Highly publicized cases of injury or death have a way of bringing attention
to unsavory defense tactics. In 2014, this blog commented on the fact
that Walmart was blaming Tracy Morgan and his friends for being hit by
a Walmart tractor trailer. According to Walmart, Morgan and the other
passengers worsened their injuries by failing to wear seat belts as they
rode in a limo.
The recent death of Freddie Gray in the custody of the Baltimore Police
Department exposed another defense: the preexisting injury argument. This
happened because some irresponsible media outlets claimed Gray’s
spinal cord was damaged by a preexisting spine injury instead of police
The so-called evidence for this defense was a lawsuit filed by Gray and
members of his family. Citing sources neither named nor described, the
media outlets claimed Gray’s lawsuit arose from an injury to his
spine suffered in a car accident. Some outlets suggested, with no supporting
evidence, that Gray may have had spine surgery as recently as two weeks
before he died.
The Baltimore Sun, quickly debunked the story about a spine injury. It explained that Gray’s
lawsuit had been about poisoning caused by exposure to old lead paint.
The lawsuit was filed many years ago and was settled in 2010. Nevertheless,
some media outlets ran with the spine injury claim anyway.
Whatever one’s views might be about the Freddie Gray case overall,
it seems bonkers for anyone to suggest Gray had a preexisting injury based
on this “evidence.” Yet, this tactic is regularly employed
by insurance companies defending personal injury cases. For example, medical
experts hired by the insurance industry often testify that medical conditions
are caused by preexisting conditions, rather than trauma suffered in car
accidents. Defense experts routinely say this even if the injured person
was healthy and free of symptoms before their accident.
These types of experts aren’t even bothered by the fact that accident
victims have an onset of symptoms immediately after a car accident. They
will claim that the onset of symptoms so soon after the accident was a
mere coincidence. They will, in other words, reject every possible explanation
for pain and injury except the one which favors the defense.
This brings us back to Freddie Gray. The particular circumstances are different,
but the application of defense logic is the same. That logic goes something
like this: even though Gray was healthy enough to run from the police
right before he was arrested, his spine was really a ticking time bomb.
That ticking time bomb just happened to explode as soon as he was in police
custody. Getting roughed up didn’t cause Gray’s death; instead,
the fact that he died so soon after being in police custody was just an
unfortunate coincidence. And that means, conveniently, that no one is
responsible for his death. It is just an unfortunate random event, like
being struck by lightning.
People in Baltimore and around the country rightly rejected this pseudo-medical
spin on the Freddie Gray story. They should do the same when they hear
similar claims from the insurance industry in courtrooms.
Do you have an injury case? Do not hesitate to
contact Roman & Gaynor for legal assistance.