Jury Awards Woman For Post-Collision Soft-Tissue Injuries
Morgan v. Houston $50,000 Verdict
Comment: On June 7, 2012, plaintiff Nichele Morgan, 23, a pharmacy technician, was driving on Calumet Street near Ridge Avenue, in Northwest Philadelphia, when the front driver’s side of her Honda Accord was struck by the front of a 1998 Ford Econoline van. The van was driven by John Houston, who was exiting a parking lot and attempting to turn left onto the road. Morgan claimed she suffered multiple injuries to her lumbar spine, resulting in a serious impairment of a bodily function.
Morgan sued Houston, alleging that he was negligent in the operation of a vehicle by attempting an illegal turn. Court-mandated arbitration found in Houston’s favor, and Morgan appealed. The case went to trial on issues of causation and damages, as the defendant stipulated to negligence. Morgan presented to an emergency room, where she was examined and diagnosed with strains and sprains to her thoracic and lumbar spine. She presented to a medical center with complaints of pain at the left side of her lower back, her shoulder, and her front torso. She was put on a course of physical therapy that did not begin until August 2012, due to scheduling conflicts. She treated consistently (except for the month of September, in which she did not treat) through November. Treatment included active and passive modalities, electrical stimulation, massage therapy, traction, exercise and spinal manipulation. Morgan also presented to a neurologist, who sent her for MRI and EMG studies of her cervical and lumbar spine.
The cervical MRI was negative, while the lumbar MRI revealed lumbarization of the S1 vertebral body with a disc bulge at L5-S1. The EMG reportedly demonstrated bilateral L5-S1 radiculopathy. No further treatment was administered. Morgan’s counsel cited records of her neurologist and expert in family medicine to attribute her injuries—sprains and strains to her cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine; a chest contusion; and bilateral L5-S1 radiculopathy—to the accident, and argued that she suffered a serious impairment of a bodily function. (The case was tried pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1311.1.) Morgan testified that her lower back pain continues and affects her ability to work comfortably, and that the pain gives her difficulty doing chores. She sought unspecified damages for past and future pain and suffering. In her report, the defense’s neuroradiology expert concluded that the MRIs contained no findings to suggest recent injury.
Houston’s counsel further questioned the severity of Morgan’s alleged condition, since she did not treat at all in September 2012, and admitted that she traveled to Las Vegas for a weekend in September, and abroad to Europe in 2014. The plaintiff demanded $25,000, and the defendant offered $1,000. After a two-day trial, the jury found that Houston’s negligence was a factual cause of a serious impairment to a bodily function of Morgan. The jury determined that Morgan would receive $50,000, which was accordingly reduced to $25,000, pursuant to Rule 1311.1. — This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication.