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Martinez v. Lemense

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eleventh District

August 1, 2019


          On Appeal from the 385th District Court Midland County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CV 51, 197.

          Panel consists of: Bailey, C.J., Stretcher, J., and Wright, S.C.J. [1]



         This appeal challenges a jury verdict awarding Appellants damages for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Appellants were occupants of a vehicle rear-ended by a pickup driven and owned by Appellees. Following the accident, Appellants brought suit against Appellees seeking damages for past and future pain, suffering and mental anguish, loss of wages and earning capacity, physical impairment, and medical care. The jury found in favor of Appellants and awarded Appellant Anna Maria Martinez $5, 000 for past pain and mental anguish, $10, 000 for loss of earning capacity, and $146, 425.41 for past medical expenses. The jury awarded Appellant Luis Martinez $5, 034 for past medical expenses. However, in three issues, Appellants challenge the factual sufficiency of the jury's verdict, arguing that the award is unreasonably low given Appellants' severe injuries. Because we hold that the evidence supporting the jury's award of damages is not so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence as to make the judgment clearly wrong and manifestly unjust, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background Facts

         Appellants were occupants in a vehicle that was rear-ended by a pickup driven by Appellee Jacob Eric Lemense. Lemense was an employee of Strong Tower Electric, a company owned by Appellee Jared Million. Following the accident, Appellants sued Lemense and Million (individually and d/b/a Strong Tower Electric) for, among other things, negligence and gross negligence and sought damages for injuries allegedly sustained during the accident.

         Luis Martinez testified at trial. Luis testified that, while stopped at a stoplight, he heard a "crashing sound" and felt an impact from behind, which pushed his pickup forward. After confirming that neither he nor Anna had any visible injuries, Luis examined the condition of the vehicles. Luis recognized the driver of the other pickup-Luis had noticed him at an earlier stoplight when he appeared to be looking down at his phone. Luis noted that Appellees' pickup was leaking fluid and that the front end was crumpled in. However, Luis's pickup, which was a company pickup, only had minor visible damage with its reinforced steel bumper bent. Because neither Luis nor Anna was complaining about pain at the time, they declined ambulance treatment, and Luis drove Anna home and then continued to work to report that the pickup had been in an accident.

         Luis further testified that, despite not feeling pain initially, Anna complained to Luis about back pain later that day, and he drove her to the emergency room. Luis explained how Anna's pain grew worse and prevented her from taking part in her normal activities and routines despite numerous attempts at therapy and treatment over the next few months. Luis testified that eventually, after two surgeries, Anna's condition improved somewhat but that she was still physically unable to do many of the activities and chores she did before the accident. Although Luis testified that Anna did not return to work until five or six months after the accident, Luis clarified on cross-examination that Anna only missed work to attend her numerous doctors' appointments.

         Likewise, Luis testified that, although he too did not initially feel pain after the accident, he felt pain the following morning. Although, at first, Luis did not believe that the pain was bad enough to see a doctor, Luis eventually sought chiropractic therapy. The pain improved after a few months of treatment; however, Luis testified that he still feels a "little bit of pain."

         Anna Maria Martinez also testified at trial. Anna testified that their vehicle was hit fast and hard and estimated that the impact moved their vehicle twenty feet. Like Luis, Anna testified that she had noticed Lemense texting shortly before the accident. Anna explained that, immediately after the accident, she was in shock but declined to go to the hospital; Anna did not feel pain until later that day.

         Anna testified that she initially complained about pain in her neck, arm, and lower back. After first receiving treatment from multiple specialists, Anna was eventually referred to Dr. Benjamin Cunningham, an orthopedic surgeon. Because multiple therapies failed to relieve her pain, Dr. Cunningham ultimately determined that Anna required surgery. Anna testified that she ultimately underwent two back surgeries. Anna also testified that, despite her pain, she continued to work as a housekeeper for a hotel throughout the time she was receiving therapy and undergoing her surgeries. Anna explained that, despite being temporarily on a walker, she actually worked more hours after the accident than she did before. However, both Anna and a coworker, Katherine Warren, testified that Anna's work suffered negatively after the crash. Additionally, although Anna admitted that her condition had improved since the second surgery, Anna testified that she is now unable to do the housekeeping work she did before the accident, is currently out of work, and is often affected by the weather.

         Furthermore, Anna also acknowledged that, some years prior to the accident, she had fallen down some stairs and injured her back. However, Anna insisted that therapy and one injection had remedied the injuries stemming from the fall. Although Appellees offered health records on cross-examination suggesting that Anna had previously been injured in another car accident, Anna denied that she had ever been injured in a previous car accident or had suffered previous back pain. Likewise, although medical reports indicated that Anna informed Dr. Cunningham that she had been hit by a vehicle traveling at sixty miles per hour, Anna denied that she had made such a statement.

         Dr. Cunningham's video deposition testimony was also presented at trial. Dr. Cunningham testified that he treated both Luis and Anna after the accident. Dr. Cunningham explained that both Anna and Luis had back pain stemming from the accident but that Luis's pain, unlike Anna's, subsided after a few months. Regarding Anna, Dr. Cunningham testified that, due to Anna's persistent pain, he recommended surgery. Although the first surgery initially appeared successful, Anna still complained of pain following the surgery. As a result, Dr. Cunningham ordered an MRI and identified Anna's SI joint (sacroiliac joint) as a possible source of her pain. Dr. Cunningham explained that, because a surgery to fuse the SI joint is incredibly dangerous, he instructed Anna to pursue multiple alternative therapies to try to relieve the pain following the first surgery. However, after the alternative therapies failed to relieve Anna's pain, he determined that a second surgery to perform a fusion of Anna's SI joint was necessary.

         Dr. Cunningham further explained that back pain can result from even minor collisions and that it is impossible to tell when back pain started for a patient other than by what a patient tells you. Although Dr. Cunningham was not aware that Anna had previously received epidural steroid injections for back pain, Dr. Cunningham testified that (1) Anna's injuries, pain, and treatments were the result of this specific crash; (2) all procedures were necessary to ...

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