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Bass v. State

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

November 7, 2014

LINDA E. BASS
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA, ET AL

On Appeal from the 18th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Pointe Coupee State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 43, 724 Honorable James J. Best, Judge Presiding

John Wayne Jewell New Roads, LA Robert J. David Walter C. Morrison, IV New Orleans, LA Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellee, Linda E. Bass

James D. "Buddy" Caldwell Attorney General Stephen Babcock Kevin P. Kleinpeter Chase Tettleton Special Asst. Attorneys General Baton Rouge, LA Attorneys for Defendants-Appellants, State of Louisiana, through Dept. of Public Safety & Corrections, and Leslie M. Dupont, Sr.

BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McCLENDON, AND HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ.

HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

The State of Louisiana, through the Department of Public Safety and Corrections (the State), appeals a judgment on a jury verdict that awarded damages to Linda E. Bass, for injuries she sustained in a motor vehicle accident caused by the State's employee. For the following reasons, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

It is undisputed that on the evening of February 23, 2010, Linda E. Bass was injured when her car was struck by a pickup truck driven by the State's employee, Leslie M. Dupont, Sr., after Mr. Dupont failed to observe a stop sign at the intersection of Louisiana Highway 417 and Delhi Lane in Pointe Coupee Parish.[1] The collision caused Ms. Bass's vehicle to leave the highway, hit a concrete culvert, become airborne, and hit the bank of a bayou before coming to a stop in a yard about thirty yards from the culvert. The door of her vehicle had to be cut before it could be opened, and when Ms. Bass attempted to stand up after exiting the vehicle, she collapsed face down onto the ground due to an excruciating, shooting pain in her back. She was immobilized on a spinal board and transported by ambulance to a hospital in Baton Rouge.

At the hospital, it was determined that Ms. Bass, who was 63 years old at the time, had sustained two "extremely painful" vertebral fractures in her lower (lumbar) spine at LI and L3 as a result of the accident. At LI, the fracture was a serious "burst type" compression fracture, where the bone was "splayed out in all directions, and pushed its way . . . backwards against the spinal cord." The second, less severe fracture at L3 was a "crush" type compression fracture "two levels below where the upper surface of the body of the vertebra has failed and has shown indentation[.]" A neurosurgeon, Dr. Gerald Wayne Molloy, was called to the emergency room to evaluate and treat Ms. Bass. Dr. Molloy determined that there was no need for immediate surgery and that Ms. Bass could be treated conservatively by immobilizing her back with spinal support bracing and treating her constant pain. Within 24 hours of arriving at the hospital, Ms. Bass complained of severe pain between her shoulder blades, which could have been indicative of a cervical injury. However, Dr. Molloy's initial treatment focused on stabilizing Ms. Bass's low back fractures, her possible need for immediate low back surgery, and pain management.

Ms. Bass remained hospitalized and immobilized from the night of the accident, February 23, 2010, to March 3, 2010, at which time she was moved to a rehabilitation center, where she received conservative treatment until April 6, 2010. Even after returning home, Ms. Bass wore a hard back brace for nine months as she continued to heal, and she still wears a soft back brace at times. After the accident, Ms. Bass regularly used a walker for four months as she learned to walk again. Since the accident, Ms. Bass does not drive and she has not been able to return to her job at a nursing home because she is physically unable to do the work that involves sitting and walking. It is unlikely that Ms. Bass will ever be able to return to work. She lives with constant pain between her shoulder blades, low back, and left leg, and she takes strong pain medication four times a day.

Dr. Molloy continued to treat Ms. Bass after she was released from the hospital to her home, seeing her in his office for the first time on May 25, 2010. At that time, Dr. Molloy noted that Ms. Bass was still in pain and she had weakness in her arms, another indication of a cervical injury. As part of Ms. Bass's conservative treatment for cervical and low back pain, she was referred to a pain management specialist, Dr. John Michael Burdine, on June 17, 2010. Dr. Burdine adjusted Ms. Bass's medications, ordered MRIs, and performed epidural steroid injections in Ms. Bass's spine to reduce the inflammation and pain. She underwent two injections in her neck and three in her lower back. Dr, Molloy and Dr. Burdine both indicated that Ms. Bass is a candidate for back and neck surgery, but even with the surgeries, it is apparent that she will more likely than not suffer from pain for the rest of her life due to the injuries she sustained in the accident.

Ms. Bass brought suit against the State for damages she sustained as a result of the accident. A four-day jury trial was held in March 2013. After the trial court granted a directed verdict against the State on the issue of liability, the matter proceeded to the jury solely on the issue of damages. The jury returned a verdict on March 21, 2013, awarding Ms. Bass the following damages: $1, 300, 000.00 for past and future pain, suffering, humiliation, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life; $109, 125.00 for past and future loss of earnings; $140, 724.60 for past medical expenses; $500, 000.00 for future medical expenses; and $136, 000.00 for loss of household services.

Five months later, the trial court signed a judgment on August 30, 2013, noting that the general damage award was reduced to the mandated statutory cap of $500, 000.00 pursuant to La. R.S. 13:5106(B)(1). In the judgment, the trial court also re-distributed the special damage award for future medical expenses, awarding $48, 111.40 for medical expenses incurred due to Ms. Bass's post-verdict/pre-judgment cervical fusion surgery, and the balance of the future medical expenses up to $451, 888.60 to be paid through the Future Medical Care Fund (the Fund) as established in La. R.S. 39:1533.2 and La. R.S. 13:5106(B)(3)(c). Additionally, the judgment awarded costs and interest as allowed by law. The trial court subsequently denied the State's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). The State now appeals, disputing the amount awarded for future medical expenses and household ...


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