Jury Awards $2.1 Million in PTSD Case
The insurance company didn’t believe that Paula Cottingham had post-traumatic stress disorder from a car accident where her car was T-boned in an intersection where she had the right of way. The other driver blew a stop sign and tragically was killed. Cottingham sustained neck and shoulder pain and, importantly, a traumatic brain injury that led to PTSD.
Her insurer, State Farm, offered her $21,000 from a policy that had limits of $250,000. A Dakota County jury saw things differently and came back with a verdict of $2.1 million—100 times as much. It included $1 million for future medical expenses and $750,000 for future pain, suffering, embarrassment and emotional distress. It also awarded her $369,537 in past medical expenses, pain and suffering, and wage loss.
The take-away of the case is that jurors can choose to trust the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s witnesses, said her attorney, Jim Carey of Minneapolis.
“People genuinely suffer from PTSD,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing. It’s easy for insurance carriers and jurors to be dismissive.”
Cottingham exhibits most of the symptoms of PTSD and has been so diagnosed by 10 other treating physicians, Carey said. Her symptoms include anxiety, depression insomnia, nightmares about the crash and reclusiveness. She also has constant neck pain and headaches. “There isn’t a single provider who didn’t say she had PTSD,” he added.
Cottingham underwent a drastic personality change, Carey said. Before the accident she worked as a hair and make-up stylist and hoped to work in the modeling field in that capacity or open her own salon. She had to give it up because she could not be on her feet all the time or work with her arms at or above shoulder level. She also found it too stressful to drive to work. She is now a bank teller.
Her marriage fell apart and she was divorced. Her ex-husband said in a deposition that she was not the same woman as before the accident. She moved into her parents’ basement and became reclusive. But she is tough and is slowly getting better, Carey said.
“It’s said that juries are conservative, but they understood what is going on,” Carey said. He said that they were instructed to return a verdict based on Cottingham’s trauma and not on the death of the other driver.
Cottingham was insured by State Farm, whose witness was Dr. Joseph J. Burgarino, who Carey said practices in Wisconsin and is an experienced witness. He also said that the doctor spent 17 minutes with her before testifying that she was recovered from the accident but that Burgarino denies this.
Cottingham’s expert witnesses were Dr. John Stark, an orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Lon Lutz, a pain specialist.
Post-trial motions are pending.
State Farm was represented by Tamara Rollins of Minneapolis. She said the company had no comment on pending litigation in view of Minnesota Lawyer’s deadline.