INSURANCE-RELATED COURT CASES
Digested from case reports published online
Was knee surgery warranted?
On November 26, 2013, in Fayette County, Kentucky, Viviane Renot was stopped at a red light in her 2011 Mini Cooper. Carolyn Price was behind Renot in her 2011 Mazda CX-9 SUV. The pavement was wet and when Price attempted to stop, her vehicle began to slide. She contacted the rear of Renot’s vehicle. Renot has a very slight stature and sits close to the dashboard while driving to allow her to reach the pedals. When she was rear-ended, her right knee struck the dash or steering column. The impact caused slight damage to Renot’s vehicle and no discernible damage to Price’s vehicle. Before trial, the parties stipulated that Price was fully liable for the collision.
After reporting no injuries at the scene of the collision, Renot first sought medical treatment approximately six weeks later when she reported neck pain she attributed to sleeping in an unusual position. No mention was made of the collision. In early February 2014—nearly 10 weeks after the wreck—Renot reported right knee pain, noting she felt a pop and sharp pain while at a physical therapy session the previous day for her neck pain. Medical records reflected a fall down some stairs in the weeks leading up to the February appointment. Additional medical records revealed Renot had undergone a pre-collision right knee arthroscopy and injection on October 3, 2013, to treat pre-existing arthritis.
Over the following two years, Renot underwent numerous surgical procedures on her knees. In March 2014, she had a right knee arthrotomy with medial femoral condyle resurfacing. She developed an infection following that procedure and underwent a right knee incision and drainage procedure that required a lengthy hospital stay. In October 2014, Renot had a left knee arthroscopy, debridement, meniscectomy, and chondroplasty. In March 2015, a total unilateral right knee replacement was performed.
Due to her ongoing knee problems, Renot incurred significant medical expenses, missed a substantial amount of work, and was forced to retire early from her position as a teacher in the Fayette County Public Schools. She attributed all of the foregoing to the November 2013 collision. Her treating orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Veronica Vasicek, opined that the collision aggravated and exacerbated Renot’s pre-existing knee condition to the point where conservative treatment was no longer an option, and ascribed causation for the entirety of Renot’s subsequent medical treatment on the right knee to the collision.
Renot filed suit in May 2016 against Price and Secura as her UIM carrier, claiming that Price was uninsured or underinsured, and that she had sustained in excess of $250,000 in damages related to the collision. Renot settled her claims against Price. Her UIM claim proceeded to a jury trial that commenced on November 18, 2019.
At trial, Secura presented independent medical expert testimony from Dr. Stacie Grossfeld, a physician, that contradicted the conclusions of Dr. Vasicek that Renot’s post-collision surgeries were related to the accident. Dr. Grossfeld testified Renot suffered a contusion in the collision which would not necessitate the multiple surgeries which were subsequently performed. Rather, Dr. Grossfeld believed the advancement of Renot’s pre-existing osteoarthritis, and not an acute contusion, was the sole factor predicating the need for total knee replacement.
Secura also called biomechanical expert David Porta, Ph.D., to testify regarding his biomechanical and anatomical opinions relative to the mechanism of injury in the collision.
Before trial, the trial court partially granted Renot’s motion seeking to exclude Dr. Porta’s testimony on the grounds he was not a medical doctor and was not qualified to opine regarding medical causation of any of Renot’s injuries. The court determined, however, that Dr. Porta was qualified to offer expert testimony regarding forces, biomechanics, anatomy, and injury causation. In sum, Dr. Porta would be allowed to testify whether the injuries claimed by Renot were of the general type that could have been sustained in the collision but could not opine whether Renot’s specific injuries were actually caused by the wreck.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of Secura, finding that the collision had not been a substantial factor in Renot’s injuries, including aggravation, arousal, or exacerbation of any pre-existing condition. The trial court entered a judgment conforming with the jury’s verdict and assessing costs against Renot. Subsequent motions for a new trial, to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment and for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict were denied. After the court of appeals affirmed on Renot’s direct appeal, the court granted her motion for discretionary review.
On review, Renot contended that the trial court erroneously permitted Dr. Porta to testify about medical questions beyond his qualifications. Second, Renot argued the trial court erroneously prohibited her from introducing evidence of what she believed were party admissions by Secura. For her final two allegations, Renot challenged the trial court’s rulings related to juror selection and its failure to correct a juror’s statement made during voir dire. The Kentucky supreme court agreed with Renot on her first allegation of error and concluded that reversal and remand for a new trial was warranted.
Renot v. Secura Supreme Insurance Company—Supreme Court of Kentucky—June 15, 2023—No. 2021-SC-0281-DG.