On the morning of February 14, 2001, 21-year-old Theresa Suddeth was on her way to class at the University of Washington. She was driving her 1983 Jeep vehicle on Brooklyn Avenue in the University District of Seattle. Theresa was traveling the posted speed limit of 30 mph. Another driver then pulled out in front of her without yielding the right of way. There was a T-bone collision. Theresa’s vehicle struck the passenger side of the defendant’s vehicle.
The defendant, 80 year-old Peter Combs*, claimed that he stopped before entering into the intersection, but that he could not see very far due to the sunshine. Theresa’s vehicle sustained $4,000 in damage. The defendant’s vehicle was totaled. Theresa instinctively swerved to her right upon impact.
She hit her head on the driver side door window. She was thrown forward and back again upon impact. The defendant was not injured.
When police arrived on the scene, the defendant was cited for failing to yield the right of way. Theresa was very shaken up while at the scene. She immediately called her mother and father.
They both arrived on the scene to find that Theresa was crying and very upset. Theresa refused medical attention at the scene. However, when her mother arrived and saw the golf-ball-sized lump on Theresa’s head, she insisted that Theresa see the family’s doctor that afternoon.
By the time Theresa saw her doctor a few hours later, she was also experiencing neck and back pain. The doctor diagnosed a neck and back strain and a contusion to the head. Theresa was advised to go home and ice her injuries and take Ibuprofen for pain. Over the next 3 days Theresa’s complaints of pain grew progressively worse. She would later describe at trial as feeling that she was hit repeatedly by a baseball bat all over her body. She went to the Stevens Hospital emergency room with acute neck and low back pain.
She was given a prescription for Vicodin and advised to rest and then follow up with her PCP in one week if her symptoms did not significantly improve. Theresa never returned to see her PCP, despite the fact that her back pain persisted. At the suggestion of a friend, Theresa sought treatment from a chiropractor. She also received some massage. Unfortunately, this care actually made Theresa’s symptoms worse. About four months after the collision, Theresa’s mother called the PCP for a referral to a “back specialist” because Theresa’s low back pain had not resolved.
Theresa was advised to see an orthopedist doctor at Kruger Orthopedics clinic in Edmonds, Washington. The doctor saw Theresa just one time and prescribed 8 physical therapy sessions over the next 30 days. The doctor further instructed the physical therapist to develop a “home exercise program” for Theresa so she would not have to continue formal care. Theresa completed her last physical therapy session approximately 6 months after the date of the collision.
When Theresa finished her last physical therapy treatment, she stopped treatment. Theresa stopped treatment even though her low back pain was still present. Theresa did not receive treatment for the next two (2) years.
During this two-year “hiatus” from medical care, Theresa continued to perform her exercises and stretching routines as instructed by her physical therapist. She continued to experience daily low back pain. Theresa’s friends and family members all testified at trial that Theresa complained about her back pain constantly. Theresa testified at trial that over this two-year period she continued the exercise and stretching routine as taught by her physical therapist.
While Theresa was a full time student at the U.W., she was also employed in the shipping and receiving department of a small local production company. Her co-workers would later testify at trial that Theresa always needed help moving objects at work and that she needed to take frequent breaks. During her two-year “hiatus” from medical care, Theresa maintained a full curriculum at the University of Washington.
She graduated in four years with a degree in Anthropology. Theresa’s mother would later tell the jury that her only daughter was an exceptional student. Theresa graduated from the U.W. with a 3.75 grade point average.
At the repeated urging of her mother, father and other family members, Theresa decided to return to a physician in August 2003. Theresa’s mother referred her to another chiropractor who a lot of experience treating car accident victims with chronic back pain. The chiropractor ordered an MRI scan of Theresa’s lumbar spine. The MRI revealed that Theresa had lower lumbar facet arthropathy (joint pathology) which was consistent with traumatically induced arthritis to the facet joints.
The MRI also revealed a “very mild disc protrusion at L5-S1.”.
Seattle personal injury attorney Christopher M. Davis is the managing partner of Davis Law Group. He brings over 15 years of practical yet innovative experience to personal injury cases. He practices law in Seattle, WA. You can learn more about Mr. Davis at http://www.InjuryTrialLawyer.com. Click here to get information on your personal injury or car accident claim.