Lacking Medical Evidence – When to Bring a Claim

George v Morgan & Anor [2016] QDC 52 is a recent District Court of Queensland case that highlights the precarious nature of personal injury claims in slow moving vehicle accidents, particularly where medical evidence is lacking.  The plaintiff was wholly unsuccessful in her claim. The case illustrates the need for potential plaintiffs to seek sound legal advice in assessing whether to bring a claim before the court, and what the likelihood of a successful claim may be in situations where medical evidence is unsupportive.

Facts

  • On 5 July 2013 the first defendant reversed his car into the plaintiff’s Toyota Corolla while it was parked at a petrol station. The velocity of the impact was between 2.8 and 6.2 kilometres an hour. The plaintiff’s car moved only a short distance.
  • The plaintiff alleged that she received injuries to her cervical spine and suffered severe headaches as the result of whiplash. These injuries culminated in a permanent disability and ongoing pain months later.
  • No abnormalities were detected in X-rays, an MRI scan or medical examinations.
  • The plaintiff sued the first defendant and his insurer, the second defendant, for damages.

Issue

Did the plaintiff suffer any personal injuries from being struck at a velocity of less than 10km?

Decision

  • There was insufficient medical evidence to support a finding that a front-end vehicle collision of a velocity substantially less than 10km could result in serious harm. That is:
    • According to medical experts, permanent whiplash injury from slow moving vehicle collisions is “most uncommon”. It is even more less likely to occur in a front-end vehicle collision;
    • Literature presented by neurologist, Dr Todman, in favour of permanent injuries resulting from low speed collisions concluded that such injuries could only result in collisions over 10km per hour in velocity. In the instant case the plaintiff’s car was struck at less than 8 km per hour.
    • Dr Pincus, another medical professional in orthopaedic surgery, concluded that the low speed impact could result in soft tissue injury for “some days”, but considered a serious injury impossible.
    • No abnormalities were detected in X-rays, an MRI scan or medical examinations.
  • The proof of any actual injury was reliant on the plaintiff’s evidence which the court found to be unreliable.
    • The plaintiff claimed she felt immediate pain in her neck after the collision, however video footage showed the plaintiff alighting from her vehicle, bending down and assessing damages, and leaning in through her window to retrieve her purse. All movements appeared ”fluid and unremarkable” and disclosed “no sign of discomfort, physical difficulty or abnormality”;
    • Though the plaintiff complained she suffered significant pain, records revealed she did not collect prescribed painkillers for such pain, but did fill other prescriptions for her contraception instead;
    • The plaintiff sought medical attention on numerous occasions for matters other than whiplash injuries, which Clare J held to be notable in disproving the plaintiff’s credibility in determining the severity or actuality of any injuries.

Conclusion

Clare J was not persuaded on the balance of probabilities that any injury was caused by the collision. The plaintiff and first defendant’s collision had the potential to cause a short term injury, but medical evidence was insufficient to support that a person struck at a velocity of lower than 10km an hour could suffer severe long-term injuries. Judgement was for the defendants.

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