West Virginia Supreme Court on Pre-existing Conditions in Car Accident Cases – Pownell v. Arthurs

In order to win a car accident case, the person who sues (plaintiff) generally has to prove that the person or entity being sued (defendant) caused the crash. The plaintiff also has to show that he or she suffered an injury directly as a result of the collision. In many cases, this second element involves a dispute about whether a certain injury was caused by the crash or whether it was a pre-existing condition that the plaintiff already suffered from when the accident occurred. The West Virginia Supreme Court recently took on this question.

ouch-729161-m.jpgMs. Pownell was injured in an October 2009 car accident in Monongalia County when her car was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by Ms. Arthurs. Pownell’s car was stopped at an entrance ramp to I-79 because of traffic trying to get on the highway when the collision occurred. The impact of the crash caused her car to be pushed out into incoming traffic. Pownell was later taken to a local hospital and treated for a shoulder injury. She underwent surgery to address the injury in February 2010. She continued to experience pain – at least in part because of scar tissue that developed in the area – and underwent a second surgery in October 2010.

At trial, Arthurs argued that the shoulder injury wasn’t caused by the accident, but instead was the result of a pre-existing condition. A jury disagreed, however, and eventually awarded Pownell more than $50,000 in damages for medical care, missed wages, and pain and suffering. Nevertheless, Pownell later moved for a new trial on damages, arguing that the jury award wasn’t enough to cover the costs that she incurred. The trial court granted the motion, noting that the costs associated with the first surgery alone were more than the jury award for medical expenses and missed wages.

That’s where the state supreme court came in. Siding with Arthurs on appeal, the Court said the lower court abused its discretion in granting the new damages trial because the evidence admitted was sufficient to support the jury’s decision. Although Arthurs didn’t question whether the amount of damages sought was related to the injury and two operations, the Court observed that she did challenge whether it was the crash that caused the injury and subsequent surgeries.

“The fact that the verdict was for less than the amount requested by the respondent does not render the verdict inadequate,” the Court explained. “The jury heard, weighed and analyzed the evidence and returned a verdict in favor of the respondent, but for less than she sought.”

As a result, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case so that the jury award could be re-instituted.

If you or a loved one has been injured an accident, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia car crash lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of personal injury matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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