Representing Erie Insurance Exchange, Partner Tara Taylor and Associate Rima Kikani recently won an appeal in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in James Trautwein v. Erie Insurance Exchange.
This matter stemmed from an October 2013 low-impact motor vehicle collision in which the Appellant was rear-ended by the at-fault driver. After seeking treatment for nearly four years and accumulating more than $100,000.00 in special damages, Appellant sued his insurer, Erie Insurance Exchange, seeking underinsured motorist benefits. Erie conceded that Mr. Trautwein sustained minor sprains and strains as a result of the collision, but the parties disputed the extent and permanency of the injuries.
At trial, the Appellant moved in limine to exclude evidence of seven other prior and subsequent injuries he had suffered, arguing that the lack of expert testimony connecting the other collisions to his present injuries rendered the evidence irrelevant and prejudicial. Erie opposed the exclusion, contending that its expert opined that Appellant’s present injuries were not related to the 2013 motor vehicle accident, but a result of pre-existing degenerative conditions, which may have stemmed from the other seven injuries. Siding with Erie, the trial court admitted evidence of Appellant’s seven prior and subsequent injuries. At the end of trial, Appellant requested damages in excess of $100,000.00. The jury awarded him $28,598.86.
Appellant appealed the judgment to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, arguing that the trial court improperly admitted evidence of his prior and subsequent injuries because the evidence was irrelevant, or alternatively, substantially and unfairly prejudiced him—as seen by the jury’s low award. Erie argued that the trial court properly admitted the evidence because it provided a basis for Appellant’s pre-existing degenerative condition, but even if the court erred, it committed harmless error because Appellant, in his own testimony, conceded to suffering from pre-existing degenerative diseases—which also would have allowed the jury to reach the same verdict.
Affirming the decision of the trial court, the Court of Special Appeals decided that the seven prior and subsequent injuries were relevant to the matter because evidence of other trauma had relevance in explaining the source of the degeneration and supplied the basis for the expert opinion that the Appellant’s damages were not attributable to the 2013 collision. The Court also held that the trial court acted within its discretion in deciding that the probative value of the other injuries was not substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice to the Appellant.
RSRM congratulates Ms. Taylor and Ms. Kikani on this win!