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Palm Beach County

This action was brought against the defendant rental car company, as well as the driver of the rental car which struck the plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant driver was intoxicated at the time of the accident and that the defendant rental car company was vicariously liable for his negligence. The plaintiff sought punitive, as well as compensatory damages. The plaintiff was granted partial summary judgment on liability and comparative negligence. Accordingly, the case was tried on the issues of damages and causation only. The defense disputed that the plaintiff’s injuries and surgeries were causally related to the accident.

The plaintiff was a front seat passenger in a vehicle driven by her husband in April, ________. Two female relatives and a child in a car seat occupied the back seat. The defendant driver approached from behind, swerved to miss the back of a state police vehicle and sideswiped the passenger side of the plaintiff’s car. The plaintiff testified that her head struck the passenger side window on impact. The defendant’s rental car then jumped the median and spun into the oncoming travel lane, nearly missing an approaching vehicle and losing a wheel in the process. The plaintiff’s car was deemed a total loss as a result of the accident and all occupants were transported to the hospital from the scene.

The plaintiff’s physicians testified that the plaintiff, a woman in her 30s at the time, sustained herniated cervical discs at the C5-C6 and C6-C7 levels as a result of the accident. The plaintiff underwent a two-level cervical fusion. Following the pliantiff’s cervical surgery, she continued to complain of wrist pain and tingling in her hands and fingers. She was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome which her physician causally related to the accident.

The plaintiff testified that she continues to experience on-going neck and wrist pain. The plaintiff alleged that she is precluded from many physical activities and has sustained a loss of future earning capacity as a result of her injuries. The plaintiff’s vocational rehabilitation expert testified that the palitniff’s lifting restriction of ten pounds precludes her from continuing work as a housekeeper. He opined that the plaintiff, a native of the Dominican Republic, will have difficulty finding sedentary work and has suffered a significant loss of future earnings.

The defendant driver was a resident of the Bahamas who was working as a crew member on a ship at the time of the accident. He borrowed the rental vehicle from the ship’s captain who had rented it from the defendant rental car company. The plaintiff brought a claim against the shipping line which employed the defendant driver under a bailment theory, arguing that the ship’s captain was acting as an agent for the shipping company when he rented the car. That claim settled prior to trial for $________.

The defendant driver testified that he was very sorry about the incident and that he served community service in the Bahamas in connection with his DWI arrest. Evidence showed that the defendant driver’s breathalyzer tests were at least twice the legal limit after the accident. One test result was .________ and the other was .________ (the legal limit in Florida is .08). The defendant’s orthopedic surgeon opined that the plaintiff’s cervical condition preexisted the date of the accident and that her surgery was not necessitated by the collision. Medical records showed that the plaintiff had been involved in a prior accident and underwent neck treatment some five years before the date of the subject accident.

The defendant’s orthopedic surgeon also opined that the plaintiff’s carpal tunnel syndrome was not causally related to the accident and is known to be an occupational hazard associated with housekeeping. The defense stressed that there was a significant delay in the plaintiff’s wrist complaints and that the carpal tunnel syndrome was not diagnosed until after the performance of her cervical surgery. The defendant’s vocational expert opined that the plaintiff can be retrained for alternative employment and has not sustained a diminution in her future earning capacity.

The jury awarded the plaintiff $________ in damages. The award included $________ in past medical expenses, $________ in future medical expenses, $________ in past loss of wages, $________ in future loss of wages, $________ in past pain and suffering and $________ in future pain and suffering, plus $________ in punitive damages against the defendant driver.

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