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Trcka v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

May 8, 2018

ROBERT TRCKA, Plaintiff,


          Gary Feinerman Judge.

         Robert Trcka brought this suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., alleging that a U.S. Postal Service truck rear-ended his vehicle at a stop light, causing him injury. Doc. 13. Without objection from the United States, the court granted summary judgment to Trcka on the question whether the postal truck was operated negligently. Doc. 35. A bench trial was held on causation and damages, Docs. 64, 66, and the parties filed written closing arguments, Docs. 67, 68, 69.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), the court enters the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. To the extent that any Findings of Fact may be considered Conclusions of Law, they shall be deemed Conclusions of Law, and vice versa. After considering the evidence and assessing the witnesses' credibility, the court awards judgment to Trcka in the amount of $315, 754.70.

         Findings of Fact

         A. The Accident

         1. On April 5, 2014, in St. Charles, Illinois, a postal truck struck Trcka's car from behind while he was stopped at a red light. Tr. 20:8-21:13.

         2. Trcka suffered a whiplash injury as a result of the impact. Tr. 317:24-318:3.

         3. Injury to the facet joints in the neck is one of the most common causes of whiplash-associated pain. Tr. 326:4-8.

         4. Upon returning home after the accident, Trcka felt severe pain in his back and neck, had a headache, and experienced dizziness. Tr. 25:14-18.

         B. Treatment Immediately Following the Accident

         5. Trcka went to the Delnor Hospital emergency room for treatment of his symptoms. Ibid. He was examined, had x-rays taken, received pain medication, and was referred to a physical therapist. Tr. 25:25-26:2; Pl. Ex. A at 5. Trcka was charged $1, 766 in connection with this hospital visit. Pl. Ex. 3.

         6. Trcka went to see his personal physician, Dr. John Vaikutis, on April 8, 2014. Tr. 27:1-3. Dr. Vaikutis noted that Trcka's headache and dizziness had “dissipated” since the accident, but that his back was still “tender.” Def. Ex. A at 5. Vaikutis agreed that Trcka should receive physical therapy. Tr. 27:8-12.

         7. Trcka attended fifteen physical therapy sessions from April 10, 2014 to June 5, 2014. Pl. Ex. 7. He was charged $7, 503.06 for those sessions. Ibid.

         8. Trcka reported progressively diminishing lower back pain at his first nine physical therapy sessions. Pl. Ex. 6 at 21, 34, 48, 62, 76, 90, 104, 118, 130. On May 21, 2014, Trcka told his physical therapist that he had no pain in his lower back. Id. at 150. Trcka continued to report that he had no pain in his lower back at subsequent physical therapy sessions. Id. at 162, 175, 189, 201, 206.

         9. Trcka saw Dr. Vaikutis again on May 22, 2014. Def. Ex. A at 15. Trcka told Dr. Vaikutis that his lower back was feeling much better, but that he was still having issues with his neck and right shoulder, despite some improvement. Id. at 17.

         10. Trcka believes that the physical therapy sessions gave him no relief from his neck and shoulder pain. Tr. 31:17-22.

         11. At his final physical therapy session on June 5, 2014, Trcka stated that he was still having trouble with his shoulder pain, but that he would like to place physical therapy on hold and try to manage his pain independently. Pl. Ex. 6 at 206.

         C. Trcka's Attempt to Manage His Pain Without Treatment

         12. Trcka continued to experience pain in his neck, right shoulder, and arm, without improvement, in Summer 2014. Tr. 37:8-19; Pl. Ex. A at 33, 42.

         13. During that timeframe, Trcka often had trouble sleeping due to the pain, which forced him to sleep sitting up in a chair. Tr. 37:8-16; Pl. Ex. 4 at 39.

         14. Trcka's difficulty sleeping was exacerbated by a preexisting sinus condition, which occurred seasonally and caused a post-nasal drip that would also force Trcka to sleep sitting up. Tr. 18:2-25; Def. Ex. A at 30.

         15. Trcka saw Dr. Vaikutis on September 3, 2014 for his pain and difficulty sleeping. Pl. Ex. 4 at 39. Dr. Vaikutis ordered an MRI on Trcka's cervical spine. Def. Ex. A at 45.

         16. The total cost of Trcka's office visits to Dr. Vaikutis regarding his pain was $582. Pl. Ex. 5.

         D. MRI at Central DuPage Hospital

         17. On September 4, 2014, Trcka received an MRI on his cervical spine at Central DuPage Hospital (“CDH”). Tr. 38:9-14; Pl. Ex. 8 at 6. The cervical spine comprises the seven uppermost vertebrae, all located in the neck. Dorland's Online Illustrated Medical Dictionary (32d edition 2014) (defining “cervical spine” and “cervical vertebrae”).

         18. The MRI, as well as x-rays taken during Trcka's visit to the emergency room after the accident, revealed age-associated spinal degeneration that made Trcka's back more susceptible to injury and pain. Tr. 142:17-19, 158:18-19, 224:14-23.

         19. In particular, the MRI revealed a “diffuse disc/osteophyte complex” at the C-5/C-6 disc in Trcka's neck. Pl. Ex. 9 at 6. That condition developed with age and was not caused by the accident. Tr. 224:14-23.

         20. An injury to the cervical facet joints often cannot be detected in an ...

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