Maldonado v. Flannery

Decision Date03 May 2022
Docket NumberSC 20522
Parties William MALDONADO et al. v. Kelly C. FLANNERY et al.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Philip F. von Kuhn, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

Jack G. Steigelfest, for the appellees (defendants).

Robinson, C. J., and McDonald, D'Auria, Kahn and Ecker, Js.


This case presents the scenario, not altogether uncommon, in which a jury awards personal injury plaintiffs economic damages for medical expenses but zero noneconomic damages. The trial court granted the joint motion for additurs filed by the plaintiffs, William Maldonado and Geovanni Hernandez, and awarded each plaintiff additional money damages for pain and suffering. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment of the trial court on the grounds that it had failed to articulate the specific facts to justify the additur awards or to construe the conflicting evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the jury's verdict. See Maldonado v. Flannery, 200 Conn. App. 1, 9, 13, 238 A.3d 127 (2020). We reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.


On June 6, 2016, at approximately 3:20 p.m., the plaintiffs were traveling in a 2004 Ford Econoline van on Route 4 in Farmington when they were rear-ended by the named defendant, Kelly C. Flannery, who was driving a Ford Taurus owned by her father.1 The collision caused serious damage to the defendants’ vehicle, but the plaintiffs’ van sustained only minimal visible damage.

The plaintiffs declined medical attention at the scene of the accident. A few hours later, they both sought medical treatment at the Hospital of Central Connecticut, complaining of body aches and pain in their lower backs and necks. At the hospital, both plaintiffs underwent diagnostic testing. Maldonado was diagnosed with a neck strain, a lower back strain, and a contusion on his sternum. Hernandez was diagnosed with back pain and a neck spasm. The plaintiffs each were prescribed anti-inflammatory and pain medications and were released from the hospital later that evening.

Soon after the accident, the plaintiffs sought additional medical treatment from Brian Pollack, a chiropractor at New Britain Injury & Spine

. Pollack treated Maldonado approximately sixty-two times intermittently over the course of the next two years and referred him for two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Maldonado's treatment included application of hot and cold packs, electrical stimulation, and mechanical traction. Hernandez underwent similar treatment with Pollack, approximately forty-nine times over the course of eight months, and was referred for one MRI scan. Pollack also referred both plaintiffs for six months of physical therapy, which they received from another provider. Despite this course of treatment, the plaintiffs continued to experience pain. Subsequently, an epidural steroid injection in the lower back was administered to each plaintiff at Jefferson Radiology.

On July 18, 2017, the plaintiffs filed a negligence action against the defendants in the Superior Court. The case was tried before a jury. The issues at trial were limited to causation and damages because the defendants admitted that the collision resulted from Flannery's negligence. At trial, both Maldonado and Hernandez testified that the collision caused the injuries and pain for which they received the medical treatment previously described.2 Maldonado testified that he remained unable to do heavy lifting at work and faced difficulties carrying out other tasks he previously was able to perform. He claimed medical expenses in the amount of $18,953.38.3 Hernandez testified that he had difficulty standing up and difficulty sleeping due to pain caused by the accident. He claimed medical expenses in the amount of $13,254.94.

To corroborate their testimony, the plaintiffs introduced medical records and bills from their health care providers. The plaintiffs also presented lengthy reports authored by Pollack, opining, among other things, that their respective injuries were causally related to the accident, requiring the medical treatment and supervision he provided. Pollack's report diagnosed Maldonado, in relevant part, with a disc herniation, radiculitis

, nonallopathic segmental dysfunction, muscle spasms in the cervical and lumbar spine, pain in the lumbar and thoracic spine, and a sprain of the left shoulder. Pollack diagnosed Hernandez with nonallopathic segmental dysfunction, pain and muscle spasms in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, and an "[e]xtrusion type" herniation of the lumbar spine. He also assigned each plaintiff a permanent impairment rating as a result of the accident.4 Pollack further opined that the plaintiffs’ injuries were permanent in nature and rendered each of them highly susceptible to future aggravations and exacerbations, which would require future chiropractic treatment at least twice a month at a cost of $150 per visit, and future medical supervision at a frequency of three times per year and a cost of $250 per evaluation.

The defendants challenged the plaintiffs’ claims on multiple fronts. They attacked the credibility of the plaintiffs’ testimony5 and medical evidence by adducing conflicting evidence as to the dates of treatment, the extent to which Maldonado's reported injuries were directly caused by the 2016 accident, as opposed to a prior accident in 2014; see footnote 3 of this opinion; and the duration of the plaintiffs’ chiropractic treatment. In addition, the defendants observed that the emergency room records from Maldonado's visit on the day of the accident indicate that Maldonado's last visit to the hospital was on July 16, 2015, "for chronic pain/sciatica ...."

The defendants also presented the jury with expert testimony from an orthopedic surgeon, Jonas V. Lieponis, who disputed the etiology and permanency of some of the plaintiffs’ injuries, testifying that the plaintiffs’ medical records demonstrated that they both suffered from preexisting degenerative disc disease

prior to the accident. Nonetheless, Lieponis agreed that both of the plaintiffs sustained injuries to their necks and lumbar regions as a result of the accident and that a certain period of physical therapy and/or chiropractic treatment was reasonable and necessary to treat those injuries. Lieponis disagreed, however, that the length of treatment was reasonable or that future treatment was necessary. Specifically, in Lieponis’ expert opinion, the evidence was insufficient to conclude that the plaintiffs had suffered permanent impairments as a result of the accident. Lieponis did not provide any testimony regarding the pain suffered by the plaintiffs as a consequence of their injuries but, in response to a question posed by the plaintiffscounsel, did state that each plaintiff underwent an epidural steroid injection to treat his injury, which, "like any injection, [entails] an element of pain."

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded economic damages in the amount of $17,228.38 to Maldonado and $11,864.94 to Hernandez. The award consisted of full payment for all expenses related to the plaintiffs’ hospital visits, radiologic/MRI services, physical therapy, and epidural steroid injections. The only reduction made by the jury was for chiropractic care; Maldonado was awarded $7035, which was $1725 less than the total amount billed by Pollack, and Hernandez was awarded $5670, which was $1390 less than the total amount billed by Pollack. The jury also awarded Maldonado $1800 in future economic damages. It did not award any future economic damages to Hernandez. The jury did not award either plaintiff any noneconomic damages for pain and suffering, past or future.

The plaintiffs timely filed a joint motion to set aside the verdicts and for a new trial. They also filed a contemporaneous joint motion for additurs pursuant to General Statutes §§ 52-216a and 52-228b. The defendants timely objected. The trial court issued a written memorandum of decision granting the plaintiffsmotion for additurs and to set aside the verdicts. The trial court concluded that the jury verdict awarding economic damages to each plaintiff but zero noneconomic damages was inherently inconsistent because "the jury necessarily found that the plaintiffs’ medical treatment was reasonable and necessary and because the plaintiffs’ particular medical treatment inherently involved treatment for pain ...." The trial court recognized that "the jury could have reasonably concluded that [the plaintiffs] were [not] credible witnesses" but pointed out that "the jury must have credited and relied on some evidence" because it "explicitly awarded damages based on the plaintiffs’ medical costs ...." Indeed, the jury's award of economic damages reflected an "exactitude" demonstrating that it necessarily "concluded that the treatments set forth in [the plaintiffs’ medical] bills were necessary and reasonable and that the injuries being treated during those visits were proximately caused by the defendant's negligence." The trial court reasoned that the nature of the medical treatment deemed reasonable and necessary by the jury for injuries caused by the defendant's negligence and the "underlying symptoms" requiring that treatment "bespeak a level of physical pain suffered by [the plaintiffs]." Accordingly, the trial court awarded past noneconomic damages in the amount of $8000 to Maldonado and $6500 to Hernandez. The trial court explained that these amounts were "based on the amounts of past economic damages awarded by the jury for medical costs inherently involving treatment for pain, more specifically, the medical bills from New Britain Injury & Spine

[for chiropractic treatment] and Jefferson Radiology [for epidural steroid injections that] the jury necessarily credited in its verdict."6 The court's order concluded: "The parties shall have twenty days from the date of this decision to file...

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