre-existing back and eye problems. Plaintiff’s lawyer asserted these problems were not the same as the ones he began to suffer within a month of the first crash. Plaintiff’s injuries from the second crash were mentioned, but plaintiff was careful to state that crash only worsened his problems from the first crash.
Jurors ultimately entered a judgment in favor of defendant, which was affirmed by both the appeals court and the state supreme court.
Plaintiff argued to the state high court that trial court erred in not allowing him to argue as to the driver-cell phone issue. However, the court ruled the court did not act improperly. He also argued rejection of his proposed jury instructions was erroneous, but the state high court disagreed.
Ultimately, the problem here was a lack of proof regarding causation of injuries, complicated by pre-existing conditions and subsequent injuries.
This is certainly not to say plaintiffs in this situation should not pursue their claim. They can, in fact, be successful. But they likely will not get there without the help of an experienced auto accident attorney.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Golnick v. Callender, March 20, 2015, Nebraska Supreme Court
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Townsend v. Pierre – Liability of Property Owners for Obstructive Landscaping, March 31, 2015, Hollywood Car Accident Lawyer Blog