A deft cross-examination can critically undercut an opponent's case in the eyes of a jury and turn the tide of a trial. In Blatnik v. Youngblood, a cross-exam by Waldon Adelman Castilla Hiestand & Prout’s Adam Smith likely proved the tipping point to a defense win in a six-figure car crash case.
Michael Blatnik was rear-ended by Smith's client, Keely Youngblood, in 2013 while he waited at a stop sign. He claims the accident left him with herniated and bulging discs in his neck and back. With Youngblood admitting fault, the trial earlier this month turned on causation and damages. Blatnik sought $180,000 for injuries he maintained never existed before the crash and offered up MRI results and a doctor’s statement tying his injuries to the low-speed crash.
Notably, in a pre-trial deposition, Blatnik specifically said he had never had any “pain or problem” in his neck or back before the accident. While Blatnik acknowledged he had seen a chiropractor frequently before the crash, he contended the visits were generally for health maintenance and wellness.
On cross-exam however, Smith walked Blatnik, and jurors, line by line through medical records detailing more than 25 times Blatnik sought chiropractic treatment for neck and back issues in the years before the wreck, with the last visit coming just a week before the crash.
"I can save you the time as well as the jury. I trust the medical records as to what they say. Everything you're referring to is stiffness and basically hurt, not pain, and not an injury," Blatnik said, trying to distinguish his post-accident symptoms from the litany of pre-crash chiropractic visits "It's pain, but not an injury."
"I appreciate you trying to save us time. It is important to me to go over this," Smith responded, before continuing through records describing "extreme" pain and a "jacked up" lower back.
“When I asked you [at the pre-trial deposition] if you have ever in your life had any pain or problem in your neck or your back, you didn’t tell me about any of this, did you?” Smith asked.
When Blatnik demurred, Smith turned to the deposition itself.
“I said, ‘OK, did you ever undergo any medical treatment or evaluation for your neck before this accident with Ms. Youngblood?’ Answer: ‘No,'” Smith said, reading from the deposition transcript.
On the witness stand, Blatnik tried to explain away his pre-trial answer. “I would see [the term] medical treatment as a surgery," he offered.
The jury took just over an hour to find Blatnik's injures were not caused by the crash.
After the verdict, Smith told CVN he thought the cross-exam undercut Blatnik’s claim against Youngblood. “I believe the key factor in the defense verdict was my cross-examination of the plaintiff on his history of chiropractic treatment before the accident with my client,” Smith said. “The jurors whom we spoke with at the conclusion of the trial told us that the plaintiff’s credibility problems were one of the main factors in their decision.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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