Dalton, GA—A former restaurant waitress who has been receiving pain management treatments since an automobile accident in 2012 lost her personal injury lawsuit in Whitfield County Superior Court against the driver who rear ended her, following defense suggestions that two chiropractors who treated her during this time may actually have caused the pain. Christy Carr Fowler v. Shelby McFarland (14-CI-197-J)
According to testimony in the case and other records, Christy Fowler was stopped at a traffic light on Cleveland Highway in Dalton on March 29, 2012. Shelby McFarland, who was behind Fowler’s car, was temporarily distracted, misjudged the distance between the vehicles, and collided with Fowler’s car. Following the accident, Fowler was taken by ambulance to a local emergency room for treatment. McFarland was cited for following too closely and admitted responsibility for the collision prior to trial.
At the trial, Fowler testified that she was flung forward and back by the force of the collision, which sent various loose items inside her car flying. Afterwards, she continued to experience back and neck pain and went to see her primary care physician, Dr. Murrah Watson. She stated that she went back to work as a server and manager at the Rib and Loin, a popular Chattanooga area barbecue restaurant, but had to quit in early June, 2012, due to her pain and had not sought other employment since then. Fowler said that she missed her job but that she couldn’t do the work anymore because of her pain and limited strength and mobility. Fowler was wearing a neck brace at the time she quit work and still occasionally wears a neck brace. Further, she stated that she not worked or sought other employment since.
Fowler also testified that she had sought treatment for her pain from several other physicians and two chiropractic clinics. She visited Life Touch Chiropractic in May 2012 and was examined but never received treatment there. She then went to another chiropractic clinic, Hixson Spine Center, where she received treatment for a year. She stopped going to Hixson because she felt the treatments weren’t helping anymore. She later went to Tennessee Valley Pain Management where she still receives treatment. Fowler also testified that she had been involved in a one-car rollover accident in 2006 and that she had fallen while doing housework in 2007 but had fully recovered from those incidents, neither of which caused her back or neck pain.
During cross examination, McFarland’s attorney, Alan Miller, had Fowler acknowledge making various statements in her earlier deposition that she did not testify to on direct examination. Fowler admitted stating in her deposition that McFarland approached her car after the accident, banged on the window and swore at her. Fowler also said that her mother informed her that the police had to restrain McFarland.
Miller also brought out various inconsistencies among Fowler’s different statements. By contrast to her trial testimony that she worked until June 2012, he had her acknowledge that the last pay stub she submitted was in May, 2012. Similarly, he asked her about the bills from Life Touch Chiropractic that indicated she had received adjustments in May. Fowler reiterated that she was not treated there, even though she was seeking damages for those charges. Similarly, Fowler denied having received chiropractic care in 2004, despite office records to the contrary, insisting that it was her daughter who received the treatment.
Miller also questioned Fowler about statements he made that her chiropractors hurt her. She responded that she experienced pain at Life Touch when she had her neck placed in a support for the X-ray, but that the chiropractor did not “physically hurt” her. She also said that she experienced the normal discomfort at Hixson Spine Center that patients get from receiving adjustments but that she did not stop going there because of any pain suffered, only because the treatments weren’t working.
Fowler also introduced into evidence video depositions from Dr. Watson and Dr. Stephen Dreskin, her treating physician at Tennessee Valley Pain Management. They testified to the various methods of treatment and pain medications they had prescribed and indicated that Fowler’s symptoms were consistent with being injured in a rear end collision.
The defense only called two witnesses, Shelby McFarland and her father, who came to the scene shortly after the accident. They both described the damage to both vehicles as minor and denied that the bumper fell off Fowler’s car as Fowler contended. Shelby McFarland also denied approaching Fowler’s car after the accident. Instead, she testified that she pulled into an adjacent parking lot and waited for the police to arrive while Fowler remained in her car. Both Shelby McFarland and her father expressed surprise that Fowler was claiming she received extensive injuries resulting from the accident, which Shelby described as a bump.
In his closing statement, Fowler’s attorney Sutton Slover reminded the jury that McFarland had acknowledged responsibility for the action. He went on, “If you are to believe that this didn’t happen, that [Fowler] didn’t get injured, then you’re going to have to believe that she wasn’t going to the pain doctor or she didn’t need to go, that she didn’t need to go to the chiropractor, she didn’t need all those pain medications, she didn’t need to drive up to Hixson Spine Center, she didn’t need to see Dr. Watson. You’re going to have to disbelieve that.”
Slover noted that Fowler had consistently reported pain resulting from the car accident since “day one.” He added that there was not “one shred” of evidence that Fowler wasn’t hurt. And, if Fowler was hurt, as “a slew” of Fowler’s doctors thought, then there was no other possible cause of the pain other than the accident. Further, as Dr. Dreskin opined, her pain was likely to be permanent. Slover also pointed out that Fowler tried to work for several weeks following the accident.
In his closing statement, Alan Miller countered that medical evidence from Fowler’s treating physicians indicated she had degenerative problems, “a sore neck” before the accident. Further, if anyone were to blame for Fowler’s pain, it was the two chiropractors who treated her. He pointed to language in Fowler’s deposition and written statements that indicated, in Fowler’s words, that the chiropractors “hurt me, never made me better, aggravated my condition and made me cry.” Miller continued, “A zero award is a true verdict, a true award, a fair award. A zero award will stop this kind of thing right in its tracks.”
Miller further noted that Dr. Dreskin had said that “he depended on Ms. Fowler for all his information, for all his treatment plan, for all his medications. He depended on what Ms. Fowler told him. He based it all on what she told him.” Miller invited the jury to look at Fowler’s credibility, including her claims that McFarland banged on Fowler’s car window and swore at her after the accident. Miller also pointed out the various inconsistencies in Fowler’s different statements He also reminded the jury that Fowler’s 2006 car accident from which Fowler said she was fully recovered was a one-car accident, while the accident involving McFarland was a two-car accident.
At the conclusion of the two-day trial, the jury issued its verdict for McFarland. After the trial, Alan Miller said that the key to the verdict was the likability of his client, who, at the time of accident was on her way to attend a college class. Miller felt his client was very credible and came across as a person trying to make the most of her life. He also noted that plaintiff’s case may have been hurt by the statements Fowler herself made while filling out the various medical records that were introduced into evidence in the case. Representatives for the plaintiff were unavailable for comment prior to the publication of this article.
Steve Silver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attorneys involved in the case include Sutton Slover and Ross Moore of Atlanta for Christy Carr Fowler and E. Alan Miller of Atlanta's Martenson, Hasbrouck & Simon and Nicole Gupta of Atlanta's Rich, Nash & Manganiello for Shelby McFarland.
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