State Supreme Court Rules Medical Records Admissible in Uninsured Motorist Lawsuit – Arnold v. Wallace
As a St. Louis auto accident lawyer, I frequently have to counsel my clients on claiming benefits for uninsured or underinsured motorists. This is a type of insurance that covers drivers when they are injured through no fault of their own by someone who doesn’t have any insurance at all, or doesn’t have enough insurance to cover all the injuries created by the accident he or she caused. Missourians are required by law to carry uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, along with the minimum liability insurance coverage. Unfortunately, people in Missouri and across the United States have frequently had trouble actually using those benefits, because insurance companies save money when they can deny claims. One case like this, out of Virginia, was the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision in Arnold v. Wallace et al., which upheld a small verdict in favor of Mary Arnold. Arnold appealed the admission of her medical records and the use of an expert witness, but the high court affirmed both.
Arnold was injured in a 2005 collision with Jonathan Wallace, who had no insurance at all. To collect from her uninsured motorist policy, she brought a suit against Wallace, triggering a defense by her insurer, Travelers Insurance Company. At trial, Arnold argued that the crash had caused neck and back pain as well as post-concussion syndrome. Travelers introduced Arnold’s past medical records over her objection that the company had not made its case for a business records exception to the hearsay rule. Travelers then cross-examined Arnold’s doctor about other doctors’ notes on her medical conditions, including a deteriorating cervical disc and migraines. Arnold also objected at trial to expert defense witness Dr. Charles Citrin, who Arnold had previously hired. The trial court agreed that Citrin had conflicts, but permitted Travelers to substitute Citrin’s partner, Dr. Elizabeth Hartman, over more objections. The jury ultimately awarded $9,134.61 to Arnold, who appealed.
The Virginia Supreme Court upheld both decisions. On the medical records, Arnold claimed Travelers should have shown that the records contained facts and not medical opinions, and thus did not adequately establish a business records exception to the hearsay rule. The high court disagreed. No past Virginia Supreme Court decisions have required that business records be entirely factual and free of opinions, it noted. Furthermore, it agreed with Travelers that objecting to the admission of the records does not encompass objecting to each individual record discussed — which Arnold had failed to do. Thus, her objections are waived, the court said, and the foundation of the business records exception was sufficient. The high court also rejected Arnold’s contentions that Hartman had a conflict of interests, in particular because she was given documents from Citrin including handwritten notes that could have contained confidential information from when Citrin had been hired by Arnold. However, no evidence shows any transfer of confidential information from Arnold to Citrin or Citrin to Hartman, and many of the notes were handwritten and indecipherable. Thus, it upheld the trial court on both counts.
I understand why Arnold would have been disappointed by the relatively small recovery in her case. While $9,000 would be a nice windfall for many people, I know from my work as a Missouri car accident attorney that it likely won’t cover treatment for the typical neck and back injuries sustained from a car accident. Most people don’t realize that even a low-speed wreck is enough to throw the spine out of alignment, causing chronic pain and difficulties with daily life. Unfortunately, these soft tissue injuries are also difficult to prove, so plaintiffs like Arnold can have trouble collecting the full amount of their losses. Here at Carey, Danis & Lowe, we tell all of our clients to save every piece of documentation related to their injuries, even seemingly unimportant things like drugstore receipts. Armed with evidence that our clients took their injuries seriously from the beginning, our southern Illinois motor vehicle accident lawyers can make a strong case for fair compensation.
If you were hurt in a car crash that was no fault of your own, don’t wait to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. For a free, confidential consultation, you can reach us through our website or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
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