Peterson-Tuell v. First Student Transp. – Prior Health History Relevant to Determine Damages

It seemed like a relatively straightforward case: A school bus driver, working for a private contractor, rear-ended a woman in a vehicle, pushing that driver into another vehicle, causing some damage to the vehicle and, allegedly, injury to that driver.

When the driver who was struck later filed a lawsuit for injuries sustained in the crash, defendant school bus company admitted to liability in Peterson-Tuell v. First Student Transp., LLC. There was really nothing to argue in that regard, as the bus driver was clearly at fault in proceeding when the light turned green without making sure traffic ahead had started to move.

That meant the only thing left to decide was the issue of damages. The injured driver asked for $3 million, saying a traumatic brain injury stemming from the crash rendered her unable to work. The company offered to pay her $95,000, arguing her injuries were psychosomatic. In the end, a jury granted the woman even less, $65,000.

Upon appeal, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed, finding no abuse of discretion by trial court with regard to allowing medical records and testimony from therapists about prior diagnoses. This included a depression that reportedly began when the woman’s daughter was sexually abused more than two decades earlier and had continued sporadically up until the date of the accident.

Our Montgomery car accident attorneys recognize it can be difficult for accident victims to accept that sometimes, details of their personal life may be dredged up by defendants hoping to minimize payout. Our attorneys work tirelessly to argue against the probative value of this kind of information, particularly when it is highly and unduly prejudicial.

According to court records in this case, after the bus company conceded liability, it presented evidence based on plaintiff’s old medical records and testimony from her physicians that she had suffered depression and anxiety for decades. They noted she did not complain of confusion, anxiety or cognitive issues until months after the accident. It was opined by two physicians her symptoms were psychosomatic and while potentially worsened by the crash, not created by it.

Her attorney sought to eliminate any reference to the “psychological theories,” but that motion was not successful. Further, plaintiff didn’t specifically seek exclusion of her medical records or testimony from her own physicians. The court ultimately rejected plaintiff’s request, and it’s likely those elements were significant in the low amount of damages ultimately awarded.

It is true that litigants in any case proposing alternative theories of plaintiff injury have to present a connection that can be considered “more probable than not.” Mere speculation isn’t sufficient.

In this case, the court found the evidence presented wasn’t merely speculative, as it largely came from her own medical records and physicians – including their opinions that her symptoms were largely the result of her prior anxiety and depression. Her post-accident headaches and other problems may have been “set off” by the crash, they found, but the crash had been secondary to other causes of her symptoms.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Peterson-Tuell v. First Student Transp., LLC, Nov. 25, 2014, Montana Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Alabama Distraction Crash Lawsuit Jury Awards $525,000, Nov. 20, 2014, Montgomery Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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