Incredible final verdict of $650,000 by TLC 2000-2 Grad, Gary Hazelton, on a very low- impact collision – – only $500 of property damage. With a previous wreck causing similar symptoms, liability was admitted, and State Farm offered $6000 before trial. This poor gal couldn’t find a lawyer and was representing herself when she met Gary’s son, Brooks.
She had struggled through a winding and long-irresolute course of medical diagnostics. In 2008, a neuropsychologist diagnosed her with a somatoform disorder, fundamentally calling her a liar. She saw another 33 doctors before she fortuitously stumbled across a chiropractor in Utah. While State Farm would have had the jury believe that she was doctor-shopping, the reality was that she had a condition that was extremely difficult to diagnose – – it took a digital motion X-ray, recording 30 images/second as the client moved, to finally identify that she had severe The client’s first wreck happened in 2005; the second wreck was in 2010. Since then, the client instability in her high C-spine. And it took neurosurgery to further identify that her vertebral arteries were occluded whenever she rotated her C2 vertebra.
In 2010, in preparation for an arbitration for the FIRST wreck, State Farm deposed the neuropsychologist and polished up his shitty 2008 opinions (despite that the neurologist had not in 2010, nor last week, seen the client again since that singular 2008 evaluation) – – and, unbelievably, Gary and Brooks’ trial judge allowed State Farm to play that video in THIS trial.
The neuropsychologist’s opinion of a somatoform disorder was, of course, highly popular with State Farm’s two defense medical examiners (whom State Farm flew from Utah and Oregon to Alaska to evaluate the client, and catch some halibut on State Farm’s dime). These fine fisherman felt confident due to the somatoform disorder, the preexisting injuries from the 2005 wreck, and – greatest hits time – degenerative disc disease! (Hold up your lighter for that one.)
Betrayal is a powerful theme in UIM cases. State Farm’s cheerful, friendly marketing has always been designed to express “you can trust us … we are, after all, your neighbor.” Here, the “good neighbor” fought its own customer in a 2016 trial with a 2010 video about a 2008 examination that was incomplete to begin with – – eight years of fighting its own customer,
instead of rewarding her for her trust in State Farm. But Gary and Brooks could show betrayal effectively only if they could also show that the client’s injuries were real. Gary would have to roll around in the medicine until he could tell a clear and simple story of this injury.
It would help, of course, if the client’s treating neurosurgeon would prepare for his testimony. Anyone here familiar with neurosurgeons, as a demographic? Instead of preparing in advance, he wanted to just use a PowerPoint presentation that he had used for a lecture in Sweden! Fortuitously, one of the subjects of this presentation was Gary and Brooks’ client. Rather than quibbling with the neurosurgeon about whether he had obtained the client’s permission for that, Gary used the slides showing the client’s instability in the deposition. This includes excerpts of the neurosurgeon’s surgery on the client, with sound, where the doctor showed on film how the client’s vertebral arteries occluded every time she turned her head. There was a Doppler ultrasound probe on her arteries during the procedure, so the video broadcast the “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” of the artery whenever the neurosurgeon repositioned or rotated the client’s vertebrae. Gary’s initial panic that the doctor had not reviewed the chart for the deposition was assuaged by the realization that in fact, he had been so immersed in this unusual case that he used it for an international lecture.
And so the jury was educated through Gary’s direction of the neurosurgeon (using Movavi Screen Capture Studio). From there, Gary could walk the two defense doctors through the unique markers of the client’s injury. He showed that if the client’s spine was flexed, the protrusion off of the C2 would compress the brainstem; but if the client’s spine was extended, blood could flow naturally. When the defense neuroradiologist presented a series of MRI films to claim that the problem was just gradual degenerative changes, Gary kept him honest with an MRI taken just eight months after the collision, showing that the condition of the 2014 MRI was not something that gradually developed over time. That the jury had to learn of that scan (and other “forgotten” records) from Gary, instead of from State Farm, underscored Gary’s theme that State Farm was betraying its customer.
In final argument, State Farm’s lawyer listed the 33 doctors whom the client had seen before she encountered the Utah chiropractor and his digital motion X-ray. The defense theme, of course, was that if this condition were real and if the client had it, why did 33 doctors miss it?
Defense counsel must have forgotten the client’s neurosurgeon’s testimony that this is such an elusive diagnosis that he expects to be the 25th (or greater) doctor that his patients with this condition see, and the first to confirm its diagnosis. Gary pointed that out in rebuttal, challenging the defense’s claims by asking why a highly-credentialed neurosurgeon who
lectures internationally would try to pass off this condition as legitimate, and as diagnosed in Gary’s client, on to an international (and peer-reviewing) audience if he lacked confidence in his research and findings.
The jury returned a verdict for $464,000. The interest and attorney’s fees will push the final judgment to about $650,000. As the policy limits were only $500,000, there is an adjuster at State Farm who may be in danger of losing his cubicle. This was not an easy result to obtain! It took Gary’s meticulous approach to learning every bit of the science at a cellular level (an approach I know he uses in every case) to cut through State Farm’s obfuscation, and to show the jury that the medicine really is not intimidating and there is no reason to be afraid of it. Gary encouraged his jurors to join him in this medical excavation project, and the jurors were all in.
This is a great result for the client, and a great day for father and child fighting for justice together.
About Gary & Brooks Hazelton:
Gary M. Hazelton is the founder and owner of Hazelton Law Group, located in Bemidji, Minnesota. He has been practicing since 1985 and exclusively in the personal injury field since 1990. Brooks M. Hazelton is the son of Gary M. Hazelton. Brooks is the lead attorney in the Alaska office. He is licensed to practice law in both Alaska and Minnesota. His areas of practice focus on representing injured people and their families.
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