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The Crucial Role of Medical Experts In Charlotte NC Automobile Accident Litigation

Jan 29, 2018 Brown Moore Car Accidents

If you have been injured in an automobile accident in Charlotte or anywhere else in North Carolina, you are entitled to sue the careless driver of the other car to recover money damages for any and all injuries. Indeed, under North Carolina law, you have a right to be restored — as nearly as possible — to the position you would have been in but for the negligence of the careless driver. When a victim sues to recover money damages, the victim — the plaintiff in the lawsuit — must show the four legal elements of negligence:

  1. Duty
  2. Breach Of Duty
  3. Causation
  4. Injury/damage

In this article, we discuss the crucial role that medical experts play in proving the third and fourth elements.

Charlotte Auto Accident Attorneys — What Is Causation?

North Carolina courts have defined causation as

“a cause that produced the result in continuous sequence and without which it would not have occurred, and one from which any man of ordinary prudence could have foreseen that such a result was probable under all the facts as they existed.”

See Wall v. Stout, 310 N.C. 184 (N.C. Supreme Court 1984). In simple terms, think about knocking down dominoes. The first domino knocks down the second, the second knocks down the third, and so on. The key is understanding the sequence — something that comes before something else that is linked in time, physical connection, and logic.

Charlotte Auto Accident Attorneys — Need For Medical Experts In Proving Causation

Even with simple injuries, testimony from medical experts is almost always required to show causation. If the injuries are severe, complicated, or unusual, then testimony from medical experts will be essential. Further, if there is an argument or if the facts show the possibility of a preexisting condition that was aggravated by the accident, then, again, testimony from medical experts will be essential. The reason for this is that regular folk do not have the necessary medical knowledge to testify about medical facts. As the North Carolina Supreme Court said: “… where the exact nature and probable genesis of a particular type of injury involve complicated medical questions far removed from the ordinary experience and knowledge of laymen, only an expert can give competent opinion evidence as to the cause of the injury.” Click v. Pilot Freight Carriers, Inc., 300 N.C. 164 (1980).

Charlotte Auto Accident Attorneys — Medical Experts: Case Example

The case Shaver v. the US, 319 F. Supp. 2d 649 (US Dist. MD N. Car. 2004) provides an excellent reported decision showing how medical experts affect a trial. The case involved an automobile accident that took place in 2000. Because the case involved an Army recruiter from Fort Bragg, the case was tried in federal court. However, the federal court applied North Carolina law.

On April 4, 2000, the Army recruiter was driving in the City of Concord in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. The recruiter failed to stop at a red traffic light and his vehicle collided with a Nissan Sentra being driving by the victim, Lois Shaver. Although the impact was light, Shaver hit her knee on the steering column or some other hard surface in her car. About two hours after the accident, Shaver began to experience knee pain, and she went to the emergency room. The ER records showed that the doctors diagnosed Shaver with a knee contusion and chest wall strain. The x-rays are taken of Shaver’s chest and knees showed no fractures or disease and appeared normal. However, over the next few months, the condition of Shaver’s knee worsened to the point that, in August 2000, she underwent total knee replacement surgery. She was diagnosed by her treating physician — Dr. Beaver — with a very rare condition called osteonecrosis which is the death of bone cells caused by a loss of blood supply to the bone.

At trial, Shaver claimed that the osteonecrosis was caused by the collision on April 4, 2000. The Department of the Army argued that osteonecrosis was a preexisting condition that began at least two years prior to the accident.

In resolving the factual question, the court looked to the testimony of the medical experts. As part of the case, Shaver provided expert testimony from her treating physician — Dr. Beaver. Dr. Beaver was Shaver’s physician prior to the accident and, as noted, was the doctor who diagnosed Shaver’s osteonecrosis. At trial, Dr. Beaver testified that, based on his medical knowledge and experience, it was, in his opinion, more likely than not that the trauma from the automobile accident caused the osteonecrosis to develop in Shaver’s knee.

By contrast, the expert hired by the Department of the Army — Dr. Sue — testified that, in his opinion, the osteonecrosis probably existed prior to the accident, that various cortisone or steroid treatments Shaver had received between 1994 and 2000 probably aggravated the osteonecrosis and that the accident had no effect on this pre-existing knee condition.

When medical opinions conflict, the jury or judge must come to some conclusion about which medical opinion is more credible. In Shaver’s case, the court came down on the side of Dr. Beaver and held more probably than not that the accident caused the osteonecrosis. In doing, the court cited this evidence:

  • Beaver presented opinions that a microfracture in the bone can lead to osteonecrosis
  • Several authoritative medical treatises were presented as evidence during the trial supporting this microfracture theory of osteonecrosis
  • Sue did not agree that a microfracture caused Shaver’s osteonecrosis, but Dr. Sue did not reject the microfracture theory
  • Both agreed that Shaver suffered some trauma to her right knee during the accident
  • Both agreed that the sudden onset of pain and tenderness over a joint that grows worse over time is consistent with the development and progression of osteonecrosis
  • Both agreed that Shaver had not experienced knee pain in the two years prior to the accident
  • Beaver was Shaver’s treating physician; Dr. Sue conceded on cross-examination that a person’s treating physician is in the best position to give an opinion regarding the onset and development of osteonecrosis
  • Beaver conducted the knee-replacement surgery and thus directly observed the osteonecrosis; Dr. Sue did not

Based on the foregoing and consideration of other evidence, the court held that greater weight should be given to Dr. Beaver’s testimony. Note that the court did not say that Dr. Sue was “wrong.” Rather, the court decided that “greater weight” should be given to Dr. Beaver as the treating physician and because of other factors.

As such, the court concluded that Shaver had successfully shown that the accident was the “proximate cause” of the osteonecrosis that developed in Shaver’s knee. The court awarded her $29,687.37 for past and present medical expenses and $60,000.00 for past, present, and future pain and suffering, for scarring and disfigurement, and for the permanent impairment of her knee.

Your Charlotte Auto Accident Attorneys — Brown Moore & Associates

As can be seen, personal injury and automobile accident cases are complex. If you have been injured, you want to hire lawyers who know how to prosecute and win these types of cases. If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident through no fault of your own, call the auto accident and personal injury attorneys at Brown Moore & Associates. We get results; we know North Carolina law; we are here to help. Contact our office today. We serve North Carolina residents in Asheville, Charlotte, Concord, Gastonia, Huntersville, Kannapolis, Monroe, Mooresville, Shelby, and surrounding areas.