gavel.gif (3462 bytes) Medical Malpractice

Supreme Court: Jury can award plaintiff 
medical expenses and not damages for pain and suffering

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that a new trial should not be granted simply because a jury awarded the plaintiff damages for medical expenses but not for pain and suffering. In an opinion issued June 19, the court said in Davis v. Mullen that the trial court acted properly in denying Davis a new trial, even though the verdict was inconsistent.

According to the opinion, in March of 1995, Mullen fell asleep at the wheel of his car on Route 68 in Industry, Pennsylvania. Mullen�s car crossed the line and crashed head-on into Davis� tractor-trailer. The truck went up the embankment and flipped on its side. Davis was taken to the hospital where he was examined and released with a prescription for pain medication.

Three days after the accident, Davis returned to his rigorous work schedule driving the tractor-trailer. 20 days after the accident, Davis began treatment from a chiropractor. Davis said he had pain in his lower back and neck and had a tingling feeling in his leg. The doctor diagnosed him with a muscle spasm and misalignment of the cervical spine. Davis had 20 visits with the chiropractor, after which he did not seek further treatment or pain medication.

At trial, the doctor testified that he could not determine whether Davis� back problems were due to the accident with Mullen or from previous accidents Davis admitted to being in. The jury awarded Davis over $4,000 for medical expenses and property damage. Davis petitioned for a new trial, saying that the sum merely covered expenses and not his pain and suffering. The trial court denied the motion, but the Superior Court remanded for a new trial.

The state Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court decision. In its opinion, the Supreme Court said, "We hold that a jury�s award of medical expenses without compensation for pain and suffering should not be disturbed where the trial court had a reasonable basis to believe that: (1) the jury did not believe the plaintiff suffered any pain and suffering, or (2) that a preexisting condition or injury was the sole cause of the alleged pain and suffering."

"In this case, the trial court found that Mullen�s attorney was able to elicit testimony that undermined Davis� brief testimony about his pain and suffering. On cross-examination, Davis admitted that: he did not miss any work as a result of the accident; he waited 20 days after the accident before visiting a doctor; he quit treatment after only 20 visits with the doctor; and, he has not received any medical treatment for the injuries he claims to have suffered as a result of the accident since July of 1995."

The opinion stated that the Supreme Court determined the trial court "properly exercised its discretion when it denied Davis� motion for a new trial because there was a reasonable basis for the jury to believe: (1) that Davis did not suffer pain and/or (2) that his alleged injury was not caused by the negligence of the defendant."

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