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Michigan Verdicts

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Crash produced insufficient force for injuries: defense

Amount:

$1,925,000

Type:

Mediated Settlement

State:

Michigan

Venue:

Macomb County

Court:

Macomb County, Circuit Court

Injury Type(s):

back-lower back; back-fusion, lumbar; back-herniated disc (herniated disc at L5-S1), lumbar (herniated disc at L5-S1); back-degenerative disc condition, exacerbation of; neck-herniated disc (herniated disc at C3-4), cervical (herniated disc at C3-4); neck-herniated disc (herniated disc at C4-5), cervical (herniated disc at C4-5); neck-fusion, cervical; neck-degenerative disc condition, exacerbation of; other-physical therapy; other-epidural injections; other-decreased range of motion; other-aggravation of pre-existing condition

Case Type:

Motor Vehicle - Truck, Rear-ender, No-Fault Case; Insurance - Third-party Benefits; Motor Vehicle - Multiple Vehicle

Case Name:

Richard Bolotta v. Rizzo Environmental Services Inc. and Michael Duane Pritchet, No. 12-002892-NI

Date:

December 6, 2016

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Richard Bolotta (Male, 50s)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Jeffrey H. Feldman; Michigan Auto Law; Farmington Hills, MI, for Richard Bolotta ■ Leonard M. Koltonow; Michigan Auto Law; Farmington Hills, MI, for Richard Bolotta

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Henry Tong; M.D.; Pain Management; Royal Oak, MI called by: Jeffrey H. Feldman, Leonard M. Koltonow ■ Michael Paley; M.D.; Neuroradiology; Southfield, MI called by: Jeffrey H. Feldman, Leonard M. Koltonow ■ Timothy Robbins; Accident Investigation & Reconstruction/ Failure Analysis/Product Liability; Bay City, MI called by: Jeffrey H. Feldman, Leonard M. Koltonow ■ Fernando Diaz; M.D., Ph.D.; Neurosurgery; Southfield, MI called by: Jeffrey H. Feldman, Leonard M. Koltonow

Defendant(s):

Michael Duane Pritchet, 

Rizzo Environmental Services Inc.

Defense Attorney(s):

Thomas G. Cardelli; Cardelli Lanfear, P.C.; Royal Oak, MI, for Rizzo Environmental Services Inc. ■ Michael Duane Pritchet; Pro Se; for Michael Duane Pritchet

Defendant Expert(s):

Jeffrey Wilseck; Radiology; Royal Oak, MI called by: Thomas G. Cardelli ■ Phillip Friedman; Neurosurgery; Bingham Farms, MI called by: Thomas G. Cardelli ■ Jennifer Yaek; Traffic Accident Analysis; Farmington Hills, MI called by: Thomas G. Cardelli

Insurer(s):

National Interstate Insurance Co. for Rizzo Environmental Services

Facts:

In June 2015, plaintiff Richard Bolotta, 50s, a machine repairman, was operating a Ford F-150 pickup truck northbound on Mound Road in Warren. He stopped for a red light at the intersection with East 13 Mile Road and was rear-ended by a garbage truck driven by Michael Duane Pritchet. Bolotta claimed back and neck injuries, as well as an aggravation of a pre-existing degenerative conditions, as a result of the impact. Bolotta sued Pritchet and the owner of the garbage truck Pritchet was driving, Rizzo Environmental Services Inc. He alleged that Pritchet was negligent in the operation of the garbage truck and that Rizzo Environmental Services Inc. was vicariously liable for Pritchet's actions. Bolotta alleged that Pritchet failed to keep a proper lookout. He argued that Pritchet was not paying attention to traffic and was responsible for the accident. The plaintiff's expert in accident reconstruction opined that the force experienced by the Bolotta pickup truck at impact had a "barrier equivalent" speed of 9 mph, as if the pickup truck were backed into a stationary concrete barrier at 9 mph. According to the accident report filed by police, the driver of the garbage truck told responding offices that his brakes "faded out" and, thus, he could not stop in time to avoid the collision. However; Bolotta's counsel claimed an accident investigation performed by Rizzo Environmental determined that the brakes had been working properly at the time of the accident. Pritchet was later terminated by his employer. Rizzo Environmental Services conceded that its garbage truck driver was negligent, but disputed the lawsuit on the issues of causation, injuries and damages. The defense's accident reconstruction expert opined that the "closing speed" of the garbage truck was 10-13 mph. (Bolotta's attorney indicated that, although the defense expert testified to a higher rate of speed, the metrics of the two speeds presented by the experts, i.e., "barrier equivalent" versus "closing speed," are not comparable.)

Injury:

After the accident, Bolotta drove himself to the emergency room at Beaumont Hospital in Troy. He complained of neck pain. He underwent minor treatment, was prescribed medication and was discharged that day. Bolotta ultimately claimed he suffered herniations of the C3-4 and C4-5 discs in his cervical spine, a herniation of the L5-S1 intervertebral disc in his back and an exacerbation of degenerative disc disease, which predated the accident. Further, he allegedly suffered from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sleep problems. After consulting with an orthopedic surgeon and neurosurgeon following the underlying accident, two surgeries were recommended. On Sept. 1, 2015, Bolotta underwent a multi-level cervical fusion of the C3-4 and C4-5 discs. On Feb. 2, 2016, he underwent a lumbar fusion of the L5-S1 disc. He underwent physical therapy and pain management treatments after each surgery, as well as a number of epidural injections to his lumbar spine post-surgery. Bolotta had previously undergone two spinal surgeries due to injuries he suffered at work. In the late 1990s, he underwent a partial laminectomy of the L5-S1 intervertebral disc, followed by a cervical fusion at the C5-6 and C6-7 levels in 2001. In January 2014, he suffered a ruptured disc in his lower back, which was treated with a series of epidural injections and pain management treatment. Bolotta argued that the work-related injuries had superimposed on the pre-existing degenerative disc disease and that the subject accident aggravated each underlying condition. Evidence entered during discovery included Bolotta's past medical history, MRI and X-ray imaging studies, and prior treatment. Bolotta's treating neurosurgeon and radiologist agreed that, based on a comparison of pre- and post-accident MRI imaging studies, Bolotta suffered new injuries as a result of the accident, in addition to aggravation of the pre-existing degenerative disc disease. Bolotta claimed he is permanently disabled by his injuries. He also claimed he could not return to his job as a machine repairman after the accident. Bolotta sough recovery of past lost earnings and damages for past and future pain and suffering. The defense denied the accident caused any new injuries and asserted that all of Bolotta's claimed injuries and treatment were related to pre-existing conditions of his back and neck. The defense contended that Bolotta underwent a prior cervical fusion in 2002 of the C5-6 and C6-7 discs and that he suffered degeneration in his neck as a result of the prior accident and surgery. Also, the defense contended that, due to Bolotta's age and the physical demands of his job, his work-life expectancy would have been limited regardless of the accident. The defense's radiology expert disputed that the accident caused any traumatic injuries of Bolotta's back and neck and found that a comparison of the his pre- and post-accident MRI imaging studies showed degenerative changes that were the result of natural causes. The defense's neurosurgery expert examined Bolotta in August 2016 and determined that Bolotta was disabled. However, the expert did not causally relate the disability to the collision. The defense's expert in accident reconstruction opined that the closing speed was insufficient to have caused any significant injury. The expert's findings were disputed by the plaintiff's expert in accident reconstruction, who opined that the barrier equivalent speed was sufficient to have caused significant spinal injuries.

Result:

The parties agreed to a $1,925,000 settlement. The settlement was facilitated by former Chief Judge James Rashid at Judicial Resource Services P.C.'s Farmington Hills office.

Trial Information:

Judge:

James J. Rashid

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter's phone calls.