Verdict upheld in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome case

The medical story

Perhaps you've heard about complex regional pain syndrome and wondered: What exactly is this? CRPS is a long-term progressive condition whose symptoms are: Severe pain, inflammation, and skin changes. The pain has often been described as a burning sensation, localized in the arms, legs, hands or feet.

Although the exact cause of CRPS is not known, the following checklist is used to help physicians make a diagnosis:

  • A person has recently suffered some kind of trauma from an accident or surgery.
  • Persistent pain persists in a limb, pain that is disproportionate to the original trauma.
  • There is swelling and skin temperature changes.
  • There is no other diagnosis that provides an explanation.

The legal story

In 2006, a 46-year-old woman was driving in her car in New Brunswick when another car tapped her from behind. There was no apparent damage to either vehicle or the occupants, so no further action was taken at that time. Shortly thereafter, the woman started to have problems. "It was 12 hours later that (the woman) began experiencing unrelenting pain in her neck and back," her attorney said, according to The Star-Ledger. "In the next few months, it spread to various parts of her body until it felt like total body pain."

The woman went to a series of doctors, one of whom diagnosed her with rheumatoid arthritis, until she saw a specialist who diagnosed her with CRPS, which she had never suffered from before. After her diagnosis, she went to the Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia and was treated with ketamine, a drug that incapacitated her. She received a total of 24 infusions. "She is somewhat better, but the doctors believe her condition is so severe that she needs a higher dose," her attorney later said.

In 2010, the woman filed a personal injury action, seeking compensation for her injuries. At the trial, her doctor testified that the CRPS was caused by the 2006 accident, despite the fact that it was only a minor collision. The New Jersey woman won her case and was awarded $3 million by the jury after a four-hour deliberation.

The case was appealed and was upheld by the appellate court of New Jersey in 2012, in Oppedisano v. Utz, as reported in legal.com. The court said that decisions of the trial judge as to admitting the medical evidence were proper and were within the judge's discretion. It also said that the "jury verdict in this case did not constitute a miscarriage of justice nor did the jury's award of damages shock the judicial conscience."

These facts demonstrate the importance of seeking out not only the best medical advice, but the best legal advice from an experienced personal injury attorney, when faced with a situation where an injury occurs, severe pain is experienced, and CRPS, a condition that is not easily diagnosed, is suspected. Despite a relatively minor accident, a serious medical condition resulted and skilled legal representation was necessary to ensure a whole and complete recovery for the victim.