Pennsylvania Superior Court Affirms Award of $85,000 to Driver Injured In Intersection
Pennsylvania created the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL) to limit personal injury litigation and reduce costs for the insurers and the insured. The insured pays a smaller premium but is limited to the amount of damages he or she may receive if injured in a car accident. The MVFRL states that the insured cannot pursue an action for non-economic loss in the absence of a serious injury. In Brown v. Trinidad, the Superior Court reviewed a verdict in favor of the insured, who was bound by the limited tort provision in his insurance policy.
In this case, the injured driver was making his way in his car across an intersection when the light turned yellow. At the same time, the at-fault driver turned left from the “left-turn only” lane and hit the front of the injured driver’s vehicle. During trial, the injured driver presented testimony from his medical expert, who opined that the L5-S1 disc herniation was a result of the motor vehicle accident. That at-fault driver’s medical expert testified that he believed the disc to be a condition existing prior to the accident. The insured’s witness further stated that he believed the insured suffered serious, significant, and permanent injury and will require intensive treatment in the future, including injections and surgery.
The jury found for the injured man and awarded him over $85,000. The at-fault driver appealed, arguing that the award was made against the weight of the evidence. The defendant’s main contention was that the injured man failed to show he suffered a serious injury. The MVFRL defines serious injury as “a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.” The Superior Court reviewed Commonwealth case precedent, which established questions to consider in this assessment: “What body function, if any, was impaired because of the injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident?” and “What was the extent of the impairment, length of time the condition lasted, and the treatment necessary to correct the impairment?” The precedents do not require the impairment to be permanent to be serious.
The Superior Court also looked at the fact-finders’ ability to accept or reject the credibility of the expert witnesses testifying before them. In this case, the injured man’s doctor testified that he suffered from a herniated disc, and that this disc would require ongoing medical treatment, including MRIs, consultations with a pain management specialist, injection therapy, and potentially surgery. The injured man testified that he did not feel pain immediately, but that he continued to suffer from pain, as well as numbness and tingling in his lower back. The injured man stated that he was more susceptible to work injuries and was unable to play sports or enjoy activities with his daughter in the same way as before his accident. The jury accepted this testimony over the doctor testifying for the defense, who opined the condition existed prior to the accident. The Superior Court upheld the jury’s award, finding for the injured driver.
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