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Can You Appeal a Car Accident Case?

photo of car accident article author attorney daniel horowitz

Most car accident cases resolve with a settlement but what if you lose your case at trial? Can you appeal a car accident case after trial? The answer is “yes but”. Any trial verdict can be appealed but your chances of winning on appeal are not great.

What happens When You Lose At Trial?

A loss at trial is devastating in many ways. First, many of your uninsured medical bills must still be paid. Next, you will likely receive a bill for the other sides out of pocket costs. These are their costs for filing their court papers, the fees paid to court reporters for depositions, costs for requesting records and tens of thousands of dollars spent on expert witnesses. These costs are paid by you, the client and not the attorney. For these reasons the best trial attorney is more than a phrase, it can be a necessity.

Our Trial Lawyers

Daniel Horowitz has over 200 jury trials to his credit. Daniel Russo has over 300, Carmela Caramagno over 25. Daniel Horowitz’ trials include wrongful death, car accidents, disputes over insurance fraud, illegal wiretapping, negligent battery, whistleblower and employment cases and many others.

Trial Lawyers Have Less Trials!

When you negotiate a settlement the other side knows whether you have hired a true trial attorney to represent you. In most instances hiring a trial lawyer as your “personal injury lawyer” means that you will receive the best possible recovery without needing a trial. After all, an insurance company (and you) want to win at trial and not be stuck with the other side’s expenses.

Insurance companies also know if your attorney is able to mount a full trial in your particular area. Daniel Horowitz and Daniel Russo have affiliated offices throughout California and we can set up a full trial team in most locations. If you are in the Walnut Creek (Contra Costa County), Alameda County or Solano County you are in our home court.

Can Good Car Accident Cases Be Lost at Trial?

So what kind of case can go to trial and be lost? Here is an example. The facts are taken from the Court of Appeal case which was filed by the injured driver who lost at trial.

We are not at all criticizing the trial lawyer in this case. We are citing the case to show facts and a result that might be of interest to you.  Put differently, even the very best trial lawyers can lose cases.

Walnut Creek Car Accident Case

Walnut Creek is a medium sized city in Contra Costa County.  Juries are good and trials in Contra Costa are fair.  Despite this, the case here resulted in a very surprising verdict against the injured driver.  (We call him the "injured" driver although the jury verdict is quite different.)

We changed the names of the people involved. PERSON ONE is the person injured in the accident. PERSON TWO is the person who’s car rear ended PERSON ONE. We consider both PERSON ONE and PERSON TWO victims of the insurance company for reasons that we explain as we analyze the case. (Much of what follows is taken from or paraphrased from the actual Court of Appeal Opinion).

The car accident occurred October 18, 2000, on Oak Road in Walnut Creek. PERSON ONE, driving a Toyota 4-Runner, was stopped at a traffic light when PERSON TWO rear-ended him in a Honda Accord. Mr. PERSON TWO honestly admitted at trial that the accident was his fault.

Mr. PERSON TWO testified that he was coasting toward the stopped cars, expecting the light to change and the cars to advance, when he was distracted by a car entering the roadway. When Mr. PERSON TWO returned his attention to the lane ahead of him, he saw that the light had changed to green but the cars were still stopped. He slammed on the brakes but not in sufficient time to avoid colliding with appellant. Mr. PERSON TWO’s Accord received the brunt of the impact, and was damaged primarily above the front bumper. Mr. PERSON ONE’s 4-Runner suffered no significant damage, only a minimally bent tow hitch and a “slight misalignment” of the rear bumper.

[As trial attorneys the lack of damage to our client’s car is major warning sign that there is risk at trial. It doesn’t mean that Mr. PERSON ONE did not genuinely suffer an injury but it is a red flag that the other side is going to claim “no harm, no foul” in their defense. We should also point out that the defense in cases like this are made by the insurance company and their lawyers. There is no reason to believe that Mr. PERSON TWO was in any manner claiming that there was no injury. That is strange part of these cases. For all we know, the honesty in admitting fault may have been accompanied by a genuine desire to have Mr. PERSON ONE receive damages for his injuries. Remember that fact, these cases are 99% of the time not against the other driver, they are against a huge multi state insurance company.]

Here is how the Insurance Company claimed that Mr. PERSON ONE was not injured.

Mr. PERSON TWO told the responding police officer that he had been driving on Oak Road at 30 miles per hour before he applied his brakes. The insurance company called an expert who was a physicist working in the field of accident reconstruction. He opined that the Honda was traveling between 10 and 14 miles per hour at the time of impact.

Now even if this is true, 10-14 miles an hour is a decent hit. His range of 10-14 is (to us) suspiciously broad. It is a 40% difference from 10 to 14. It seems like a educated guess. Could it have been 12-18?

The next guess under the guise of “science” was the physicists conclusion that Mr. PERSON ONE would have experienced a velocity change of between 3.1 and 5.4 miles per hour. At the low end of that range, the velocity change is equivalent to the force felt when one is in a moving vehicle and brakes are hit hard. At the high end of that range, the velocity change is equivalent to the force felt if one were to throw oneself “back with some vigor on to a couch or a chair.”

Of course this opinion (to us) ignored the fact that Mr. PERSON ONE’s own treating physician testified, by way of videotaped deposition, that appellant had a congenital spinal malformation that became symptomatic in early adulthood. Mr. PERSON ONE testified that he sustained a “slipped disk” in his lower back during high school football in the 1970s. Around 1978, Mr. PERSON ONE hurt his lower back lifting tree stumps onto a wagon while working on a ranch, and filed a workers' compensation claim. Mr. PERSON ONE had back surgery two years later, in which vertebrae were fused and wired.

PERSON ONE's back continued to hurt even after the surgery. He filed another workers' compensation claim for back injury in 1997, contending he was hurt by the lack of an ergonomic desk and chair at the bank where he worked as a loan officer. He underwent two additional surgeries in 1998, fusing vertebrae in his neck and back. Finally he continued to suffer back pain, and had refilled a prescription for pain medication just weeks before the car accident.

To our lawyers this is a classic situation where the physicist knows nothing of great value. The effect of the accident on a person with these existing injuries is 100% the responsibility of the other driver. But here the insurance company started putting the injured person on trial. This process is so unfair. If the two human beings involved in this accident were allowed to work things out, the case would settle and everyone would be friends. Instead, both the plaintiff and the defendant were caught in a battle that (likely) neither remotely wanted to fight. Even in states like New Jersey that have “no fault” insurance, cases go to trial. There was “no fault” here. Mr. PERSON TWO was 100% honest and admitted fault. It didn’t save the state or the parties from an unnecessary trial.

Mr. PERSON ONE’s treating physician testified that his condition had been stable before the accident, and that the accident caused a crack and tear in a spinal disk resulting in “significant distress.”

Of course the insurance company had experts who disagreed. A physician opined that the car accident did not cause injury to appellant's back, and that the May 2001 surgery was necessitated by preexisting conditions. A radiologist reviewed MRI films before and after the car accident and found no evidence of an injury or exacerbation arising from the accident. An expert in biomechanics testified that the car accident would not be consistent with an acute injury to the lower back, or exacerbation of appellant's existing back condition.

Here is a big problem. The case took years to go to trial and the insurance company blamed the victim for trying to have a normal life. The insurance company presented evidence that Mr. PERSON ONE golfed multiple times after the car accident. He rented a golf cart and paid greens fees for 18 holes at a golf course on November 5, 2000, less than three weeks after the car accident.

If you have ever been hurt you know that you can either give in to the pain or fight it. We respect the fact that Mr. PERSON ONE tried to return to normal life and at trial he testified that he suffered “horrific pain” during November and December 2000, and that it was “[h]ard to do anything.”
It is a fact that he rented a cart and paid greens fees three times in November 2000, and played in a golfing tournament on December 31, 2000. The insurance company biomechanics expert testified that golfing generates significant forces on the back, and brings one's lumbar spine to the limits of torsion.

The jury returned a defense verdict upon finding that the car accident was not a cause of injury to Mr. PERSON ONE.

On appeal the case was not reversed. The verdict stood. It is very hard to win on appeal. Unless there is uncontradicted evidence showing that the verdict is wrong, an appeals court will not intervene.

“The power of an appellate court begins and ends with the determination as to whether, on the entire record, there is substantial evidence, contradicted or uncontradicted, which will support the determination [in the trial court], and when two or more inferences can reasonably be deduced from the facts, a reviewing court is without power to substitute its deductions for those of the trial court.’ “ (Jameson v. Five Feet Restaurant, Inc. (2003) 107 Cal.App.4th 138, 143, italics omitted.)
PERSON ONE v. PERSON TWO (Cal. Ct. App., Jan. 30, 2004, No. A101002) 2004 WL 187420, at *3

The court even considered the fact the police officer responding to the scene of the accident “felt that emergency medical attention was warranted.” Despite this the court held that “It is the province of the jury, not the appellate court, to weigh the evidence and resolve its conflicts.”
PERSON ONE v. PERSON TWO (Cal. Ct. App., Jan. 30, 2004, No. A101002) 2004 WL 187420, at *4

So the bottom line is that every personal injury case whether it is a car or motorcycle accident or any other type, has to be managed as if it is going to trial.  If you are going to play golf after an accident, carefully document whether or not you hurt during or after you were on the course.  Have witnesses note this.  As forced and artificial as this sounds, in the real world it is necessary.  

You can handle a small accident by yourself.  But for any real injury from an accident, you need an attorney.  Our office is highly experienced in personal injury cases.  As always, we charge no fee until you reccover.