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Texas Court of Appeals Vacates Award of Over $300,000 For Car Accident in Gracia v. Davis

Recently, in Gracia v. Davis, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District ruled that a trial court’s directed verdict granting Curtis Davis damages should be overturned and a new trial on damages held. The trial court had granted Davis $17,400 for past medical expenses, while the jury awarded Davis another $300,000 for past and future medical expenses.

The events began in May 2008, when Jesus Gracia rear-ended a Ford Explorer Davis was driving while Gracia was using his cell phone. During the ensuing trial, Gracia filed a written stipulation to his liability and testified that he had been the cause of the accident, which left damages the case’s only contested issue. Following the accident, Davis drove himself to the hospital, where he told them of pain in his back, neck, and shoulder. Davis was given prescriptions for Tramadol and Flexeril, as well as discharge instructions for medical strain. Then two weeks later, Davis visited Dr. Glenn Smith, a chiropractor, who gave him several treatments and diagnostic examinations of his back, neck, and shoulders. Although an MRI taken that August did not reveal any disc bulges or hernias, Davis continued to receive treatment for a four months total, until he reached a “plateau” in September.

Davis continued to take pain medication and had difficulty performing his job duties at a Wal-Mart distribution center, which required constant lifting, pushing, pulling, and carrying tools, equipment, and supplies, some weighing up to 60 pounds. Davis found the work so demanding that sometimes he could not come in the next day because of the pain. Davis never disclosed to him employer that he had been in a car accident. He stopped using his pain medication due to work policy requirements and returned to Dr. Smith for pain treatment. Dr. Smith found that he had exacerbated his injuries due to increased activity at his new job and that he suffered from “soft tissue injuries” that would get worse as he aged.

Dr. Smith testified to these problems during the trial. After he presented his evidence, Davis’s attorney moved for an instructed verdict on the issue of past medical expenses, claiming that they were proven to have been the proximate cause of the car accident and there was no counter evidence. Gracia’s counsel argued that it was not clear how much of the medical expenses were reasonably related to the car accident, given the gap in treatment; Davis’s injuries could have been associated with his Wal-Mart job. The trial court, however, granted Davis’s motion, plus included the total amount of past medical expenses in the jury’s charge. The jury, in turn, awarded Davis amounts for past and future pain, past and future mental anguish, past and future loss of earning capacity, past and future physical impairment, and future medical expenses.

Gracia appealed, arguing that the trial court should not have directed the verdict on past medical expenses when evidence existed of a gap in treatment, with the second set of treatments following a job that was physically demanding. He claimed that the jury should have been allowed to determine if the second treatment had a causal relation to his accident. The Court of Appeals sided with Grarcia, citing past instances where full medical expenses were not awarded in cases where the injured party’s injuries could have been caused by other factors. The Court rejected Davis’s request for a simple remittitur — lowering the amount of damages granted by the jury — because the jury’s actions might have been motivated by the trial court’s claim that all of Davis’s expenses related to the accident. The Court therefore ordered a new trial to redetermine the damages.

If you or a loved one has suffered due to an injury in a car accident caused by another driver, you may be entitled to compensation, including medical expenses, loss of wages, and pain and suffering. The experienced San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Carabin Shaw may be able to help. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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