Panish Shea & Boyle LLP Obtains $1.85 Million Jury Verdict Against State of California For Rear-End Collision

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Whetzel accident photoOn March 29, 2016, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded $1.85 million to 55-year-old Byron Whetzel who suffered injuries after his commercial truck was rear-ended by a State-owned Chevrolet Impala. The Plaintiff was represented at trial by attorneys Spencer Lucas, Thomas Schultz and Erika Contreras of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP. The Plaintiff was also represented in the case by W. Douglas Easton, Brian W. Easton and Matthew W. Easton of the Law Office of W. Douglas Easton.

On June 27, 2011, Plaintiff Byron Whetzel was resting inside his truck parked curbside on Santa Fe Avenue while awaiting the delivery of cement for a concrete pumper job in downtown Los Angeles. Defendant Debra Thomas, a parole officer for the State of California, was traveling eastbound on Santa Fe when her vehicle veered to the right, striking Mr. Whetzel’s truck and trailer after she attempted to grab her purse from the backseat of the car. The defense claimed that the impact was minor and did not cause any damage to Plaintiff’s truck. The State offered expert testimony of an injury biomechanics expert who opined the impact was less than 4-miles-per-hour and that Mr. Whetzel could not possibly have suffered any injuries in the crash.  The defense further claimed that Mr. Whetzel was released after a brief hospital visit, was merely diagnosed with a lumbar strain, and returned to the scene the same day to change a tire on his truck.

The defense focused on the fact that the Plaintiff returned to work as a concrete pumper within a week of the incident which is physically strenuous work. Mr. Whetzel’s long work history as a concrete pumper became a central defense as they argued any of his claimed neck, back, shoulder, and wrist issues were all pre-existing from wear and tear of the job. The defense further focused on a 2008 motor vehicle collision which Plaintiff sought medical treatment for neck and back pain. Additionally, the defense argued that the Plaintiff reported to various doctors that he had a history of chronic “neck and back pain.”

After the collision, Mr. Whetzel’s pain complaints to his neck, back, left shoulder, and left increased. He underwent three months of chiropractic treatment to no avail and was referred out to a neurosurgeon for his cervical spine complaints. Ultimately, Mr. Whetzel underwent a C6-7 fusion, a shoulder labral repair arthroscopy, and two wrist surgeries.

After fighting liability for four and a half years, the defense conceded that Ms. Thomas was negligent in the collision and offered Plaintiff $15,000 to settle the case. At trial, the Defense offered testimony of three investigators who had surveilled Mr. Whetzel for nearly three years. The Court ruled that the defense lawyers violated the rules of the Discovery Act and were prevented from showing the actual surveillance video at trial. After ongoing discovery abuses by the defense became apparent, the Court struck the entire testimony of the State’s last investigator witness.

Plaintiff’s counsel offered 20 witnesses in the trial and presented evidence from four treating doctors, all of whom opined that the injuries were all reasonably related to the June 2011 collision. As a result, the jury awarded Plaintiff $1.85 million for past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings and pain and suffering.

Read the My News LA story here