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Hills v. Donis

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

January 14, 2020

EBONI IVORY HILLS, Appellant
v.
CARLOS DONIS, ET AL., Appellees

          On Appeal from the 11th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2016-38471

          Panel consists of Justices Wise, Jewell, and Poissant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Margaret "Meg" Poissant Justice

         This is a personal injury case arising from an automobile accident. On appeal, Eboni Ivory Hills challenges the trial court's judgment in favor of appellees Carlos Donis, Calixto Donis, Victor Matamoros, and Saira Castellanos, both in her individual capacity and as next friend of S.D., a minor[1] (collectively the "Donis Parties"). Hills asserts the Donis Parties failed to present legally and factually sufficient evidence to support their negligence claims. Because we conclude expert medical testimony was required to establish the Donis Parties' diagnosed injuries were caused by the automobile accident, and because the Donis Parties presented no such evidence, we reverse and render.

         I. Background

         On July 6, 2014, Carlos Donis was driving his car south on I-45, in Houston, Texas, around 4:00 p.m. It was raining and the freeway was congested with traffic. Calixto Donis, Victor Matamoros, Saira Castellanos, and S.D. were passengers in Carlos's car. Richard Morehouse was driving his vehicle behind Carlos's vehicle. There was standing water on the highway, which caused Carlos to slow down or stop.

         Hills was entering I-45 behind a vehicle that blocked her view of Carlos's and Morehouse's vehicles. According to her testimony, a vehicle in front of Hills "jolt[ed] into traffic," and Hills applied her brakes, but did not have enough time to stop before hitting the back-right-side of Morehouse's car, and then ricocheting into the back of Carlos's vehicle.

         Hills's car was totaled. Morehouse's vehicle sustained substantial damage, but there was minimal damage to the rear of Carlos's vehicle. No airbags deployed in any of the vehicles.

         After the accident, none of the parties involved requested or left in an ambulance. No one went to the emergency room. No one was bleeding, had bruises, scrapes, cuts, or broken bones. Carlos drove his car home with all passengers.

         On June 7, 2016, the Donis Parties filed this negligence suit, seeking damages for physical pain, mental anguish, medical expenses, loss of earnings, and loss of enjoyment of life. On May 17, 2018, the case was called to trial. The parties waived their right to a jury trial. The trial court heard testimony from several witnesses, including Hills, Morehouse, and all the Donis Parties.

         Morehouse testified the impact jolted him around in the car and he felt immediate head and neck pain. He did not follow-up with any healthcare provider because the pain went away after about a day or two. He stated he did not have any long-term injuries.

         The Donis Parties maintain that the accident caused substantial soft tissue injuries to each occupant of the vehicle. Each of the Donis Parties testified at trial.

         Carlos

         Carlos testified that he suffered pain because of the accident, stating "It's difficult for me to -to move around to the right or to the left." Medical bills admitted into evidence in the amount of $48, 906.00 included diagnoses of cervical radiculitis, lumbar radiculitis, thoracalgia, cervical intervertebral disc ("IVD") displacement without myelopathy, lumbar IVD displacement without myelopathy, cervical discogenic pain, lumbar discogenic pain, disc herniation, cervical disc disorder, and lumbar disc disorder.

         Calixto

         Calixto testified he was injured in the accident in his lower back and part of his neck. Medical bills admitted into evidence in the amount of $48, 676.00 included diagnoses of cervical radiculitis, lumbar radiculitis, thoracalgia, cervical IVD displacement without myelopathy, lumbar IVD displacement without myelopathy, thoracic IVD displacement without myelopathy, cervical ...


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