Seventh Circuit Affirms $0 Judgement for Plaintiff Suffering Head Injury After Car Accident

Above: Interstate 94 in Indiana, the highway where Spinnenweber’s accident occurred — Image Source: AAroads

On December 18, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denied Richard Spinnenweber’s appeal of the $0 he was awarded for the whiplash and possible minor concussion he suffered from a 2012 car crash.

In 2012, Robert Laducer rear-ended Richard Spinnenweber in Indiana. Spinnenweber refused medical treatment at the scene but suffered from a variety of injuries in the following months, visiting seventeen medical providers and complaining of neck pain, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and short-term memory loss.

Laducer conceded liability, but Spinnenweber and Laducer, as well as Laducer’s employer, proceeded to trial over the questions of causation and compensatory damages for Spinnenweber’s physical injuries. During trial, Laducer’s medical expert, Dr. Peter Carney, opined that while Spinnenweber suffered from whiplash and possibly a mild concussion in the crash, the accident did not cause a serious head injury. Regarding the tinnitus and internal brain trauma that Spinnenweber alleged, the court found that “[t]hose were subjective injuries because Spinnenweber perceived them, but they were not directly observable by his doctors.” Dr. Carney also testified that “although a QEEG test (which measures electrical activity in the brain) showed that Spinnenweber had experienced a head injury, the QEEG could not show when that injury occurred.”

The jury awarded Spinnenweber $1 million in compensatory damages. Laducer “filed a motion for remittitur or a new trial arguing that the verdict was grossly excessive and unsupported by the evidence,” which the court granted. The district court offered Spinnenweber the choice of either a reduced award of $250,000, or a new trial. Spinnenweber opted for a new trial.

At the second trial, which was a bench trial instead of a jury trial, Spinnenweber proceeded pro se. He “presented no evidence and requested an award of $0 in damages, which he described as a ‘verdict of silence.’” He was awarded with the $0. Represented by counsel once again, Spinnenweber appealed this judgement and the district court’s order granting either remittitur or a new trial.

The appeals court affirmed the district court’s decision. It found that the district court did not err in finding that Spinnenweber suffered only whiplash and a mild concussion from the crash, and that the $1 million verdict was so outrageous that it warranted remittitur or a new trial. In its opinion, the appeals court stated, “We recognize that the result of our decision is that Spinnenweber gets no money on a claim for which Defendants conceded liability and indisputably owed him something — in the district court’s eyes, as much as $250,000. But Spinnenweber was hoisted with his own petard. He did not have to seek $0 in his second trial, and we can’t change that he did.”

Key words: whiplash, concussion, QEEG, head injury, Indiana

Citation: Spinnenweber v. Laducer, 983 F.3d 301

This post is the 43rd post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

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at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

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