Luther v. Lander – Importance of Expert Witness Testimony

Anytime one is involved in a Florida car accident, it is imperative to seek immediate medical attention – even if you feel totally fine at first. carkeys1

The reason for this is two-fold:

  • Many car accident-related injuries are latent, which means they won’t show up right away.
  • In any subsequent litigation, the information gathered at that first medical visit can be essential in establishing both the cause and severity of your injuries.

It is also important because those doctors who provide you treatment will be able to provide you with important expert witness testimony that will help prove your case. However, when patients don’t seek treatment or when those doctors’ opinions do not support your assertions, it can hurt your case. This was underscored in the recent Alaska Supreme Court case of Luther v. Lander

According to court records, defendant was traversing an icy road in the winter of 2010 when she lost control of her vehicle while trying to make a right turn. She slid into plaintiff’s vehicle.

At the time of the auto accident, plaintiff reported no injuries. However, she did later report to the emergency room for head and neck pain. Within a few weeks, she started experiencing lower back pain that made it impossible to continue to her job as a flight attendant.

She attributed this pain to the traffic accident, and filed a negligence lawsuit against at-fault driver. However, in subsequent medical visits, doctors did not attribute her injuries to the car accident or sudden trauma, but rather to mild degenerative disc diseases and bursitis.

Her attendance at physical therapy was irregular.

Defendant conceded liability for the crash and extended an offer of settlement for $28,500, plus prejudgment interest, which plaintiff rejected.

The case went to trial in March 2014.

Plaintiff testified at trial that the accident rendered her unable to return to her flight attendant job, but she did not call any of her own doctors as medical witnesses. She relied solely on her own testimony of her medical treatment and medical records.

Plaintiff asked jurors to award her at least $7,000 in past medical damages. She also sought more than $50,000 in lost wages and benefits.

Defendant, meanwhile, did call one of plaintiff’s doctors to the stand, who testified he did not believe she suffered anything more serious than a muscle strain as a result of the accident and that he did not believe her persistent pain was the result of the crash.

Further, employment records show plaintiff had been on medical leave, furloughed and laid off during a significant potion of the years before the crash.

Ultimately, jurors awarded her just $800 for medical expenses, $1,700 for lost wages, $750 for non-economic losses and nothing for future pain and suffering. The court also awarded defendant attorney fees, on the grounds plaintiff had turned down a viable settlement offer.

Plaintiff appealed, but the state supreme court affirmed. The court did determine the lower court made a mistake in prohibiting evidence of medical treatment plaintiff received that was covered by the insurer. However, the court found that error was harmless.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Luther v. Lander, May 13, 2016, Alaska Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

GEICO v. Macedo – Insurer to Pay Attorney’s Fees After Florida Car Accident Verdict, May 9, 2016, Margate Car Accident Lawyer Blog