9/2/2014 8:25:00 AM,
Jeff D. Gorman
(CN) - A former professional golfer did not prove her career-ending neck injury was caused by a rear-end car collision, the Washington Supreme Court ruled.
Cathy Johnston-Forbes was in Vancouver in 2006 to play in an LPGA tournament. After her first round, she drove back to the hotel in a rental car with her husband and their two daughters.
Johnston-Forbes was sitting in the back seat with her daughters on either side of her in car seats.
As she leaned forward and turned toward one of her daughters, the Toyota Camry was hit from behind by Dawn Matsunaga's Ford Mustang. She suffered lingering neck pain.
Four years later, Forbes-Johnson underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which showed that she had a herniated disk in her neck. She never returned to her career as an LPGA golfer.
Johnston-Forbes sued Matsunaga for negligence in 2009. Matsunaga admitted that she ran into Johnston-Forbes' car but denied that she caused the golfer's injuries.
Matsunaga called Allen Tencer to the stand to testify as a biomechanical engineer. Johnston-Forbes moved to exclude his testimony, arguing that he was not qualified and that he could not tell from looking at photos about Johnston-Forbes' body position at the time of the accident.
Several mishaps came to light during the trial. The court learned that: A basketball hoop fell on Matsunaga's car after the accident but before it was photographed; Johnston-Forbes was in a golf-cart accident one year after the car crash, hitting her chest on the steering wheel; and Johnston-Forbes was also in a snowboarding accident in 2009.
The trial court ruled that Matsunaga did not cause Johnston-Forbes' injuries. The Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's denial of Johnson-Forbes' motion to block Tencer's testimony.
Johnston-Forbes took the case to the Washington Supreme Court, but it agreed with the lower courts that Tencer's testimony was properly admitted.
"The trial court in this case followed the analytical framework required under the evidence rules and restricted and limited Tencer's testimony. The trial court excluded the repair bill reviewed by Tencer and, as a result, instructed the parties that Tencer could not testify about the repair bill," Justice Johnson wrote on the court's behalf.
Johnson added that Tencer was qualified to testify because he has a doctorate in mechanical engineering and was a professor of biomechanical engineering at the University of Washington for 23 years.
"Tencer's testimony helped the jury understand what forces might have been involved in the collision, and he compared those forces to activities of daily living. He was cross-examined on this conclusion. It was then up to the jury to determine whether they believed Johnston-Forbes experienced the same force of impact and, if so, whether that caused her injury" Johnson stated.
Justice Yu added a concurring opinion.
"I am dubious whether an expert can testify about the forces involved in a particular car accident by looking at pictures of the defendant's car taken three years after the collision, reviewing generic engineering data on a kind of car, and a car repair bill. However, the trial court is in the best position to make these decisions after becoming familiar with the record and the specific issues in each case. I respectfully concur," Yu wrote.
Johnston-Forbes only won one tournament in her career, but it was a major: the 1990 du Maurier Ltd. Classic.