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North Carolina Car Passenger Injury With Delayed Shoulder Surgery Results in Successful Settlement

What Happened

Our client was a retired schoolteacher in the backseat of a car being operated by the husband of a couple who was visiting with them on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  The two couples were driving down the bypass road in Rodanthe, North Carolina on the Outer Banks.  Suddenly, an oncoming vehicle on the two-lane road tried to make a left turn across their lane of travel into a business parking lot and apparently never saw their car, smashing into it nearly head-on.  Although our client was in the backseat of a Cadillac and had a shoulder and seatbelt on, the massive collision totaled the Cadillac that she was a passenger in and our client was taken by rescue squad to Outer Banks Hospital.  There she received emergency care for injuries to her chest and her right shoulder, abdomen, ribs, neck and low back. 

Our client, a schoolteacher for decades, had no significant health problems at the time and avoided going to doctors.  Although she saw her treating family doctor once or twice in the couple of months after the accident, she did not seek treatment for the nagging, ongoing right shoulder pain that she still had from the accident.  Our client was never sleeping well because when she rolled over to her right shoulder it caused her pain so finally more than a year after the car accident, with no actual referrals to any doctors for the right shoulder pain, she got a referral from her family doctor to an orthopedic surgeon.  That referral was more than a year after the date of the accident but the orthopedic surgeon told her that the MRI on her right shoulder showed a tear of the ligaments and he recommended shoulder surgery. 

Our client had a good recovery from the right shoulder surgery, but incurred substantial medical bills. The car insurance carrier for the at‑fault driver refused to acknowledge that her right shoulder surgery had anything to do with the head-on car wreck.  They asserted that the delay in any treatment – more than a year after the accident – made it likely that the accident had not caused her right shoulder injuries.

Key Legal Strategies

While most attorneys would probably not take this case, I met with the client and felt that she was honest and sincere, and I could see no other likely cause of her right shoulder injury besides the car accident.  Before deciding to file suit for our client, I arranged a telephone conference with her orthopedic surgeon, went through all of the issues with the surgeon and asked him if he believed that the right shoulder injury and surgery was caused by the accident or not.  The surgeon gave me the opinion that the only likely cause of the right shoulder traumatic injuries was the car accident, and that he would so testify.  We then filed suit, and numerous depositions were conducted of our client and of the relevant witnesses. 

Through our investigation, we learned that the at fault driver had a prior criminal conviction and that this evidence would likely be admissible in court in North Carolina, because it was a felony involving a drug sale within the zone of a school.  A North Carolina statute allows introduction of such evidence in a civil case.  Once we discovered this information, the insurance company lawyer made clear to us that they were going to now admit responsibility for the accident, in an effort to exclude this evidence from any trial.  The insurance lawyer was still going to contest all issues relating to whether the right shoulder surgery and the bills were even related to the car accident.

We agreed to voluntary mediation with a retired North Carolina superior judge in order to resolve the case without a jury trial.  At that mediation, the case was settled satisfactorily to our client for a confidential sum which was enough to cover all outstanding medical expenses and give the client satisfactory additional compensation.  Notably, two insurance companies contributed portions of the negotiated confidential settlement and both had refused any payment before the filing of the personal injury case in North Carolina Superior Court.


Confidential sum satisfactory to client.

Law firm staff:  Richard N. Shapiro, attorney
Paralegals:  Roz H. and Paula M.
Court/date:  Dare County Superior Court/North Carolina (Outer Banks) March 2015
Case description:  Backseat car passenger injury, near-head-on car crash.