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Schieffer v. DeCleene

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

November 14, 2017

RANDY SCHIEFFER, Appellant,
v.
THOMAS DECLEENE, Respondent. and DINAH SCHIEFFER, Plaintiff,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 14SL-CC02899 Honorable Joseph L. Walsh

          OPINION

          Mary K. Hoff, Judge

         Randy Schieffer ("Mr. Schieffer") appeals from the judgment entered following a jury verdict in his favor in his personal injury action on the basis of an inadequate award of damages following improperly admitted evidence. We reverse.

         Factual and Procedural Background

          On November 17, 2011, Mr. Schieffer was involved in a motor vehicle collision when an automobile driven by Thomas DeCleene ("Mr. DeCleene") struck Mr. Schieffer's vehicle from behind. Following the incident, Mr. Schieffer experienced increasingly severe neck, shoulder, and back pain which, despite physical therapy and other treatment, has failed to improve.

          On August 26, 2014, Mr. Schieffer filed suit against Mr. DeCleene asserting one count of negligence, and on January 2, 2015, Mr. Schieffer filed a first amended petition adding a claim of loss of consortium by Dinah Schieffer ("Mrs. Schieffer"), his wife.[1] In both the original and first amended petitions, Mr. Schieffer specifically pleaded for the recovery of $28, 760.74 in medical expenses that he incurred due to the incident.

         However, on the morning of trial on November 7, 2016, Mr. Schieffer's counsel sought leave from the trial court to file a second amended petition which merely omitted the claim for recovery of medical expenses. The trial court granted leave to amend[2] and thereafter considered whether deletion of that claim foreclosed Mr. DeCleene's counsel from presenting, as he planned to do, any evidence of Mr. Schieffer's medical expenses at trial. While Mr. Schieffer's counsel asserted that such evidence would be beyond the scope of the pleadings since he abandoned the claim for the recovery of medical expenses, the trial court determined that such evidence would be admissible for two reasons. First, the trial court explained that under Section 490.715.5 RSMo 2000, [3] as it was amended in 2005, [4] any party may introduce evidence of the value of medical treatment rendered to a party that was reasonable, necessary, and a proximate result of the negligence of any party. Thus, the trial court noted that so long as Mr. DeCleene's counsel explained to the jury that the expenses were the reasonable, necessary, and proximate result of Mr. DeCleene's negligence, it would permit their entry. Second, the trial court determined that the medical expenses were admissible because they "may very well shed probative legal and factual evidence that the jury could consider as to the extent and nature of the damages given the amount of expenses." Following this ruling, the parties commenced with trial.

         At trial, the jury heard testimony that despite Mr. Schieffer's complaints of pain in his back and neck following the November 2011 collision, his first complaints of pain in those areas preceded that collision and followed a separate automobile accident in 2000. Mr. Schieffer admitted that following that 2000 accident, he suffered from a herniated disk and spinal stenosis in his neck as well as low-back pain. Likewise, Mr. Schieffer's first witness and primary care physician, Dr. Glenn Brothers ("Dr. Brothers"), testified via videotaped deposition that Mr. Schieffer first informed him of back pain prior to the November 2011 collision, on December 14, 2009. Dr. Brothers noted that Mr. Schieffer reiterated that complaint on October 19, 2011, at which time Mr. Schieffer reported that the pain was worsening. At the time, Dr. Brothers had concluded that Mr. Schieffer's condition was the result of a degenerative joint disease.

         Following the November 2011 collision, Mr. Schieffer returned to Dr. Brothers on December 6, 2011 complaining of back and neck pain. Dr. Brothers explained that since that date, despite multiple subsequent visits, physical and neurological exams, a prescription of oxycodone, physical therapy, and a referral to a pain clinic, Mr. Schieffer's condition continued to worsen. Mr. Schieffer, Mrs. Schieffer, and their son Lee Schieffer testified that due to his increasing pain, Mr. Schieffer's abilities have become very limited such that he now has trouble participating in hobbies such as camping and home-building, he cannot complete household chores such as lawn mowing without taking significantly more time to recover, and his capacity to conduct his duties at work has diminished.

         Given Mr. Schieffer's worsening condition, Dr. Brothers testified that he believed the 2011 collision "contributed to the progression of his cervical . . . deterioration" and an "exacerbation of the symptoms in his low[-]back." Following a lack of improvement in Mr. Schieffer's condition in the years after the collision, Dr. Brothers referred Mr. Schieffer to a neurosurgeon, Dr. Paul Santiago ("Dr. Santiago"), who met with Mr. Schieffer on April 5, 2013.

         After examining MRI scans of Mr. Schieffer's cervical spine and lumbar spine, which showed that Mr. Schieffer suffered from degenerative spine disease and cervical spondylosis in his neck, Dr. Santiago began to discuss with Mr. Schieffer the possibility of surgery to his cervical spine to stabilize his condition. While initially, Mr. Schieffer sought to move forward with the operation, scheduling it for December of 2013, he ultimately cancelled it, claiming that he was concerned about the risks associated with it including paralysis, bladder and bowel complications, and diminished sexual function. Mr. Schieffer did not meet with Dr. Santiago again until mid-2016 to reschedule the surgery for August 2016, which he also cancelled, repeating his prior concerns.

         During Mr. DeCleene's case in chief, his counsel sought to differentiate Mr. Schieffer's neck injuries, which were exacerbated by the November 2011 collision, from his low-back injuries, which purportedly predated the 2011 collision and followed the unrelated automobile accident in 2000. In doing so, Mr. DeCleene's counsel first questioned Mr. Schieffer about his treatment history following the collision, and Mr. Schieffer agreed that he was charged for multiple treatment sessions specifically targeting his low-back and that the medical records for those sessions did not "say a word about being sent for the neck." Thereafter, Mr. DeCleene's counsel attempted to introduce evidence of Mr. Schieffer's prior medical expenses to differentiate the costs expended upon his back and neck. Mr. Schieffer's counsel objected, stating that the medical bills were "outside the scope of the pleadings" such that they were "highly prejudicial and irrelevant and immaterial in this action." The trial court, however, reiterated his ruling that the bills were admissible pursuant to Section 490.715.5 so long as Mr. DeCleene's counsel admitted to the jury that the expenses were the result of Mr. DeCleene's negligence. Following this determination, Mr. DeCleene's counsel stated to the jury that "the amount necessary to fully satisfy [Mr. Schieffer's medical] bills was $14, 743.75, " and that "these [expenses] were reasonable, necessary, and a proximate result of the negligence of [Mr. DeCleene]."

         During closing arguments, Mr. Schieffer's counsel suggested a verdict of $300, 000, reflecting awards of "[$]125, 000 for past [pain and suffering], [$]125, 000 for future [pain and suffering], and some amount for medical." Mr. DeCleene's counsel, however, argued that Mr. Schieffer had been receiving treatment for his "low[-]back the month before the accident, but almost half of the treatment, and that's why I did all this is to show you, that $15, 000 [in medical bills] wasn't for the neck. It was fifty-fifty." Mr. Schieffer's counsel objected to this statement, noting that, per the trial court's ruling admitting the medical expenses evidence, "[h]e had to specifically say [Mr. Schieffer's medical expenses were] proximately caused based upon the statute. Now I think he's equivocating on that." In response, the trial court noted, simply, "The jury will be guided by its recollection of the evidence." Mr. DeCleene's counsel then asserted that, should the jury find that Mr. Schieffer was entitled to damages, a more appropriate verdict would be $25, 000, noting that "I had to put the evidence on to tell you what all the bills were and then to show you that a lot of it was for the back, " not his neck. After deliberating, the jury returned a verdict of $25, 000.

         Thereafter, Mr. Schieffer filed a motion for a new trial. In relevant part he argued, first, that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the amount he paid in medical expenses since his second amended petition did not plead for such expenses. Second, he argued that since admission of those expenses was conditioned upon Mr. DeCleene's concession that they resulted from his own negligence, he should not have been permitted to assert to the jury that it could award any ...


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