Admitted Liability and a Jury’s Decision to Award No Damages
August 5, 2020
The Virginia Supreme Court recently affirmed a jury award of $0. In the case of Gilliam v. Immel, the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff and liability was conceded; thus the only issue at trial was damages. At trial the evidence revealed that there was little, if any, property damage to the vehicles, and no part of the plaintiff’s body came into contact with the inside of her car.
There were no visible signs of injury but nevertheless, an ambulance arrived on scene and took Plaintiff to the hospital, where she complained of neck and back pain. She was discharged that day and went to work the following day. She received follow-up treatment which included injections and outpatient shoulder surgery.
The orthopedist who performed the surgery opined, based on Plaintiff’s reports, that her medical care was related to the collision, despite her history of back surgery years before. Plaintiff introduced medical bills totaling $73,000.
Defendant’s expert, who performed the IME, opined that none of the expenses were attributable to the collision and that she suffered only a minor strain that would have resolved itself within weeks. After hearing all the evidence, the jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff, but awarded zero dollars in damages. The Court affirmed and noted that the evidence was very much in dispute as to whether Plaintiff’s medical care was causally related to the collision. Plaintiff argued that if she proved, at a minimum, that her back and neck injuries were symptomatic for some time after the accident, then she was entitled to at least some monetary compensation. The justices disagreed, stating that it depended entirely on Plaintiff’s own testimony, and that of the experts. The jury was free to conclude that the Plaintiff was embellishing her symptoms.