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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Woodgett

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 20, 2016

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, Appellant-Defendant,
Sean Woodgett, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Delaware Circuit Court The Honorable Marianne L. Vorhees, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 18C01-1302-CT-11

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Mark D. Gerth Kightlinger & Gray LLP Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE David W. Stone IV Stone Law Office & Legal Research Anderson, Indiana Michael W. Phelps Rom Byron Nunn Law Office Bloomington, Indiana

          BROWN, JUDGE.

         [¶1] State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") appeals the trial court's order on verdict and judgment in favor of Sean Woodgett. State Farm raises three issues, one of which we find dispositive and which we revise and restate as whether the court abused its discretion in excluding certain evidence. We reverse and remand.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On September 20, 2011, at approximately 1:10 p.m., Woodgett was driving a van northbound on Batavia Avenue in Muncie, Indiana. While stopped waiting for the traffic signal to change at 7th Avenue, Woodgett's van was struck from behind by a van being operated by Timmie Storms. The force of the collision caused Woodgett's van to roll into the back of another automobile. Woodgett's father Nicklaus arrived on the scene a few minutes after the accident, and about fifteen minutes later he followed Woodgett as they began to drive to the hospital. On the way, the bumper fell off the van, and they decided to first drive home and leave the van. After doing so, they proceeded to the emergency room where Woodgett was treated for neck pain and a headache. He was diagnosed with a cervical sprain and advised to take ibuprofen. At the time, Woodgett had uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage pursuant to a policy issued by State Farm.

         [¶3] On October 19, 2011, Woodgett saw his family physician, Dr. Mark Litz, for "intermittent stress headaches" and neck pain. Transcript at 135. Woodgett next visited Dr. Litz on January 17, 2012, again for intermittent stress headaches and neck pain, and Dr. Litz prescribed physical therapy. In February 2012, Woodgett underwent five physical therapy sessions, and afterwards he reported that he had slight headaches that came infrequently and was able to engage in all of his recreational activities with no neck pain at all.

         [¶4] In January 2013, Woodgett saw neurologist, John D. Wulff, M.D., Woodgett described two types of headaches he was experiencing, including a daily mild headache and a "very severe headache" about three or four times per week involving a "throbbing sensation over the left posterior head" that can be "unbearable." Exhibits at 158. Woodgett noted that since the accident of September 20, 2011, his mild headaches "gradually got worse." Id. Dr. Wulff diagnosed Woodgett with migraines.

         [¶5] On February 25, 2013, Woodgett filed a complaint for damages against Storms individually and State Farm pursuant to Woodgett's uninsured motorist coverage.[1] The court commenced a jury trial on April 7, 2015. At the outset of trial, Woodgett orally moved in limine to preclude State Farm from introducing any evidence concerning a second motor vehicle accident involving Woodgett occurring in the fall of 2012. In his oral motion, Woodgett's counsel stated:

I would move in limine to prohibit the defense from discussing an intervening cause. What we're talking about is in the deposition of Sean Woodgett, defense counsel raised were you in any crashes after this crash concerning this case. Yes, in the fall of 2012. Okay, what was it. It was a minor sideswipe crash. Were you injured? No. Did you go to the hospital? No. Did your headaches get worse after the fall of 2012? Yes. How did your headaches get worse? Well, they were progressively getting worse. The crash didn't - in 2012 didn't cause them to get worse. They had been getting worse for a period of time and they just kept on getting worse. In the depositions of Dr. Litz, family doctor, and Dr. Wulff, neurologist, there's no discussion as to this crash or any potential impact on [Woodgett's] headaches.[2]

         Transcript at 13. Counsel for State Farm responded that Woodgett admitted that his pain increased after the second accident, that he did not tell his doctors about the second accident, and that the doctors testified during depositions that minor injuries can cause the sort of headaches that Woodgett experienced. Woodgett's counsel argued that State Farm had the opportunity "to do a Trial Rule 35 exam and have a doctor opine on whether it was more likely than not that the second wreck caused the exacerbation of the injuries, " and State Farm responded that it was not its duty to prove causation. Id. at 15. The court indicated that it would examine a case directed to its attention by State Farm, Walker v. Cuppett, 808 N.E.2d 85 (Ind.Ct.App. 2004), and then revisit the issue.

         [¶6] State Farm's counsel directed the court's attention to testimony given by Dr. Wulff at his first deposition of March 12, 2014, as follows:

Q. And given the trauma that's associated when you say, perhaps, post-traumatic migraine or whatnot, does that trauma ...

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