An automobile accident is not a lottery ticket. It is not an opportunity to take a negligent party to court and “sue their pants off” in an effort to win a hefty money judgment sufficient to pay for a bed-and-breakfast getaway in Natchitoches. But it should not leave the plaintiff in the lurch, either, without enough money to even cover medical bills. And sometimes, when you strive for one, you end up missing out on the other. One Louisiana couple learned the limits of revenue-generating potential for automobile accidents the hard way.
Eureka Ellis was driving up the onramp to the I-20 in East Monroe when she was sideswiped by Gregory Brown’s vehicle. Ellis also had her three children in the car with her. Brown apparently merged into Ellis’ lane prematurely. Brown did not deny he was at fault, but he asserted that the impact was minimal, reportedly asking after the collision if they even needed to call the police. The resultant “tap” of Brown’s vehicle left a few scratches on the driver’s side quarter panel of Ellis’ Charger; whether or not there was even a dent was a matter of dispute. When police arrived at the scene, none of the parties reported injuries, and no ticket was issued.
Despite the mild nature of the collision, 12 days later, Ellis and her children all went to see a chiropractor. This chiropractor, Dr. Holt, diagnosed them with neck and back pain. Over the course of the next three months, Dr. Holt saw Ms. Ellis and her three children twice a week, over 20 times each, billing them in excess of $15,000. The Ellises then filed a lawsuit against Brown and his insurer for general damages, special damages arising from the chiropractor visits, loss of consortium, and lost wages. Though the Trial Court denied a few of the claims, it determined that some damages were in order, and awarded the Ellis family a grand total of $7,692.50. This figure was far below their total claim requested and barely half of what they owed the chiropractor.
The Ellises appealed to the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal, making a devolutive appeal. A devolutive appeal allows the plaintiff to collect the judgment amount awarded now, rather than have it suspended while the case is being appealed. See La. C.C.P. art. 2087. They argued the Trial Court committed three assignments of error, most notably that the Trial Court failed to award the full amount of their medical bills. They contended that the court must award total medical costs, even if they amount to overtreatment, so long as the plaintiff sought the treatment in good faith. Simon v. LaCoste, 918 So. 2d 1102 (La. Ct. App. 2005). The Court of Appeal disagreed, stating the Trial Court was within its discretion to reject medical expenses it found were unrelated to the accident. Further, the Court of Appeal noted that it could not amend the Trial Court’s award unless it found the decision had no reasonable basis. Guillory v. Lee, 16 So. 3d 1104 (La. 2009). Given that the injuries were minor, and that the treating chiropractor had a history of overtreating, the Court of Appeal affirmed the Trial Court’s decision and ordered the Ellises to pay all court costs.
Ellis may have legitimately experienced pain when she visited that chiropractor and deferred to that doctor’s judgment in carrying out a treatment plan. Unfortunately, the facts do not bear out the necessity for treatment of that intensity. When seeking medical attention after an accident, sometimes it is best to consult with a good attorney before hitting the internet or going to the first practitioner you find.
Additional Sources: DEVLIN AND EUREKA ELLIS V. GREGORY BROWN AND CONTINENTAL CASUALTY COMPANY
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Matt Keen
For Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Personal Injury and Car Accidents: Conflicting Stories in New Orleans Car Accident