21 July 2021

Driver awarded $160,000 after crash despite exaggerating injuries

| Albert McKnight
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ACT Law Courts

A woman has been awarded $160,000 after a car crash in 2016. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A woman who said she was left with a fear of being in cars after a crash has been awarded about $160,000, despite a judge finding she had exaggerated the effects of her injuries.

On 9 May 2016, 29-year-old Jodie Maree Poole’s car was stationary, and she was in the process of giving way, when her car was struck from behind by a car driven by Mila Zagar.

Ms Poole’s car was pushed across the road and hit the gutter on the opposite side.

In a Supreme Court judgment handed down earlier this month, Justice Chrissa Loukas-Karlsson said both parties were in agreement over Ms Zagar’s responsibility for the crash, but disputed the damages Ms Poole should be awarded.

Ms Poole argued the crash left her with a neck whiplash injury, a lower back injury, shoulder pain, a depressed and anxious mood, as well as amaxophobia – the fear of being in a vehicle.

She said these injuries had many impacts on her, including numbness in an arm, hand and leg, difficulty raising an arm above her shoulders, an inability to physically interact with her children and disturbed sleep.

She needed treatment for her neck, lower back and shoulder.

READ ALSO Furniture worker awarded $5.6 million after being hit on the head by a 100 kg table

Neurologist Dr Ron Brooder said there was a direct nexus and relationship between the crash, Ms Poole’s injuries and her physical disabilities.

But he also admitted he was “totally dependent” on self-reporting by Ms Poole when concluding her ability to undertake usual daily activities was significantly limited.

“That self-reporting is, in my view, subject to exaggeration,” Justice Loukas-Karlsson said.

When an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Frank Machart, assessed Ms Poole, she said she had a large range of pain and problems.

But he provided a report in 2019 that said he believed she did not sustain any “substantial structural injury that could be responsible for the plethora of symptoms with which she presented … three years after the injury”.

Ms Poole claimed she should be awarded almost $750,000 in damages.

But the defendants, Ms Zagar and Insurance Australia Group Limited Trading as NRMA Insurance, argued while Ms Poole’s aspirations to become an accountant had been strongly emphasised and formed part of her damages claim, these plans were exaggerated.

While she had begun a number of courses, they alleged she “did not even have a rudimentary understanding of what was required to become an accountant”.

READ ALSO Driver behind fatal car crash must pay $300,000 to survivor

“I am not satisfied, on the evidence, that the stated plan by the plaintiff to become an accountant was in fact based on a realistic foundation,” Justice Loukas-Karlsson said.

“Further, I agree with the defendants’ submission that the plaintiff [Ms Poole] has not proven any significant ongoing disability as a result of the accident.”

She accepted the defendants’ submission Ms Poole had tended to exaggerate the effects of her injuries and disabilities.

“The plaintiff has not received any treatment since 2019, and the medical evidence does not support that she requires any ongoing treatment as a result of the accident,” she said.

In a judgment released on 14 July, Justice Loukas-Karlsson ordered Ms Poole be paid almost $160,000 in damages and told the defendants to pay her court costs.

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