The Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday said Jefferson County Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis erred when she allowed testimony that suggested the plaintiff in a personal injury case was motivated by a desire for compensation.
The court sent the case back to Dennis for proceedings consistent with the ruling.
Sherry Lynn Glover had appealed the decision of a jury that denied her damages in her negligence claim against Main Street Wholesale Furniture and Bryan William McPike, which stemmed from a traffic accident on March 9, 2012.
Glover’s vehicle was sideswiped by a van driven by McPike, who worked for the furniture store. She contended that the accident resulted in serious and permanent injuries to her neck and back and had aggravated preexisting conditions.
Before the trial, her attorney sought to have anticipated testimony from Dr. Raymond Earl Peeples Jr., who suggested that Glover’s problems were psychological in nature and that she was malingering, which is another way of saying that she was motivated by secondary gain, removed.
That motion was denied by Dennis.
When Peeples testified, he said he had never met or examined Glover but had reviewed her medical records and written a report as requested. During that testimony, he quoted guidelines from the American Medical Association, which said that “the only individuals who complain of back or neck pain after low-energy trauma or minor trauma are people in litigation.”
When questioned about not examining Glover, Peeples testified that it was not necessary to form an opinion or diagnosis, and that scientific literature says an independent non-examining physician has an advantage over a treating physician. He said that before the wreck, Glover had preexisting conditions, such as musculoskeletal difficulties, a fibromyalgia diagnosis, chronic pain complaints and multiple-level degeneration of the neck.
Peeples also testified that the most common cause for Glover’s symptoms, other than eligibility for compensation, was a personality disorder, and while he wasn’t offering the opinion that Glover had one, she should have been tested.
Writing for the Appeals Court, Associate Justice Bart F. Virden said that Peeples’ testimony with respect to Glover malingering or seeking compensation was irrelevant.
“To the extent the testimony had relevance, it should have been excluded because its probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion on the issues and misleading the jury,” Virden said in the ruling. “Here, the jury may well have believed that Glover was motivated by an eligibility for compensation after all the testimony on the subject by an expert and the references to treaties and otherwise authoritative writings.”