For years, Louisiana plaintiffs attorneys have argued that the force of impact in an auto accident is not determinative of their clients’ injuries and should be afforded little, if any, weight. A recent decision out of the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal does damage to that argument. In Jones v. Bravata, Jr. and The City of Baton Rouge, 2018 CA 0837 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/9/19), the First Circuit upheld the trial court’s jury instruction on “force of impact” where photographs showed only minor damage and the defendant described the accident as a “bump.”
The accident occurred when a City employee rear-ended the plaintiffs’ vehicle. Liability was stipulated and the only question at trial was damages. Mrs. Jones alleged severe neck and back injuries. She began treatment with an orthopedist within a week of the accident and thereafter received five “relatively non-invasive surgical procedures” in lieu of a lumbar fusion surgery. The jury returned a verdict of $200,000, which included $150,000 in past medical expenses and $35,000 in future medical expenses, but awarded little for general damages. Mrs. Jones appealed the verdict, asserting that the trial court erred in instructing the jury on force of impact.
The “force of impact” jury instruction in dispute provided:
While the force of a collision may be considered in determining whether a person was injured by an accident and the extent of the injuries sustained, it should not be the only factor to consider in making such a determination. Even though the force of impact may be slight, it does not preclude an award of damages. However, in determining causation, you may consider the minimal nature of the accident.
In considering the plaintiff’s assignment of error, the First Circuit noted that Mrs. Jones was correct that no witness specifically testified that the accident was too minor to have caused her injuries. However, there was evidence in the record upon which the jury could have reached the conclusion that this was a minimal impact.
Common sense would appear to support a connection between the force of an impact and the injury one could be expected to suffer. The recent Jones decision allows defendants to promote this common sense argument. Where the claimed injuries are disproportionate to the forces involved, this argument can make the difference at trial.
John Grinton is a partner of the firm admitted in state, federal and appellate courts throughout Louisiana. His practice focuses on commercial and construction litigation, representing insurance companies, architects, engineers, contractors and other businesses in all aspects of litigation. His workers’ compensation practice includes representing clients in medical billing disputes, healthcare provider disputes, statutory/borrowing/special employer disputes, and court approved settlements. John has been involved in complex cases involving construction defect claims, breach of contract and negligence actions, insurance coverage issues, lender liability, securities litigation and personal injury matters. He has firsthand experience in jury trials and arbitration’s, as well as mediation, appellate briefing and oral argument.