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Meinhart v. Anaya

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

October 24, 2017

ERNST MEINHART and CHRISTINE MEINHART, husband and wife, and the marital community composed thereof, Appellants,
v.
MONICA ANAYA and JOHN DOE ANAYA, wife and husband, and the marital community composed thereof, Respondents.

          MAXA, A.C.J.

         Ernst and Christine Meinhart appeal the trial court's denial of their motion for a new trial. The Meinharts were involved in an automobile accident caused by Monica Anaya, and they filed a lawsuit against her for personal injury damages. At trial, Anaya did not dispute that Ernst and Christine[1] were injured and agreed that the jury should award some damages for their pain and suffering. And Anaya's medical expert conceded that both Ernst and Christine were injured in the accident and received reasonable medical treatment for approximately five months. However, although the jury awarded Ernst and Christine almost all of their claimed medical expenses, it awarded them no noneconomic damages.

         The Meinharts argue that the trial court abused its discretion in denying their motion for a new trial because the jury's omission of noneconomic damages was not supported by the evidence. We agree. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's denial of the Meinharts' motion for a new trial and remand for a new trial.

         FACTS

         Vehicle Accident and Injuries

         In October 2013, the Meinharts were stopped at an intersection when Anaya's car collided with the rear of their pickup truck. Ernst described the collision as a major jolt, and Christine stated that the collision was like a bulldozer hitting the truck.[2] The collision bent the Meinharts' rear bumper and damaged Anaya's front grill and bumper. Ernst and Christine did not seek immediate medical attention.

         The next day, Ernst had pain in his neck and back and Christine had a headache and pain in her neck, upper back, and lower back. A week later, they started treatment with a chiropractor, Dr. Don Finlayson. They both received regular treatment from Dr. Finlayson until June 2014, when he discharged them.

         In 2015, the Meinharts filed suit against Anaya, seeking economic and noneconomic damages. Anaya admitted liability but contested the amount of damages.

         Ernst's Injuries and Treatment

         At trial, Ernst stated that before the accident, he had experienced no problems with his neck or back. On the day of the accident he did not feel any significant pain, but the next day he had moderate to high pain in his neck and lower back. On his first visit to Dr. Finlayson, Ernst rated his neck, mid-back, and low back pain level as a seven on a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being the most pain he could imagine. Over the next several months his symptoms decreased in intensity. By February 24, 2014, Ernst rated his neck and mid-back pain level at two and his low back pain level at three. However, he also noted that on other days the pain levels may have been higher.

         Ernst received treatment from Dr. Finlayson until June 6, 2014. At that time, Ernst rated his neck and low back pain level at between zero and two. He testified that he had made a good recovery but was not 100 percent and still had some pain. He had not returned to his pre-accident condition, and once in a while he had pain that required medication. At the time of trial, Ernst still felt pain in his neck a few times per month.[3]

         Dr. Finlayson stated that at an initial evaluation, Ernst had moderate to severe pain in his neck, middle back, low back and pelvis, and he had headaches. Ernst made progress through the course of treatment until discharge on June 6, 2014. At that time, Ernst was still having pain and had objective findings of injury.

         Christine 's Injuries and Treatment

         At trial, Christine testified that her symptoms began the day after the accident. She developed a pounding headache and moderate to severe pain in her neck that radiated to her upper back and parts of her lower back. She began treatment with Dr. Finlayson a week after the accident, at the same time as Ernst. Medical records showed that on her first visit to Dr. Finlayson, Christine rated her headache pain level as a five, her neck pain level as a seven, and her mid-back and low back pain level as a six on a scale of zero to 10. Her symptoms gradually dissipated through the course of her treatment. Christine received treatment from Dr. Finlayson until June 6, 2014, and at that time she had no symptoms relating to the October 2013 collision.

         Christine also testified about her pre-accident treatment with Dr. Finlayson. In 2006 she sustained injuries in a car accident, and she received treatment through 2007 for injuries to her neck and back. Christine stated that after she was released from treatment, she did not have any spinal problems. However, medical records from May 2013 showed that she also was complaining of neck pain that resolved with Advil and that she had arthritis in her neck.

         Dr. Finlayson testified that after the October 2013 accident Christine had moderate to severe muscle pain and inflammation in her neck, mid-back, low back and pelvis, and she had headaches. Christine rated her neck pain level as a seven and her mid-back and low back pain as a six on a zero-to-10 scale. Dr. Finlayson's diagnosis was that she had sprained and strained her neck, mid-back, and low back and that she had misaligned vertebra in those regions. He provided regular treatment to Christine until she was discharged on June 6, 2014. At that time, she had reached maximum medical improvement.

         Dr. Finlayson testified that Christine's 2006 accident would predispose her to injury from the 2013 accident. But he also stated that it would be illogical to conclude that her symptoms in 2013 resulted from the 2006 accident alone.

         Dr. Finlayson's Records

         The trial court admitted into evidence Dr. Finlayson's extensive medical records. Ernst and Christine had over 40 visits each to Dr. Finlayson in the seven months after the accident, some of which included exercise therapy sessions. Dr. Finlayson's records documented that Ernst and Christine reported that they experienced pain in their necks and backs during the entire period of treatment that gradually decreased over time.

         The trial court also admitted into evidence billings from Dr. Finlayson and from his massage therapist. Through June 6, 2014, Ernst's medical expenses totaled $4, 695 for Dr. Finlayson and $280 for the massage therapist. Christine's medical expenses totaled $4, 715 for Dr. Finlayson and $350 for the massage therapist.

         Testimony of Defense Expert

         Anaya's sole damages expert was a chiropractor, Dr. Mark Sutton, who examined Ernst and Christine in December 2015 and reviewed their medical records. Dr. Sutton concluded based on reasonable probability that Ernst suffered several injuries in the 2013 accident: a mild to moderate strain of his neck, mid-back, and low back. Dr. Sutton believed that reasonable treatment for these injuries was 24 chiropractic treatments, six exercise therapy ...


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