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Baker v. Trevathan

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

February 21, 2018



          Law Offices of Henry Law Firm, PLC, by: Megan Henry, for appellant.

          Womack Phelps Puyear Mayfield & McNeil, P.A., by: Mark Mayfield and Chuck Gschwend, for appellee.

          BART F. VIRDEN, JUDGE.

         Virginia Baker appeals the Craighead County Circuit Court jury's decision that neither party was negligent in the auto collision between herself and Lisa Trevathan. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         On April 21, 2015, Baker was driving in Jonesboro west on Phillips Drive through the intersection when she and Trevathan, who was traveling north on Caraway Lane, collided. Baker was taken by ambulance to the Northeast Arkansas Baptist Memorial Hospital emergency room where she was treated by Dr. William Baker, who is not related to her. Baker's car was disabled in the accident, and it was towed by Northeast Arkansas Towing. Her car was later released and stored at a lot in Weiner.

         On May 16, 2016, Baker filed a complaint in which she alleged that Trevathan ran the red light and struck her car, causing physical injuries and damage to her car. Baker alleged $2500 in damages to her car, loss-of-use damages amounting to $200, and towing and storage expenses of $2, 294.63. Trevathan filed an answer on July 1, 2016, denying fault and alleging that Baker was at fault.

         On November 3, 2016, Baker filed a motion in limine to exclude, among other things, any evidence regarding prescription medication she may be taking or had taken in the past. Baker filed a second motion in limine in which she argued that evidence relating to her prescription medication was immaterial to this lawsuit because "there is no proof as to any causal connection between medications and her driving ability at the time of the collision." Trevathan responded that evidence regarding recently filled prescriptions should be admitted because, "Plaintiff has asserted that she is required to refill all of her medications as an excuse of why she has bought months of medications, but supposedly has not taken them, which is relevant." Trevathan listed Baker's prescription medications and asserted that "each of these medications were in use at the time of the mishap."

         In an amended complaint filed November 14, 2016, Baker alleged that she incurred $15, 983.75 in ambulance, hospital, and doctor fees. In her second amended complaint, Baker reported $17, 436.75 in medical bills. She also claimed $2500 for property damage and costs.[1]

         The court held a hearing on the motions in limine. Baker argued that the prescription-medication testimony and evidence was irrelevant because there was no evidence that she had been impaired while driving. Baker asserted that evidence of any medications she obtained after the accident was irrelevant, and evidence of medication that she had possessed three weeks before the accident did not pertain to her driving ability on the day of the accident. Trevathan responded that she should be allowed to introduce prescription-medication evidence because it showed Baker's inattentive condition at the time of the accident, which caused her to fail to observe the red light.

         The circuit court ruled that evidence regarding Baker's prescription medication that had been filled around the time of the accident was admissible because it was relevant to her state of mind, her reflexes, and her driving ability. The court excluded any evidence relating to prescriptions that had not been filled or that were "remote in time."

         The trial was held on December 5, 2016. Jason Edison, a paramedic called to the scene of the accident, testified that in his written report he had noted that Baker had been alert and oriented and that she had complained of neck and back pain and shortness of breath. Edison recounted that there had been no change in Baker's mental status during the twenty-one minutes Edison attended to her, and he did not recall that she had appeared to be under the influence of any substance.

         Dr. Baker offered the following relevant testimony: When he examined Baker after the accident, he had not noticed any slurred speech or any neurological deficit, and he did not remember thinking that she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He said that it is normal to be upset after a traumatic event, and if a patient is unable to recall his or her medications, a staff member calls the patient's pharmacy to get his or her current prescriptions. He further said that Baker's prescribed medications-Neurontin, Suboxone, Ativan, Klonopin and Soma-can cause drowsiness, and a combination of any of them "could really make you sleepy." The medical records indicate that the treating nurse had documented that Baker had been adamant that she had not taken ...

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