In a recent Cobb County State Court case, the jury had to determine whether the plaintiff’s back problems resulted from injuries he suffered in an automobile accident or, instead, were a normal degenerative condition that occurs in most people over the age of 50. Jorge Horton v. Shannon King-Cortopassi (12-A-3850)
Prior to trial, defendant Shannon King-Cortopassi admitted liability for the accident, which occurred on January 2, 2012, when she broadsided plaintiff Jorge Horton’s car at an Atlanta intersection while traveling at a speed of about 40 miles per hour. After the accident, Jorge Horton complained of back and neck pain, which continued despite months of conservative treatment.
The only issue at trial was the amount of damages. Both sides introduced testimony regarding Horton’s injuries. Horton introduced a deposition from his treating physician, Dr. Joseph Saba, who said that Horton had two herniated discs that were caused by the accident, and he recommended Horton undergo surgery. King-Cortopassi introduced a video deposition from a consulting radiologist, Dr. Barry Jeffries, who felt that Horton’s condition was caused solely by age-related degenerative disc disease, a condition present in 85% of people by age 50 (Horton was 52 at the time of the trial).
Horton’s attorney Joe Weeks repeatedly attacked Dr. Jeffries’ credibility on cross-examination. Dr. Jeffries, who testified frequently for defense attorneys in personal injury cases, did not examine Horton, as did Dr. Saba, but, instead based his diagnosis on his review of Horton’s medical records, including MRI scans. Weeks was able to finish his cross-examination by eliciting several damaging statements from Dr. Jeffries during a final five-minute re-cross examination.
Weeks seized upon Dr. Jeffries’ claim that he was better able to diagnose Horton than was his treating physician. He began his re-cross by asking Dr. Jeffries whether people could save money by eliminating all the various medical personnel and just ask Dr. Jeffries instead for a diagnosis when they arrive at the hospital. Dr. Jeffries first attempted to say that emergency rooms were making increased use of CT scans read by radiologists such as himself but then went on to say: “You are correct. You could save a lot of money if you went straight to me.” Weeks was then able to characterize that answer as a claim by Dr. Jeffries that nurses and ER doctors were “pretty useless.”
Later, Dr. Jeffries tried to caution against overreliance on a patient’s medical history by saying that some patients will fake a medical history. This statement gave Weeks a further opening. He asked Dr. Jeffries whether the physician was contending that Horton was a faker. Dr. Jeffries said he had no way to determine whether Horton was faking his symptoms. This statement allowed Weeks to follow up and end his examination on a strong note. He pointed out to Dr. Jeffries that none of the other doctors involved in treating Horton believed he was faking, to which Dr. Jeffries replied, “That’s their opinion; it’s not my opinion.” Weeks’s final question was somewhat rhetorical, “So you’re not going to defer to their opinion on anything?” to which Dr. Jeffries replied, “All I’m testifying to is the truth.”
The jury returned a verdict of over $208,000 for Horton, indicating that they believed Dr. Saba’s diagnosis rather than Dr. Jeffries’.
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