Published on:

Standard Jury Instruction …cont

Well established is the rule that a jury may reject any testimony, including testimony of experts, even if not contradicted. Here, the Standard Jury Instruction which was appropriately read to the jury provides that the jury may accept expert witness opinion testimony, reject it, or give it the weight it deserves, considering the knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education of the witness, the reasons given by the witness for the opinion expressed, and all the other evidence in the case. In other words, the jury was free to weigh and reject the testimony of the medical experts who opined that A’s injuries were caused, at least in part, by the automobile accident.

First, the court finds that the expert testimony conflicted with much of the lay testimony presented to the jury. In such cases, where expert testimony conflicts with lay testimony, the trial judge should defer to the jury to weigh the evidence.

Second, in addition to the medical experts, the jury heard testimony from several witnesses, including the plaintiffs, A and his wife. Evidence and testimony introduced at trial portrayed the accident as a mere fender-bender. The jury examined photographs depicting the damage to A’s vehicle, which was described by A as a crack or scrape on the back bumper. According to A, the total damage to his vehicle was estimated to be approximately $800, and at the time of trial or about 2 1/2 years after the accident, the damage to the bumper had not been repaired, and the vehicle was still being driven by A’s wife. Other testimony offered at trial demonstrated that A had an extensive medical history, which included a prior surgery, another automobile accident, and several significant medical diagnoses, and this was also testified to by A. A stated that he had undergone a prior cervical spinal fusion surgery in 1991, he had been in an automobile accident in 1998, in which he was ejected from the vehicle, and he had a back sprain shortly before the 2007 accident. In addition, medical records were introduced at trial revealing that A had visited a hospital in 2006, complaining of severe lower back pain, that A had visited the hospital less than a month before the 2007 accident, complaining of the same symptoms, and that he was taking the pain medication, Lortab, at the time of the 2007 accident. Through the testimony of the medical experts, the jury heard that A had a pre-existing degeneration of his cervical spine. On cross-examination, A revealed a number of other medical conditions affecting his overall health. A testified that he had been diagnosed with emphysema in the early 1970’s, and that he had been hospitalized four times in the year leading up to trial for breathing problems, clogged lungs, pneumonia, and cardiac surgery. Testimony introduced at trial also demonstrated inconsistencies in A’s story on material issues, placing his credibility into question. Regardless of A’s testimony regarding his extensive medical history and pre-existing medical conditions, and that he had not been employed since the 1970’s, he nonetheless testified that before the 2007 automobile accident he was able to work around the house, do carpentry work or mechanic work, and swim, run, and play with his grandkids; that after the 2007 accident, he was unable to engage in these activities. However, when A sought medical treatment following the 2007 accident, he failed to disclose to the treating physician that he had undergone a prior cervical spinal fusion surgery or that he had been involved in an earlier automobile accident. A disclosed the prior cervical spinal fusion surgery only upon inquiry by his neurosurgeon, who discovered indicia of an earlier surgery after reading the results of an MRI scan he had ordered of A’s spine. During trial, the jury observed A wearing a neck brace, but during the cross-examination of A’s neurosurgeon, the physician testified that there was no medical necessity for A to be wearing the neck brace. Thus, under the circumstances, the jury was entitled to judge A’s credibility, whether to accept or reject his testimony on all issues.

In sum, the court finds that the jury could conclude that A suffered no injury as a result of the 2007 accident; that by failing to recognize the jury’s prerogative to reject the expert testimony on causation, particularly in light of the lay testimony which conflicted with the expert testimony, the trial court erred in concluding that the manifest weight of the evidence was contrary to the jury verdict; that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the motion for new trial. Accordingly, the order is reversed and remanded for the for the trial court to enter judgment on the jury verdict.

Contact Information