Walmart slip and fall

By March 13, 2019Injury Law

Can you argue “They’re faking it!” NJ Supreme Court says, “It depends.” In March, the New Jersey Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a Defendant’s medical expert could use specific terms such as “symptom magnification” during their trial testimony. The case originated when the Plaintiff, who was shopping at Wal-Mart at the time, was struck by a falling clothing display rack. As a result, the Plaintiff brought forth a negligence suit against Wal-Mart.

In March, the New Jersey Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a Defendant’s medical expert could use specific terms such as “symptom magnification” during their trial testimony. The case originated when the Plaintiff, who was shopping at Wal-Mart at the time, was struck by a falling clothing display rack. As a result, the Plaintiff brought forth a negligence suit against Wal-Mart.

At the time of the incident, Plaintiff immediately experienced neck and back pain. After going to the hospital and then subsequently being treated by a specialist, Plaintiff was diagnosed with Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CPRS). Before the diagnosis, but after the Wal-Mart incident, Plaintiff was also involved in an automobile accident.

At trial, the Defendant’s medical expert used terms like “somatization” (converting psychological issues to bodily symptoms) and “symptom magnification” to describe the Plaintiff’s injuries. These terms were used to minimize the injuries sustained by the Plaintiff and ultimately cast doubt as to the extent of the Plaintiff’s actual injuries. The jury unanimously determined that Plaintiff failed to prove that Wal-Mart was negligent.

On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed and remanded the case on the basis that the Defendant’s expert testimony and medical opinion were not allowed under NJRE 403 (which prohibits (a) undue prejudice, confusion of issues, or misleading the jury or (b) undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence).

The Supreme Court granted Wal-Mart’s petition for certification on this matter to decide whether or not the Appellate Division erred in disallowing the use of words like “somatization” or “symptom magnification.” Upon reasoning that medical expert testimony varies from case to case, consistent with NJRE 403, the Court ultimately found that “the admissibility of medical expert testimony utilizing terms such as “somatization” and “symptom magnification” must be determined by trial courts on a case-by-case basis.” Accordingly, the Court reinstated the jury’s verdict of no cause of action.

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