A case of aggravation
On August 3, 2015, while stopped in traffic on I-10 in East Baton Rouge Parish, Dunwoodie McDuffie’s Ford F-150 was rear-ended by a Nissan Xterra SUV driven by Jacob Mullins and insured by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. On July 15, 2016, McDuffie and his wife, Cheryl McDuffie, filed suit against Mullins and State Farm for injuries that McDuffie allegedly sustained in the accident.
The McDuffies alleged that the sole and proximate cause of the accident was the negligence of Mullins. They also alleged that McDuffie sustained injuries in the accident “to his shoulders, neck and back causing him pain,” and “interference with his normal activities, in addition to medical expenses, lost wages and general damages in excess of $50,000.” They further alleged that as a result of the injuries to her husband, Cheryl suffered “a loss of companionship and consortium.”
At a judge trial, McDuffie asserted that, although he had preexisting injuries to his right shoulder, as a result of this accident he sustained a tear to his right rotator cuff involving the supraspinatus tendon, which was an acute new injury. In response, Mullins maintained that this was a slow-speed, low-impact collision in which McDuffie either suffered no injuries or in which he merely aggravated a preexisting injury to his right shoulder with treatment for that injury over a two-month period.
On April 8, 2019, the court ruled in favor of McDuffie and awarded him $210 in special damages and $5,000 in general damages, plus court costs and interest. Because Cheryl McDuffie failed to appear at trial to pursue her claim, the court dismissed her loss of consortium claim.
The judge indicated that “[l]iability was not disputed” and that the “evidence and testimony at trial indicated a relatively minor low-impact accident.” The judge further found that as a result of the accident, Dunwoodie sustained an “aggravation of a preexisting condition which increased [his] pain and discomfort for a limited period of time.” McDuffie appealed.
On appeal, McDuffie argued that the trial court had erred in finding that his injury was an aggravation of a preexisting condition. The appellate court found that the lower court had not erred as it had considered McDuffie’s own testimony regarding a 2015 slip and fall at a restaurant and the deposition testimony and evidence of his history of injury and shoulder treatments going back to 2010.
McDuffie also questioned the adequacy of the damages the trial court awarded him. The appellate court held that the award was reasonable given the finding that the accident aggravated a preexisting condition.
McDuffie v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company—Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit—December 30, 2019—No. 19-CA-344.