This suit arose out of an automobile accident which occurred on May 27, 1979. The plaintiff's vehicle was struck from the rear
The issue is whether the jury was clearly wrong in this determination.
The facts are as follow:
Both the plaintiff and the defendant were proceeding in a southerly direction on the Evangeline Thruway, or Highway 167, in Lafayette, Louisiana. Both drivers were in the left-hand lane. The defendant testified that he was momentarily distracted by a car stalled in the right lane. When he directed his attention back to his own lane, he saw the plaintiff's vehicle directly in front of him and could not avoid hitting it from the rear and knocking it into the car ahead. The defendant's truck suffered about $450.00 in damages and the plaintiff's 1978 Toyota was a total loss. The defendant pleaded guilty to a charge of following too close.
It is clear from the relatively brief testimony concerning the occurrence of the accident that the defendant's conduct constituted negligence. He admitted being inattentive to the lane ahead of him although only momentarily.
When a rear end collision occurs, the driver of the following vehicle is generally presumed to be negligent and will only be exonerated where he can reasonably explain the cause of his running into the vehicle ahead. Coates v. Marcello, 235 So.2d 162 (La.App. 4th Cir. 1970); Hester v. Stewart, 177 So.2d 430 (La.App. 1st Cir. 1965). The defendant here made no such reasonable explanation.
The principal issue at trial and the question upon which this decision must turn is whether the plaintiff established that she suffered injuries as a result of the accident. This is a factual determination. The appeal court should not disturb the findings of the trier of fact in the absence of manifest error. Canter v. Koehring Company, 283 So.2d 716 (La.1973). Manifest error means clearly wrong. Arceneaux v. Domingue, 365 So.2d 1330 (La.1978). With this principle in mind we will examine the record to determine if the jury was clearly wrong in failing to award damages.
The plaintiff testified at length to the effects of the accident. She also described in great detail the various diagnostic tests which she underwent. She stated that after the accident she started suffering severe headaches, occasional blurred vision, intermittent swelling of the right arm and stomach ulcers.
On cross examination plaintiff admitted that she had trouble with her arm swelling before the accident. She stated that she complained of it to her family physician in January 1979, six months before the accident. Also, she admitted that she had visual problems before the accident. Plaintiff felt that the stomach ulcer, which was diagnosed by a family physician over a year after the accident, was the result of stress due to her financial problems which arose as a result of medical expenses and expenses resulting from her having to purchase a new car.
The record reflects, however, that practically all her medical expenses were timely paid by a group insurance company (Metropolitan) and by Safeco, as they became due. Also, she admitted that the purchase of the new car increased her monthly car note by only $25.00. Plaintiff also stated that she continued her work after the accident except for those days she was seeing doctors for examinations and tests.
Plaintiff called two co-workers (plaintiff was a newspaper reporter), her father and sister, as "before and after" witnesses. These witnesses testified generally that the plaintiff had not incurred any swelling of her arm nor any visual problems before the accident. They had noticed these problems after the accident.
Dr. Hill saw plaintiff July 27, 1979, about two months after the accident. Plaintiff was complaining again of swelling and numbness of the right arm. His examination revealed no basis for the complaint. He sent plaintiff to a Dr. Clifford, a neurosurgeon, for examination. This physician reported to Dr. Hill that the tests he performed were negative.
Plaintiff saw Dr. Hill twice in October 1979 for reasons wholly unrelated to trauma.
Dr. Hill saw plaintiff again in April 1980. She was having pain in her stomach as well as lower abdominal pain. Her stomach pain proved to be the result of a gastric ulcer. The diagnosis of the ulcer was made on May 27, 1980. The ulcer had healed by October 1980 when the plaintiff returned to Dr. Hill's office. Plaintiff had also been to Dr. Hill's office on July 21, 1980, with acute torticollis, spasm in the muscles of the neck. The muscle spasm could be felt. This was the first time Dr. Hill could illicit spasm in her neck and this was about fourteen months after the accident. He was of the opinion that this neck spasm could not be related to the accident of May 1979.
Plaintiff was referred to Dr. Albon Young, a neurosurgeon of Lafayette, Louisiana. Plaintiff was complaining of arm and visual problems.
The history given to Dr. Young was detailed. We shall quote parts of same as follow:
Referring to the work up that had been done in Baton Rouge, Dr. Young stated that:
This physician also found some decrease in the muscles of the back of plaintiff's hand near the thumb. He felt that this condition could be an indication of nerve root compression in the cervical region. He was aware that prior x-rays had reflected a normal cervical condition. He suggested a myelogram. Plaintiff refused this. He prescribed medication and a cervical collar.
Dr. Young saw plaintiff again on May 12, 1980. Plaintiff told him she never used the collar and that she had taken her medicine for only one week. Plaintiff reported that the arm and cervical problems had resolved themselves.
Dr. Young stated that his prior evaluation of a possible nerve root problem was based primarily upon the subjective complaints of the plaintiff. Also, he stated that the complaints of visual impairment were not connected to any trauma. Such a problem, if it did exist was attributable to migraine headaches or vascular abnormality.
Plaintiff consulted with a psychiatrist, Dr. David Rees, on one occasion, on July 9, 1980. She was complaining of stomach problems. This physician's diagnosis was as follows:
The history that plaintiff related to the doctor was that she had an automobile accident in May 1979 and that the immediate results of that accident were severe headaches, some visual impairment and numbness and weakness in her right arm. The problems persisted from June through November 1979 during which time she saw several doctors and has hospitalized four times for tests. The medical bills and purchase of a new car caused financial distress which, coupled with her problems in working, caused by the symptoms in her arm, caused emotional distress. That distress caused her to develop gastric symptoms in February 1980 and an ulcer was diagnosed.
The doctor testified that the problems related to him by plaintiff can cause stress and that these stresses can manifest themselves physically. Chronic muscle tension can develop in the neck so that these muscles ache and headaches ultimately develop as a result. He stated that plaintiff's migraine headaches could probably have been precipitated by this stress. He also stated that her stomach ulcer could be caused by stress.
We must not overlook the fact that the history upon which Dr. Rees based his conclusions differs from the history as related by Dr. Hill and Dr. Young. Dr. Hill testified that the plaintiff had complaints of headaches and visual disturbances January 1979, five months before the accident occurred. Dr. Young stated that the plaintiff related a history of visual disturbances dating since before the accident and, further, Dr. Young refused to relate such symptoms directly to trauma. Dr. Hill also testified that the plaintiff had a history of gastric complaints. The plaintiff had had stomach trouble as a child and he had found inflammation of the G. I. tract or gastreoenteritis as late as January 1979.
A detailed review of the medical testimony reveals that plaintiff's complaints of arm and visual problems preceded the accident of May 1979. Further, the consensus of opinion among the physicians was that the complaints of arm and visual problems were neither caused by nor connected with trauma of the accident. Likewise the problems of stomach ulcers were not related to the accident.
The jury had the duty to evaluate the testimony and consider the weight and credibility that it would attach to such testimony. We are not to disturb such evaluation by the jury unless the evidence reflects that the jury committed manifest error or was clearly wrong in its evaluation. We find that the evidence would support a finding that plaintiff's complaints were not related to the accident.
For these reasons, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed. The costs of this appeal shall be paid by plaintiff-appellant.