Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Lower Court’s Refusal to Offer Certain Jury Instructions in Rear-End Car Accident Lawsuit

In a recent case from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the plaintiff appealed a jury verdict awarding $3,719.20 in her favor. The facts of the case are as follows. The plaintiff was sitting in the front seat of a vehicle driven by another woman when it was rear-ended by a car operated by the defendant. The plaintiff testified at trial that the vehicle was stopped at a red light at the time of the impact. The defendant testified that her vehicle was also stopped in traffic and that when the traffic started to move, she released the brake and collided with the car in front of her vehicle.

The police responded to the incident and generated a police report. An ambulance was also called but was ultimately unnecessary. The driver of the vehicle in which the plaintiff was riding transported the plaintiff to the hospital, stopping at the plaintiff’s residence to obtain her identification along the way. At trial, the plaintiff testified that she experienced neck and back pain immediately after the impact, which she reported during an examination at the hospital.

When offered pain medication in the emergency room, the plaintiff said she did not need it because she was already taking pain medication for a preexisting chronic back condition. The plaintiff had been treated for low back pain since she was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 12. She underwent a surgery to place a rod in her back, which later broke, requiring a second surgery. In that same year, the plaintiff was involved in a car collision, resulting in injuries to her neck. In 2008, the plaintiff also experienced a slip and fall accident, and a CT of her lumbar spine taken in 2009 showed a protrusion and disc bulge.

One month after the collision that was the subject of this action, the plaintiff was involved in another car crash, again involving a rear-end impact. The plaintiff underwent a thorough medical examination, and the physician ultimately concluded that she required surgery. The physician testified that her pain and injuries were caused by the accident that was the subject of this lawsuit, based primarily on the fact that the plaintiff began reporting pain around that same time.

In her appeal, the plaintiff asserted two arguments. First, she alleged that the lower court erred when it refused to instruct the jury on a specific presumption of causation, describing a presumption the jury must make that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the accident if the plaintiff can prove that he or she was in good health before the accident. Second, she contended that the jury verdict was ambiguous and that either an additur or a new trial was required. According to her, the verdict could be interpreted in conflicting ways because it was unclear whether the jury allocated fault between the two most recent car accidents.

Rejecting her first argument, the appellate court noted that the trial judge is not obligated to provide any specific instruction to the jury. It concluded that the court did not err in refusing to provide her requested instruction on causation, referencing the plaintiff’s lengthy medical history and preexisting condition and noting that the plaintiff failed to carry her burden of showing that there was a reasonable possibility that the accident caused her damages. Regarding the allegedly ambiguous jury award, the appellate court declined to consider the issue, finding it precluded from appellate review because the plaintiff failed to make a timely objection during trial.

At Dué Guidry Piedrahita Andrews, our car accident lawyers have assisted numerous accident victims throughout Louisiana, which means we know what you and your family are going through during this difficult time. An accident can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to gathering evidence, negotiating with insurance companies, and navigating the judicial system. We can stand by you through each step of the process and provide you with the dedicated and compassionate legal counsel that you deserve. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at (225) 929-7481 or contact us online to get started.

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