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Peterman v. Sakalauskas

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 9, 2013

STEPHANIE PETERMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
SAMANTHA SAKALAUSKAS, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Stephanie Peterman (“Plaintiff”) brought this suit seeking damages from Defendants Michael Martin (nee Erts) (“Mr. Martin”) and Karen Martin (“Ms. Martin”) (collectively “Martin Defendants”), Stephanie Peterman (“Mrs. Peterman”), John Doe-1, John Doe-2, and John Doe Corporation (collectively “John Doe Defendants”). Plaintiff’s Complaint pleads two counts: (1) negligence against Defendants Mr. Martin, Stephanie Sakalauskas, and Doe-1; and (2) negligence against Defendants Ms. Martin, Doe-2, and John Doe Corporation. Compl., ECF No. 1.

Plaintiff’s Complaint arises from a multicar accident on October 6, 2009. Plaintiff alleges she was driving her automobile southbound on Route 1 through Middletown Township, Pennsylvania when she came to a stop due to traffic in front of her, and her car was then struck from behind by two vehicles. Compl. ¶ 17-18.[1]

Defendants contend that Plaintiff’s injuries are not serious injuries within the meaning of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“PMVFRL”). Martin Defs. Answer. As Plaintiff elected the limited tort option on her insurance, unless her injuries are considered serious, her recovery for a motor vehicle accident is limited to economic damages.

Pending before the Court is Defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (“Motion”). ECF No. 37. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendants’ motion.

II. BACKGROUND[2]

At the time of the accident, Plaintiff was employed by Benchmark Therapies as an occupational therapist at Delaware Valley Veterans Home and served as the Director of Rehabilitation. See Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J., Ex. A, Pl.’s Dep. 23:19-25:24, May 25, 2012 (ECF No. 37-1). Plaintiff had worked in that position for approximately seven months without any discipline for job performance. See Id. at 25:22-26:6.[3]Plaintiff claims to have typically worked fourteen to eighteen hours a day. See Id. at 24:19-25:8. Her main responsibilities were to work as a physical therapist and treat patients. Id. In addition to her work as a therapist, Plaintiff also performed managerial duties including clerical tasks and human resource responsibilities. See Id. at 26:23-27:12.

Prior to the accident, Plaintiff was physically active and in good physical health. In carrying out her work as a caregiver, she claims that she routinely lifted patients weighing upwards of 200 to 400 pounds. See Id. at 24:19-25:25. Plaintiff also typically ran several days a week, for a typical distance of eight miles. See Id. at 119:6-10. Plaintiff enjoyed socializing with friends and going out for dinner, drinks, and dancing. See Id. at 121:1-24. The current impairments were not previously existing conditions; even if there was some previously existing degenerative condition, what Plaintiff’s evidence suggests is that it would have remained “asymptomatic indefinitely.” Pl.’s Resp. Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E, Letter from Doctor Steven Mazlin, M.D., Regarding Stephanie Peterman (July 26, 2012) (ECF No. 39-6).

On October 6, 2009, Plaintiff was involved in a multi-car accident on Route 1 in Middletown Township, and she alleges that Defendants were at fault. See Compl. ¶ 17-19; see also Pl.’s Resp. Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B, Commonwealth Pa. Police Crash Reporting Form, Oct. 6, 2009, ECF No. 39-3; Pl.’s Dep. 66:9-67. Immediately following the accident, Plaintiff was trapped in her vehicle and claims she was experiencing severe pain. Pl.’s Dep. 69:1-70:5. Plaintiff was removed from her vehicle by emergency personnel, and she was transported by ambulance to St. Mary’s Medical Center. Id. at 80:17-89:21. Plaintiff’s evidence suggests that she was in shock and a great deal of pain. Id. at 89:22-90:24. Plaintiff was treated in the emergency room and was discharged. Id. 89:22-91:16.

Following the accident, Plaintiff alleges she has several permanent injuries that will continue to cause her varying levels of pain and limit her physical abilities. A June 21, 2012 MRI showed “multiple disc bulges at C4-5, C5-6, C6-7, T7-8, T9-10, T10-11, T11-12, T12-L1 and L2-3.” Letter from Doctor Mazlin (July 26, 2012), see also Pl.’s Resp. Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J., Ex. F, MRI Reports for Stephanie Peterman, 2-3, June 21, 2012 (ECF No. 39-6). Plaintiff has presented evidence supporting her claim that these injuries are permanent and will continue to cause pain to the Plaintiff. Letter from Doctor Mazlin (July 26, 2012). According to Plaintiff’s doctor, “the accident caused sprain injuries to [Plaintiff’s] neck (cervical spine), upper back (thoracic spine), and lower back (lumbar spine) which are now permanent, and represent another generator of chronic pain.” Id.

Plaintiff’s treatment has been ongoing since 2009.[4]Plaintiff returned to St. Mary’s Hospital on January 22, 2010 for an MRI. See Pl.’s Resp. Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J., Ex. C, Diagnostic Imaging Report (January 22, 2012), ECF No. 39-4. Beginning in late January, 2010, Plaintiff has been receiving chiropractic care at Complete Health & Chiropractic Center. See Pl.’s Resp. Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D, Letter from Doctor Richard Berkowitz, D.C., (September 24, 2011), ECF No. 39-5.

On February 9, 2010, Plaintiff began a course of treatment with neurologist Dr. Stephen Mazlin M.D. See Pl.’s Resp. Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E, Letter from Doctor Steven Mazlin, M.D., Regarding Stephanie Davis (February 9, 2010), ECF No. 39-6. Because Plaintiff claimed that her pain and other symptoms continued, Plaintiff went for additional MRI testing and diagnostic imaging studies on June 21, 2012. See MRI Reports for Stephanie Peterman (June 21, 2012). Plaintiff’s pain management includes visiting doctors, the use of over the counter painkillers, yoga, water exercise, and other activities aimed at reducing her complained of pain and impairments. See Pl.’s Dep. 118:1-18 (describing use of gym to rebuild muscles); see also Id. (recounting use of yoga to manage pain and symptoms); Id. at 118:19-119:2 (explaining use of hot tub to relieve pain); Id. at 104:12-22 (discussing use of over the counter pain killers); Id. at 155:23-116:5 (stating Plaintiff takes Advil every day for pain and Flexeril at night so she can sleep).

According to Plaintiff, her injuries, and the resulting impairments, have led to a significant decrease in her employment options. Following the accident, Plaintiff claims she is no longer able to continue in her position as Director of Occupational Therapy at Delaware Valley Veterans Home. See Id. at 24:19-25:15 (“I had to quit my job”). Since then, Plaintiff has taken a number of “limited duty” positions, most of which have been temporary. See Id. at 40:6-48:17. Plaintiff has declined at least one full time position because she claims her injuries do not permit her to perform the full range of duties expected at such a position. See Id. At the time of the Motion, Plaintiff was working as an occupational therapy assistant. Id. at 47:1-48:10. Plaintiff claims that her future at her current employer and within her career in general is uncertain due to her injuries and the accompanying impairments. See Id. at 48:13-17 (“I’m going to stay there as long as I can, but at this point, . . . my doctors are telling me I definitely need a new career”). Plaintiff’s new employment situation also comes with a decrease in salary of approximately $30, 000. See Id. at 47:17-18.

Plaintiff asserts that her physical abilities and activities are now similarly limited. According to Plaintiff, she is often unable to use her “left hand to manipulate objects.” Id. at 115:19-23. Plaintiff no longer runs the eight miles she was accustomed to, and instead she runs only twice a week for only one to two miles each time. See Id. at 118:1-15. Plaintiff also alleges that she has difficulty sleeping and traveling. See Id. at 119:18-23. Plaintiff contends that, as a result of her injuries, her social life has been restricted and she is no longer able to enjoy going dancing or going out for drinks with friends. See Id. at 121:1-24. In fact, Plaintiff asserts that she has been forced to modify virtually every aspect of her life. See Id. at 120:16.

Under these facts, the Court will determine if Plaintiff’s injuries, as alleged, are serious injuries ...


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