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Plaintiff Unable to Prove Erectile Dysfunction Caused by Accident without Expert Testimony

By on July 30, 2018 in Civil Lawsuits with 0 Comments

In a damages only trial for an uninsured motorist claim, the jury awarded the plaintiff $1.5 million in compensatory damages. The judge molded the verdict to the insurance company’s $500,000 policy limit. Thereafter, in Chetney v. New Jersey Manufacturers Re-Insurance Co., 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1718 (App. Div. July 17, 2018), the UM carrier, New Jersey Manufacturers Re-Insurance Company (“NJMRe”) filed an appeal. The Appellate Division rejected all but one argument concerning whether the plaintiff and his wife could be permitted to testify that he suffered from erectile dysfunction after the accident without offering expert opinion.

The plaintiff contended that a 1998 accident was the sole cause of his condition. He alleged that from the 1998 accident, which happened when he was working as a paramedic and his vehicle was struck by an uninsured driver, he had suffered a permanent injury to his lumbosacral spine. He also had 3 prior motor vehicle accidents, one prior slip and fall, and four subsequent non-motor vehicle accidents but alleged that the 1998 accident was the principal cause of his permanent injury. Despite spinal fusion surgery, he suffered from chronic pain. His pain was controlled with morphine and an implanted device to redirect nerve signals.

He and his wife testified about the impact of the 1998 accident on various recreational and family activities. His wife was pregnant at the time of the accident but miscarried. She was unable to conceive a third child or engage in intimacy with the plaintiff after his 1998 accident.

Defendant NJM had moved to bar any testimony concerning the erectile dysfunction because it was not adequately disclosed in discovery and expert testimony was required to establish that plaintiff suffered from the condition and that the 1998 collision caused it. NJM sought to redact part of plaintiff’s orthopedist’s de bene esse deposition, in which he testified that the nerve impingement in the lumbosacral spine could affect plaintiff’s urologic function.

The trial court granted the motion as to the expert’s testimony but permitted the plaintiff and his wife to testify about how the accident affected his life. He found that expert testimony was not necessary to establish what plaintiff had experienced.

The Appellate Division agreed that the plaintiff and his wife could testify about the symptoms he was experiencing. However, the Court disagreed with the trial court on the necessity of expert testimony. The Appellate Division ruled that expert testimony was necessary to establish causation. An expert was needed to identify the medical cause. Although plaintiff and his wife testified that he had no difficulty before the 1998 accident, the Court held that “coincidence is not causation.”

Hence, the Court ordered a new trial in which plaintiff would be obliged to present expert testimony to establish the causal connection between his spinal injury to the 1998 accident and his erectile dysfunction to that injury.  The Appellate Division found that it was up to the trial court to permit the parties to reopen discovery to permit the plaintiff to amend prior disclosures to present the required medical expert opinion and the defendant to obtain an independent medical examination.

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Betsy G. Ramos

About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

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