From the desk of Jeff Eberhard: Insurers should be aware that an Oregon court recently allowed a plaintiff, who was not a physician, to testify that a car accident caused his injuries. The significance is that this indicates a loosened requirement, and that the plaintiff may not need to obtain an expert when the injuries sustained in an accident are simple.
Claims Pointer: In this case, the Oregon Court of Appeals allowed a lay person to testify that he fractured his tooth when he was rear ended. The Court found this injury to be relatively simple, and that a lay person could understand when he fractured a tooth. This holding may open the door for plaintiffs to argue that no medical testimony is needed for other common injuries such as a broken leg or arm.
Ouma v. Skipton, in the Oregon Court of Appeals, Case No. A151739 (December 3, 2014).
Cody Skipton’s (“Skipton”) truck ran into the back of Washie Ouma’s (“Ouma”) car, while he was stopped at a stop light. Ouma sued Skipton, alleging negligence and a lengthy catalogue of injuries, including fractures to his teeth. The case was tried solely on damages. At trial, Ouma testified that after the impact, he felt serious pain and realized that he had fractured his tooth, among other injuries.
Ouma attempted to introduce testimony from his treating chiropractor to prove he suffered injuries beyond the immediate pain and suffering specifically alleged in the Complaint. The chiropractor’s testimony was struck because he never testified to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that Ouma’s injuries were caused by the collision. At the close of Ouma’s case, Skipton moved for a directed verdict on the grounds that Ouma presented no evidence that the accident had caused him any economic loss, and that Ouma failed to present legally sufficient evidence that the collision caused any injuries because there was no testimony on medical causation. Consequently, Ouma could not recover damages for pain and suffering. The trial court agreed with Skipton and granted his motion. Ouma appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in directing a verdict in Skipton’s favor on noneconomic damages as well as striking the testimony of Ouma’s treating chiropractor.
The Court of Appeals held that there was evidence which would permit a reasonable fact finder to find that the collision caused an injury to Ouma. Since a lay person could understand when he fractured a tooth, Ouma was permitted to testify that the accident caused a fracture to his tooth. While the Court of Appeals agreed that expert testimony was necessary as to some of Ouma’s injuries, directed verdict on the entire claim was only appropriate where there is no evidence a defendant’s conduct caused at least some part of the injuries alleged. Since there was evidence that Skipton at least caused Ouma’s tooth to fracture in the accident, the trial court erred in granting a directed verdict. The Court rejected Skipton’s argument that when the plaintiff provides evidence of only one injury, when an extensive list of injuries is alleged, expert medical testimony on causation is required. The Court clarified an earlier case, noting that if a lay person could distinguish between any preexisting injuries and the injury at issue, then medical testimony on causation would not be required. In this case, Ouma’s medical history was not complex and there was no evidence he suffered from a fractured tooth prior to the accident. Ouma was competent to testify as to whether he fractured a tooth in the accident. The Court did not address the issue of whether the trial court erred in striking the chiropractor’s testimony.
Case updates are intended to inform our clients and others about legal matters of current interest. They are not intended as legal advice. Readers should not act upon the information contained in this article without seeking professional counsel.