Thorough Discovery Can Be A Difference-Maker in Cases Where Attorney-Referred Lien Doctors Are Used
On June 8, 2022, California’s Second District Court of Appeal issued its decision in Davis v. Harano (Cal. Ct. App., June 8, 2022, No. B306575) 2022 WL 2062883, which affirmed the judgment of zero damages to the plaintiff despite the undisputed negligence of the defendant.
Plaintiff Anthony Davis sought from defendant Tyler Harano $1.5 million in damages, including nearly $800,000 in lien-based medical expenses for treatment of his neck and left shoulder, for an auto collision that occurred in 2017.
During the course of the case it was discovered that Davis had been in an auto accident a year prior to the 2017 accident with Harano. He had sued in that action, complaining about pain in his neck and elsewhere. Davis eventually settled the case involving the 2016 accident.
At trial, Harano conceded negligence; however, he had denied the accident caused any injury to Davis. In support of his position, Harano presented photographs showing minimal damage to Davis’ vehicle and presented evidence that Davis delayed in seeking treatment and only sought treatment after speaking with his attorney. Harano’s experts also attributed his pain to the 2016 accident and other medical conditions.
During trial Davis’ son testified that he wanted his father to win a substantial amount of money and admitted his father’s counsel told him “what to say” during his testimony. Based on the above facts, the jury awarded the Davis nothing, determining the 2017 accident was not a substantial factor in causing Davis’ injury. Davis appealed.
What Did The Court Of Appeal Say?
The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, rejecting Davis’ argument that causation was undisputed, and found that the Davis’ counsel created “a medical build up for litigation purposes” by referring Davis to lien doctors to incur “attorney-driven medical bills.”
Also, the Court found substantial evidence that supported the defense verdict, finding that there was no objective record suggesting Davis’ neck pain ever recovered from the prior automobile accident. Most importantly, the Court reasoned that Davis’ concealment of his earlier accident that had caused a neck injury allowed for the jury’s skepticism of Davis’ credibility.
Finally, the Court found that the record did not support Davis’ argument that the jury instruction and the verdict form were incorrectly worded. The Court found that by the failure to object or seek to amend the phrasing of either the jury instruction or the verdict form, and the joint submissions of the documents to the court, Davis invited the error.
Davis v. Harano is an excellent example of how to deal with a liability case where there are attorney-referred lien doctors and when the plaintiff’s credibility is at issue. As there are increasing numbers of cases involving attorney-referred lien doctors, the Davis decision emphasizes the importance of discovery when protecting clients in litigation.
Even with the stipulation that the defendant was negligent, a defense verdict could be found when the defendant’s negligence was not a substantial factor that caused the plaintiff’s injury. The key is to obtain evidence relating to the plaintiff’s prior injuries, the date of retaining the plaintiff’s attorney, and the existence of attorney-referred lien doctors. Conducting early and thorough discovery can result in a defense verdict even when there is an admission of negligence, just like what happened in Davis v. Harano.