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FIRKAL v. A. R. GLEN CORP.

November 15, 1963

Michael FIRKAL, Plaintiff,
v.
A. R. GLEN CORP., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WORTENDYKE

This diversity action arises out of a motor vehicle collision, which occurred on New Jersey State Highway Route 22 in North Plainfield in this District, on November 29, 1961. The plaintiff claimed that, as he was bringing his passenger automobile to a stop in obedience to a red traffic light at a road intersection, and had slowed down for that purpose, his automobile was struck in the rear by a truck being operated on the business of the defendant. Charging causal negligence against the defendant, the plaintiff sought damages for personal injuries suffered by himself, and by way of reimbursement of the expense of repairs to his automobile resulting from the damage inflicted thereon by the collision.

The parties waived trial by jury; the defendant waived its defenses upon the issue of liability; and the case was submitted to the Court upon the testimony of the plaintiff and that of one expert medical witness in behalf of each of the parties. The property damage claim was disposed of by compromise.

 The testimony discloses that at or about 3:40 p.m. on November 29, 1961, in clear, dry weather, the plaintiff was operating his 1960 Buick LeSabre two-door sedan automobile in a general westerly direction on New Jersey State Highway Route Number 22 in North Plainfield in this District. He was accompanied by his ex-wife, who was seated to his right in the vehicle. As he approached a highway intersection, he observed that the controlling traffic light was red against him, in obedience to which other vehicles had stopped, and he proceeded to slow down for a similar purpose. As he was doing so, his automobile was struck in the rear by the defendant's truck, and forced against a four-foot high concrete highway divider, on its left, and then into the rear of the vehicle immediately ahead of him. The blow or blows caused a whip-lash action of plaintiff's neck. His hat was knocked off, and his chest came in contact with the rim of the steering wheel of his car; which came to rest with his body partly on the seat and partly on the floor of the vehicle. In one or both of the two impacts which plaintiff claimed resulted from the blow of the defendant's truck, plaintiff's companion was thrown against the windshield and temporarily dazed (although no claim is herein made in her behalf.)

 Both of the occupants of plaintiff's automobile alighted from the vehicle within a minute or two, and then reentered it, and, at the direction of a police officer the plaintiff drove the car across the street out of the flow of traffic. The plaintiff says that he felt pain in his left arm, and placed a nitroglycerin tablet beneath his tongue which caused the pain in the arm to subside. The damaged vehicle was towed to a nearby garage and the plaintiff was taken to North Plainfield Police Headquarters.

 After waiting for six or seven hours, plaintiff borrowed a car from the garage to which his vehicle was taken for repairs, and drove to Coaldale, Pennsylvania, whither he and his companion had been bound at the time of the collision. They stayed there overnight; and plaintiff says that his sleep was disturbed by pain throughout his body, principally in his neck.

 The following day he consulted a physician in Lansford, Pennsylvania, after which he and his companion drove to Lake George, New York, where she operated a motel. At about 3:00 a.m. on December 1, while at the motel, plaintiff awakened from his sleep in a 'cold sweat', with pain in his left arm and chest; but after these pains persisted for about 30 to 40 minutes, they disappeared and he resumed sleeping. Later that morning he consulted a physician in Lake George Village.

 With reference to the orthopedic injuries which he claims to have sustained in the occurrence of which he complains, plaintiff testified that, for two or three weeks after the occurrence, he experienced difficulty in swallowing and suffered discomfort in his shoulder, neck, back and chest. For a period of six to eight weeks after the collision, rotation of his head to the right or left caused him to feel pain in his neck, and he claimed that at the time of his testimony rotation of his head to the right was still painful.

 His employment was that of a restaurant manager in New York City. He commuted between his place of employment and Coaldale, Pennsylvania, 125 miles away, where he stayed most of the time. He resumed his occupation early in December 1961 and has since continued to work thereat approximately two days a week. He had previously worked but one day a week by reason of his concern about his heart.

 There was no orthopedic expert testimony presented to me. The single issue to which the evidence was directed was that having to do with the claim of the plaintiff that a condition of arteriosclerotic heart disease, from which admittedly he had been suffering for a period of approximately two years before the occurrence of which he complains, had been aggravated by the emotional upset attendant upon the occurrence giving rise to the action.

 Plaintiff testified that he had been having chest pains for two years before the accident; some of them, four or five weeks before the occurrence, were severe in character. More recently, on November 15 or 16, at Lake George, New York, he had had a similar onset after he had eaten heavily. Following the Lake George attack, he consulted a Dr. Dier of Lake George Village, and had an electrocardiogram on November 20 or 21, 1961, made by a Dr. Rothschild of 115 West 86th Street, New York City. One or two months after the accident, he consulted a Dr. Donahue of Bethlehem, Pa., who also took an electrocardiogram.

 On February 22, 1962, he consulted Dr. William A. Leff, a specialist in internal medicine and cardiology, upon whose testimony he relies for support of his contention respecting the alleged cardiac consequences of the motor vehicle collision of which he complains. Dr. Leff testified that the plaintiff gave him the following history:

 Patient stated that he suffered a chest injury in a motor vehicle collision on November 29, 1961, followed immediately by acute chest pain, emotional upset and fear of a recurrence of a previous heart attack. He drove to Lake George, New York the day following the collision and awakened early the following morning with severe chest pain and anxiety. The pain was similar to pains which he had suffered in October, 1961. The chest pain subsided in about three-quarters of an hour. One of his siblings had died of heart disease.

 The case was followed up with monthly electrocardiograms until June, 1963, after which the doctor saw the patient bi-monthly. The electrocardiogram of April 3, 1962 and all subsequent ekgs appeared normal. This, in the doctor's opinion, indicated an improvement, but he concluded, based only upon the patient's subjective complaints, that the periodic recurrence of angina pectoris persisted. It was also his opinion that the plaintiff had had a coronary thrombosis some time prior to the collision of November 29, 1961 but that the occurrence aggravated the underlying condition of arteriosclerotic heart disease, ...


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