How low can you go?
On March 13, 2017, Gregory Jackson was a passenger in a Jefferson Parish Water Department work truck that was parked near an intersection. Matthew Drachenburg was driving his vehicle and sideswiped the parked truck in which Jackson was sitting. There was minimal if any damage to the vehicles involved in the accident.State Farm Fire and Casualty Company insured Drachenburg.
After the accident, on March 17, 2017, Jackson went to Westbank Physicians Rehabilitation and reported constant back pain. Dr. David Dunn examined Jackson, diagnosed him with a lumbar strain and spasm, and prescribed him ibuprofen, Flexeril®, and tramadol. Medical records indicate that Jackson continued to complain of back pain at visits to Westbank in April, May, July, August, and October 2017, and March, June, and November 2018.
On January 25, 2018, Jackson filed a petition alleging that the accident was proximately caused by Drachenburg’s negligence and seeking damages for his injuries, specifically the lower back injury diagnosed as a lumbar strain with muscle spasms. Jackson alleged that MRI testing showed herniations and/or bulging of discs at L5-S1, which were caused or aggravated by the alleged accident.
Before trial, the parties stipulated that the accident at issue was 100% the fault of Drachenburg. Thus the only issue before the court at trial was whether Jackson sustained any injuries as a result of the accident and, if so, the extent of those injuries.
With regard to his injuries, Jackson testified that he had back problems at the time of the accident and that on the night of the accident he began to suffer severe back pain. He testified that the accident aggravated his lower back problems and caused his pain to progress from moderate to severe. Jackson did not miss any work or lose any income as a result of his injury.
Dr. Dunn, who treated Jackson at Westbank Physicians Rehabilitation, testified that at his first visit after the accident, Jackson exhibited limited lumbar range of motion and tenderness on palpation in his lumbar midline. Dr. Dunn treated Jackson for consistent back pain from March 2017 to November 2018 and testified that he believed the accident exacerbated or aggravated Jackson’s previous back injury. In July 2017, Dr. Dunn ordered an MRI for Jackson, which showed that the posterior surface of L5-S1 was unchanged from a previous examination on December 10, 2014.
Before the March 2017 accident, Jackson was involved in automobile accidents on September 10, 2014, June 16, 2015, and April 5, 2016. In the 2014 accident, Jackson injured his back, shoulder, and left leg, with the back injury persisting over several months. In the 2015 accident, Jackson injured his hand and thumb when a tire blew out and his vehicle hit the wall of a bridge. In the 2016 accident, a car sideswiped the vehicle Jackson was riding in and broke the side mirror. It did not appear that Jackson received any treatment after this accident.
The court found that Jackson met his burden of showing that he was entitled to damages from Drachenburg and awarded Jackson $2,590.20 for medical expenses and $2,500 in general damages. Jackson appealed.
On appeal, Jackson asserted that the trial court’s award was abusively low because at the time of trial he had been treated for 20 months as a result of the aggravation of a lumbar disc herniation. Jackson sought special damages for medical expenses in the amount of $5,359.20 and general damages of $50,000.
State Farm asserted that the accident did not aggravate Jackson’s back injury because there was no change in his MRI that was taken after a previous accident. The insurer argued that the trial court’s award should be affirmed because under the standard of review, where there are two permissible views of the evidence, neither can be manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong. State Farm further argued that in awarding damages the trial court made a credibility determination that should not be disturbed.
The appellate court found sufficient evidence to support an award for the total amount Jackson sought for past medical expenses. The court amended the trial court’s award and awarded Jackson $5,359.20 in past medical expenses.
The court noted that Jackson’s MRI results after the March 2017 accident did not show any change in his condition from before the accident. There was minimal evidence that his personal life was affected by the injury. In addition, Jackson’s injury was not severe enough to cause him to miss any work. The court said it could not conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding $2,500 in general damages, so that award was affirmed.
Jackson v. Drachenburg and State Farm Fire and Casualty Company—Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth District—January 8, 2020—No. 19-CA-345.