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Seeking UIM benefits, driver argued causation, damages
Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas
back-lower back; back-sprain, lumbar; back-strain, lumbar; back-bulging disc, lumbar; other-myofasciitis; other-massage therapy; other-physical therapy
Insurance - Coverage; Motor Vehicle - Rear-ender, Limited Tort, Multiple Vehicle, Underinsured Motorist
Richard Harris v. Government Employee Insurance Co., No. 150303600
November 16, 2016
Richard Harris (Male, 44 Years)
Michael K. Simon; Simon & Simon, PC; Philadelphia, PA, for Richard Harris
Government Employee Insurance Co.
Jennifer R. Oprysko; Law Offices of Sue Ann Eckell; Philadelphia, PA, for Government Employee Insurance Co.
self-insured for Government Employee Insurance Co.
On March 28, 2013, Richard Harris, 44, a driver, was rear-ended while stopped on 48th Street at its intersection with Chestnut Street, in West Philadelphia. He claimed back injuries that resulted in a serious impairment of a bodily function. Harris settled with the other driver, who had a $15,000 insurance policy limit. Harris sued his carrier, Government Employees Insurance Co., alleging an underinsured-motorist claim (he had a $30,000 policy limit). During court-mandated arbitration, a panel found in favor of the insurer, and Harris appealed. Government Employees Insurance Co. stipulated to negligence, and the case was tried on the issues of causation and damages.
Harris presented to an emergency room, where he was examined and released. On April 3, Harris, complaining of low-back pain, presented to a rehabilitation facility, where he treated with physical therapy (e.g., massage), through Oct. 21. He had an MRI and an EMG and was diagnosed with bulging at lumbar intervertebral discs L4-5 and L5-S1. He was also diagnosed with a lumbar strain and sprain and with myofasciitis. He further treated with a series of facet injections in December. No further treatment was administered. Harris' expert in family medicine causally related his injuries and treatment to the accident, and opined that he suffered a serious impairment of a body function. Harris' job after the accident consisted of driving individuals to medical appointments. He stated that when he applied for a better job with higher pay, he was unable to perform the job due to his inability to lift items. He testified about how he was unable to physically interact with his grandchildren and the emotional toll it took on him; how his parents, prior to their passing, depended on him to take them to appointments and perform housework, and that his brother had to fill in for him; and how he could no longer perform his tasks as a community block leader, which involved pulling weeds, checking in on seniors, carrying heavy recycle bins, and attending meetings. His wife supported his testimony in discussing his limitations. Harris sought to recover damages for past and future pain and suffering. Government Employees Insurance Co.'s expert in neurology, who examined Harris, determined that his bulging was degenerative and unrelated to the accident and that any injury he sustained was soft tissue in nature, which would have resolved in six to 12 months. The physician noted that Harris had pre-existing back problems and that he was in a subsequent vehicular crash in which he complained of back pain. Harris had a normal exam with no neurological deficits, the expert concluded. The expert further emphasized that Harris did not have radicular symptoms, his MRI was negative for herniations and protrusions, and his EMG was negative. Government Employees Insurance Co.'s counsel argued that Harris did not prove that he had sustained a serious impairment of a body function, particularly because of the minimal vehicle damage sustained in the accident.
The jury found that the other driver's negligence was a factual cause of injury to Harris, who was determined to have suffered a serious impairment of a bodily function. He was determined to receive $40,000. A credit of $15,000 (the tortfeasor's policy limit) was applied, and the verdict against Government Employees Insurance Co. was molded to $25,000.
Angelo J. Foglietta
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter's phone calls.