Jury Gets to Decide if Car Accident Caused Lower Back Pain


Motor vehicle insurance companies will often throw up roadblocks at every turn to avoid paying any benefits to injured policyholders.

An example: They will deny that a car accident caused an injury, or aggravated a pre-existing medical condition. Insurance companies will argue that evidence is lacking or shouldn’t be introduced at trial.

However, the Georgia Appeals Court recently shot down this tactic. The court rejected the argument of an uninsured motorist carrier that a man injured in a hit-and-run accident had to have a medical expert testify that the accident caused a herniated disk in his lower back.

The court upheld a $13,000 jury verdict for the injured man. In making the ruling the appeals court reinforced the legal principle that in negligence cases a jury should decide matters within common knowledge. For example, back injuries resulting from a rear-end collision do not raise “medical questions” requiring expert testimony on causation, according to the court.

Following the hit-and-run rear-end accident, the injured man was treated by a chiropractor for lower back pain. He also underwent an MRI several months following the accident.

The radiology expert who conducted the MRI concluded that the man had suffered a herniated disk in his lower back, which possibly first resulted several months prior to the MRI exam.

The uninsured motorist carrier sought to exclude this evidence on the basis that the injured man had not provided expert testimony that the accident caused the herniated disk.

But the Appeals Court allowed the radiologist’s testimony, saying expert testimony on causation is only required in cases involving specialized medical knowledge beyond the common experience and common knowledge of jurors.

The insurance company also argued that the trial court judge should not have instructed the jury about how the accident may have aggravated the man’s preexisting back injury. Evidence at trial indicated the man had been involved in a car accident 15 months prior to the hit-and-run accident, and that he had complained about similar lower back injuries.

The carrier argued that the injured man did not introduce any expert testimony establishing that the car accident aggravated any preexisting injuries.

However, the Appeals Court disagreed, saying that a trial court judge is free to instruct a jury on legal points as long as some evidence has been introduced to support a claim.

The radiologist in the case testified he was not surprised to learn that the injured man had complained of back and leg pain following the earlier accident. When asked how long the man had a herniated disk, the radiologist testified that a significant portion of the man’s pre-existing herniation had been resolved prior to the later accident.

Georgia law favors juries resolving important fact questions in personal injury cases, including whether a motor vehicle accident caused a herniated disk. This decision reinforces the concept that a trial court judge should not put too fine a point on a jury’s ability to weigh evidence within common experience and knowledge.

The case is Safeway Insurance Co. v. Hanks.

If you have been injured in a car accident in the Atlanta area, contact the lawyers of Millar & Mixon LLC. Call us today at 404-994-6419 for a free consultation and to discuss your legal options.