In many personal injury cases involving older accident victims, the dispositive issue is whether the plaintiff’s back or neck pain was caused or aggravated by the accident or whether it is a natural byproduct of the aging process that results in degenerative disc disease. Often juries have to evaluate the conflicting testimony and opinions of expert witnesses retained by the defense and those of the plaintiff’s treating physicians. However, in the recent DeKalb County State Court case of William Rice v. Frankie Gilmore (13A48441), the defense was able to bolster its case by using the video deposition of a somewhat unusual witness.
The case arose out of a typical Atlanta Friday rush hour traffic accident on July 27, 2012. Gilmore’s car rear ended Rice’s vehicle as both cars were making their way through heavy traffic on Piedmont Road. Gilmore acknowledged responsibility for the accident.
According to his testimony at trial, Rice was able to drive home by himself after the accident, but he went to the Piedmont Hospital emergency room the following Monday. Rice was eventually treated by two different physicians. He first visited Dr. Daniel Silcox, an orthopedic surgeon, about three weeks after the accident and treated with Dr. Silcox until June 2013. However, when Rice still continued to suffer back pain, Dr. Silcox referred him to Dr. Jeffrey Grossman, who treated Rice more aggressively and had continued to treat Rice until the time of the trial. According to Rice, none of the treatment he had received provided more than temporary relief, and his pain had continued until the present.
To help prove his client’s case, Rice’s attorney, Fareesh Sarangi, introduced Dr. Grossman’s medical narrative into the record. In it, Dr. Grossman opined that the auto accident was the triggering event that caused Rice’s pain. Nicole Gupta, Gilmore’s attorney, countered by introducing the video deposition of Dr. Barry Jeffries, a radiologist who had provided testimony for the defense in over 2,500 prior proceedings. Dr. Jeffries examined Rice’s MRI’s and diagnosed Rice as suffering from age-related chronic disc disease. He added that he could find no evidence of acute trauma such as bleeding, edema, or a fracture that might have been caused by the auto accident.
In addition to presenting Dr. Jeffries’ testimony, Nicole Gupta also introduced a video deposition from a somewhat unusual medical witness, the physician who first treated Rice after the accident, Dr. Silcox. The physician took X-rays of Rice during the patient’s first visit in August 2012 and conducted subsequent MRI’s in September and November. He diagnosed Rice as suffering from spondylosis (aging of the spine), a common condition in patients Rice’s age (54 at the time of the accident). According to Dr. Silcox, the condition was consistent with Rice’s pain complaints, although Rice’s degenerative changes were a little more advanced than normal for someone of his age. Dr. Silcox added that the MRI’s did not show any acute changes such as bleeding or bruising.
On cross examination, Fareesh Sarangi elicited several admissions from Dr. Silcox. First, the physician acknowledged that, even though most adults Rice’s age had degenerative back disease, many did not experience pain. Then, Dr. Silcox stated that Rice did not show any signs of malingering or exaggerating his symptoms. He then added that, if Rice had been pain free for several years before the auto accident and subsequently began experiencing pain, then more likely than not, the auto accident in some way aggravated the pre-existing spondylosis in the back and created the pain.
In a brief redirect examination, Nicole Gupta led Dr. Silcox through a quick series of questions and answers designed to minimize any damaging effect of Sarangi’s cross-examination. She had Dr. Silcox confirm his earlier diagnosis of age-related spondylosis and that his findings were typical of a patient of Rice’s age. Dr. Silcox then reiterated that he performed five physical examinations of Rice and prescribed a course of treatment, including medication and physical therapy.
During her closing statement, Nicole Gupta again emphasized Dr. Silcox’s diagnosis of Rice based on his examinations and contrasted his testimony with Dr. Grossman’s medical narrative that was read into the record without being subjected to cross-examination. The jury may have given greater weight to the treating physician who was subject to cross examination in the case than to the other medical testimony. They returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, Frankie Gilmore.
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