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FEATURED CASE

SAN FRANCISCO COUNTY JURY AWARDS $5.4 MILLION TO ORTHOPEDIC RESIDENT STRUCK BY FALLING BOARD


Robert W. Johnson & Associates was retained to provide economic testimony in quantifying the present cash value of future lost earnings.

Location: San Francisco, California

Case: Dr. Doe v. White General Contractor Company, et al.

Court: San Francisco Superior Court.

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Cynthia Bernet-McGuinn and Miles B. Cooper of the Law Offices of William L. Veen, San Francisco, California.

Judge: Hon. Donald Mitchell.

Case Synopsis: On February 28, 2001, Dr. Doe, an orthopedic resident, was attending an orthopedic surgery convention in San Francisco. As he and some colleagues were walking on the sidewalk near the corner of Third Street and Mission in front of the Argent Hotel, a 2 ft. by 8 ft. piece of ¾ inch plywood, weighing about 40 pounds, fell from a 22-story high rise construction project across the street. The board struck Dr. Doe, barely missing his head but striking him on the left shoulder with sufficient force to knock him to the ground. As a result of this event, Dr. Doe suffered severe bruising and a stretching of the nerves in his brachial plexus, the branch of nerves which extend through the shoulder from the cervical spine and provide control to the muscles of the left shoulder, arm and hand. Dr. Doe was taken to the emergency room at San Francisco General Hospital and then released. He returned to work with no missed time. The total cost of his medical treatment was $2,000.

Gradually, the injured nerves resulted in a wasting injury of small muscles in his back.

Dr. Doe lost some grip strength, and ability to hold heavy objects for prolonged periods, in his left arm. Dr. Doe had been an above average resident, and his earnings in his first three years of practice grew from $95,000 to over $400,000. This financial performance was well above the median for a surgeon of Dr. Doe’s experience. His treating doctors and experts testified that he had a mild brachial plexus injury and that he suffered a loss in his earning capacity as a result of his inability to perform certain types of surgeries. Dr. Doe will be relegated to the earnings level of either an instructor ($125,000) or a part-time general surgeon ($204,500). Defendants asserted that he had either residual injuries from a dislocated shoulder in high school or carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of his surgical practice and had no loss of earning capacity.

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Expert Consultation: In this case, Mr. Johnson was retained to testify as to Dr. Doe’s loss of future earning capacity. Recognizing Dr. Doe had an extraordinary post-injury earnings history, Mr. Johnson collaborated with the vocational rehabilitation consultant to determine a range of his pre-injury earning capacity. They were able to utilize physician compensation data from the Medical Group Management Association. In Mr. Johnson’s analysis, Dr. Doe’s loss was based on earnings of orthopedic surgeons in the 75th and 90th percentiles. In addition, it was assumed that but for his injury, Dr. Doe would have worked to age 70. This is also the current age of one of his partners. The present cash value range of Dr. Doe’s net lost future earning capacity was from $2.8 million to $8.7 million.

Result: On September 8, 2004, after a three week trial, the jury returned a $5.4 million verdict, consisting of $175,000 in past wage loss, $3,974,967 in future wage loss, and $1,250,000 in general damages.

Attorney’s Comments: Plaintiff’s attorney Cynthia Bernet-McGuinn stated, “Mr. Johnson expresses complex economic theories and formulas in a simple, direct and entertaining manner. His thoroughness, honesty and his ability to establish a rapport with the jury make him a very persuasive witness. In this case, his testimony was key in assisting the jury to understand earnings trends for new doctors and apply that information to the facts of the case to arrive at a verdict that included a substantial future loss of earning capacity.”