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Washington Defense Summary Judgment Denied Despite No Evidence of Vehicle Damage

Injuries can result from even minor automobile accidents.  Washington car accident attorneys know that defendants are likely to challenge causation in such cases, and they may even challenge whether a collision even occurred.  Documentation of the accident and the injury is extremely important, as a recent Washington appeal case shows.

roadThe plaintiff sued the defendant, alleging he was injured in an automobile accident.  According to the plaintiff, the defendant’s vehicle crossed the center line, and the mirror of the defendant’s car struck the mirror of the plaintiff’s car.

The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing there was no evidence the “alleged accident” caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  She admitted her vehicle crossed the yellow line and “passed closely by” the plaintiff’s car, but she denied hitting the plaintiff’s mirror.  She submitted a repair estimate from her insurer, stating there was “no damage” to her vehicle and including photographs taken by the insurance investigator.

The defendant also submitted declarations from an orthopedic surgeon and a chiropractor, who both opined the collision did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries due to the lack of damage to the vehicles.

The plaintiff argued there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether there was a collision that resulted in his injuries.  He submitted his own declaration, a declaration of his friend, the police report, medical records, pharmacy receipts, and medical insurance claims. The plaintiff stated the defendant’s vehicle crossed the center line and struck his car.  He testified she drove away, and he followed her into a parking lot.  He called 911 and then called his friend and told him about the accident.

The plaintiff stated the defendant’s mother, who was a passenger in the vehicle, wiped down the defendant’s mirror and became defensive when he confronted her.

The police report noted a two-vehicle accident.  It also noted the plaintiff’s back pain.  The plaintiff’s friend testified they did not follow through with their plans to attend a baseball game that night because the plaintiff “was injured and in pain.”

The plaintiff’s medical records stated he was examined and x-rayed the day after the accident.  He also had an MRI.  The x-ray and MRI found a facet offset, which is a partial dislocation of the vertebrae.

The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff moved for reconsideration.  He submitted medical records from a neurosurgical specialist who examined the plaintiff a few days after the accident.  The neurosurgical specialist diagnosed back and neck pain and ordered physical therapy.  The emergency medicine specialist noted that the medical records showed objective and subjective symptoms consistent with a person involved in a car accident.  He concluded it was more probable than not that the plaintiff was injured as a result of the collision.

The district court denied the motion for reconsideration, finding no material issue of fact, specifically regarding whether the minimal contact alleged could cause the alleged injuries.

The plaintiff appealed, arguing that whether the collision occurred was a factual question.  The defendant argued there was undisputed physical evidence that there was no damage to either vehicle.  The superior court affirmed the dismissal, finding no competent evidence of a collision.  The plaintiff moved for discretionary review, which was granted.

The appeals court noted that if the evidence showed a driver failed to meet the standard of care, the jury must determine whether there was negligence.  The defendant did not dispute having a duty of ordinary care or breaching the duty.  She argued, however, that based on uncontroverted physical facts, reasonable minds could only conclude there had been no collision.  She argued the plaintiff’s testimony could not raise a material issue of fact without corroborating evidence.  She also pointed to the repair estimate and photographs to show there had not been any damage.

Unlike in the case cited by the defendant, however, the physical facts here were not uncontroverted.  The plaintiff testified the defendant’s car had hit his vehicle.  He immediately called 911.  He said the defendant’s mother had wiped away any signs the vehicles had made contact.  The appeals court noted that credibility is a jury question.  The court reversed the summary judgment dismissal and remanded the case for trial.

The defendant challenged both the occurrence of a collision and causation.  The appeals court, however, did not accept that the lack of vehicle damage necessarily meant that there had not been a collision, or that the collision could not have been significant enough to cause the injuries.  The plaintiff was able to provide evidence not only that he had reported a collision and injuries, but also that he had consistently reported both—to the police, to the hospital, and to his friend.  This type of evidence can be particularly important in cases in which the defendant challenges whether the impact could result in the claimed injuries.

If you have been injured in a car accident, an experienced Washington car accident attorney can help you get the compensation you deserve.  They can work with you to determine if an expert is needed and to find an appropriate expert.  Call the attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to discuss your case.

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Image: / Diogo Carné