U.S. Court of Appeals Affirms Wilhem Test, Expert Testimony Unnecessary to Prove Back Injuries In Truck Accident

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently affirmed that in regards to Maryland truck accident and personal injury cases, expert medical testimony is not necessarily required. In fact, in the particular case, Galloway v. HORNE CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION, Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit 2013, they held that expert medical testimony and evidence proving a causal connection between severe back injury following a severe four truck accident was not required.

The decision was regarding the plaintiff’s request for a new trial on damages only, concerning a severe highway accident that he was involved in. The plaintiff, who was driving an 18 wheeler, had come to a stop behind another tractor trailer, and had another 18 wheeler stop behind him. A dump truck that failed to stop then rammed the third truck into the plaintiff’s truck, and consequently into the truck in front of him. The plaintiff’s rig was deemed a loss by the insurer as a result of the collision.

The plaintiff sought medical treatment the next day, and as a result, for period of months he underwent extensive pain management therapy, physical therapy, and when that failed to ease his pain, underwent surgery whereby he had his herniated disk removed, and his spine was fused.

At trial, the magistrate judge excluded a substantial portion of his damages evidence, including his medical bills and the depositions of his treating physicians, along with additional proof that he suffered permanent injuries and lost future earnings. The evidence was excluded after the court concluded that, under Maryland law, its admission was dependent upon Galloway presenting expert testimony to prove causation. In other words, the magistrate said that the plaintiff essentially had to prove that the accident was responsible for his resulting injuries and surgery.

The magistrate’s decision was based on her interpretation of the application of Maryland law, that medical injuries are complicated matters, which require expert testimony, and proof of a casual link.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the Wilhem standard, which states that there are essentially three exceptions to requiring expert testimony to establish a connection between a defendant’s negligence and a disability/injury claimed by the plaintiff as a result. The exceptions are:

(1) if “a disability develops coincidentally with,” or within a “reasonable time after,” the subject act; or
(2) if the proof of causation is “clearly apparent” from the nature and circumstances of the injury; or

(3) if “the cause of the injury relates to matters of common experience, knowledge, or observation of laymen.”

The court further held that this particular case fell within each of the three exceptions, and that expert testimony and proof of a causal link was therefore not required. The facts discussed include that the plaintiff had never suffered from back pain before, sought medical treatment promptly, had an MRI reflecting a herniated disk, his rig was deemed a total loss, etc. The court also discussed the fact that serious car accidents have the propensity to cause such injury, and that this is within the common knowledge arena known to jurors.

Based on all of these factors, the court held that the prior judgment and decision to exclude the evidence was in error.

Furthermore, contrary to one of the defendants’ motions that the error was harmless, the verdict of just $125,000, which excluded the plaintiff’s $120,000 in medical bills, likely was reduced dramatically, especially regarding an award for his future pain and suffering.

The judgment was therefore vacated, and remanded for a new trial on damages.

This case is critical, because it seems to affirm almost the common sense fact that everyone knows: serious car accidents can lead to serious injuries to the neck and back. Requiring plaintiffs to scientifically prove that this was the case seems not only silly, but incredibly unfair, and wasteful. Can you imagine surviving a four truck accident, undergoing treatment for intense pain, and then being told that you cannot claim the two were connected? Thank goodness we have an appeals system to ensure that these cases are decided in a manner that is consistent with Maryland state law.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a trucking accident that occurred in the Maryland or Washington D.C. areas, contact the experienced trucking accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers today. Our law firm has extensive experience in handling trucking accident cases, and we will fight to ensure that you recover the damages that you deserve. Contact us today in order to schedule your free initial consultation, and learn how we can help you. You can reach us by calling 1-800-654-1949 or through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Overturned 18 Wheeler 3 Vehicle Accident on Route 50 in Anne Arundel County, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published November 14, 2013
Two State Troopers Narrowly Escape Serious Semi Accident, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published November 6, 2013

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