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Passenger-wife sues driver-husband over injuries from crash – $250,000 Verdict

This personal injury action arose out of an automobile accident that occurred on July 26, 2007, in South Carolina. The plaintiff, Patricia Stewart, and the defendant (also her husband), William Stewart, were driving to a relative’s home to visit. Defendant was driving their vehicle and plaintiff was the front seat passenger. The accident occurred when defendant made an illegal left hand turn in front of oncoming traffic. Defendant admitted liability at trial.

As a result of the accident, plaintiff sustained a displaced, comminuted fracture of her right clavicle and fractures of her right 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th ribs. She received conservative treatment and those injuries largely healed by early November 2007. In January 2008, plaintiff reported back pain to her health care providers. She was subsequently diagnosed with compression fractures of her lumbar and thoracic spine at levels L2 and T6 in March 2008.

Plaintiff’s treating orthopedic surgeon, Jed Vanichkachorn MD, testified that all of the injuries were caused by the accident. He explained that pain from plaintiff’s rib and clavicle fractures and a minor stroke in November 2007 “masked” the developing compression fractures. He further testified that plaintiff’s compression fractures were stable and surgery was not indicated. He also testified that any back pain or discomfort that the plaintiff continued to experience two years after the accident was permanent. No claim for future medical care was made.

The defense hired William Fleming MD, a Richmond-based orthopedic surgeon, to perform a medical records review. Dr. Fleming testified at trial that the plaintiff’s compression fractures were not related to the accident. Dr. Fleming’s opinion was based, in part, on the lack of pain complaints for more than five months after the accident and the absence of any radiographic evidence that supported injury to the plaintiff’s spine as a result of the accident.

State Farm refused to offer more than $20,000 during settlement discussions. It cited the contested compression fractures and the belief that a jury would not return a substantial verdict for a spouse suing another spouse.

The case was tried over the course of one day in the Richmond Circuit Court. The jury deliberated for approximately 45 minutes before returning a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $250,000.

Type of action:
Personal injury – automobile accident
Injuries alleged: Displaced, comminuted right clavicle fracture, fractures of right ribs 3-9, compression fractures at T6 and L2, and chronic back pain
Name of case: Patricia Stewart v. William Stewart
Court: Richmond Circuit Court
Case No: CL 09-2491
Tried before: Jury
Name of judge: Theodore J. Markow
Special damages: Past medical expenses – $25,554.04
Verdict or settlement: Verdict
Amount: $250,000
Date: May 14, 2010
Demand: $160,000
Highest offer: $20,000
Plaintiff’s expert: Jed Vanichkachorn MD – orthopedic surgeon
Insurance carrier: State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company
Plaintiff’s attorney: Jason W. Konvicka, Richmond

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