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Georgia Court of Appeals Rules Expert Testimony not Required for Causation of Back Injuries in Car Accident Cases

In reviewing an appeal of a car accident injury case, SAFEWAY INSURANCE COMPANY v. Hanks, Ga: Court of Appeals 2013, the Court of Appeals of Georgia affirmed the judgment for the plaintiff, finding that expert testimony was not required to establish a causal link between neck and back injuries in a car accident case, and that evidence regarding the existence of a preexisting condition also does not have to be causally proved.

The case arose out of an incident where the plaintiff was rear ended, causing his head to slam against the driver’s side window, and pushed his car into the middle of the intersection. The plaintiff claimed injuries to his head, neck, back, and leg as a result of the accident. A jury found in his favor, and awarded him $13,000.

The defendant, Safeway, appealed the decision, arguing that the trial court erred in allowing testimony from the plaintiff’s doctor, and also in allowing the jury to consider an aggravation of a pre-existing condition.

The plaintiff’s doctor testified at trial regarding the result of his MRI, which showed a herniated disk, which he believed to be consistent with a timeline of around when the accident took place. Safeway argued that this testimony shouldn’t have been admissible, because the plaintiff should have had to prove that the injury was caused by the accident in order to be admissible.

The rule for requiring expert medical testimony regarding injuries, as adopted by the Georgia Supreme Court, states that:

Expert evidence is required where a `medical question’ involving truly specialized medical knowledge (rather than the sort of medical knowledge that is within common understanding and experience) is needed to establish a causal link between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury.

That being said, however, the court held that back injuries resulting from car accident are squarely within common experience and understanding of jury members. They then cited another car accident case, for the premise that a back injury resulting from a car accident does not raise a medical question requiring expert testimony on causation.

Therefore, the court held that the issue of whether the injury was caused by the collision was for the jury to decide, and that the allowance of the testimony was not in error.

The court further disagreed with Safeway’s argument challenging the validity of the trial court having instructed the jury to consider whether the presence or aggravation of a preexisting condition was at play, following testimony regarding the plaintiff’s recently healed back injury was improper for essentially the same reason, i.e. that it was not proved. The court held that the evidence presented at trial regarding plaintiff’s prior car accident and injury was  was sufficient to support a jury instruction on preexisting condition, and the trial court did not err in so instructing the jury.

This common sense approach is an affirmation of the reality that we all know: car accidents lead to neck and back injuries. Requiring expert testimony on this matter in every case would be not only silly, but wasteful, inefficient, and simply unfair.

If you have been injured in car accident due to another individual’s negligent driving,  the first thing you should do after seeking medical treatment and contacting law enforcement, is to contact an experienced Atlanta car accident attorney as soon as possible. Stephen M.  Ozcomert is a knowledgeable personal injury attorney with over 20 years of experience, and is experienced with representing individuals and their families who have been injured as a result of the negligent or reckless driving of others in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today  at (404)-370-1000 in order to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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Canadian Driver Charged with Vehicular Homicide in Deadly I-75 Accident, Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published November 11, 2013

Four Tragic Accidents in Metro Atlanta Tragic Start to November, Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published November 4, 2013

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