Does Plaintiff's Obesity Impact P.I. Trial Outcomes?

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Does Plaintiff’s Obesity Impact P.I. Trial Outcomes?
According to the Center for Disease Control, 34.9% of adult Americans-roughly 79 million people-are considered to be obese. For Illinoisans, the estimates of obesity range from 25-30% of adults. Given these statistics, there is a pretty fair chance that, sooner or later, every attorney who tries personal injury cases will handle one in which the plaintiff’s weight is an issue.
 How might the plaintiff’s obesity impact the case? For example, medical evidence may point to a legitimate link between the plaintiff’s weight and the cause or severity of his or her claimed injuries. Further, the plaintiff’s obesity might bring with it quality of life and life expectancy issues that affect future pain and suffering and loss of normal life damages. In addition, jury deliberations might be influenced by juror bias (overt or not) against individuals who are overweight.
When I checked the AccessPlus® database of published cases, I found that we have reported numerous Illinois verdicts and settlements in which the plaintiff’s weight became an issue when liability or damages were argued. Here are a few selected summaries.
Defense Verdict (Cook County):  Plaintiff sustained internal knee derangement when he fell down an allegedly poorly lit and negligently maintained staircase in defendant’s apartment building. Plaintiff’s attorney reported that during jury selection, plaintiff tripped over a podium while walking into the courtroom. Afterward, a prospective juror indicated an inability to be fair. When questioned by the judge, the juror said everyone saw the plaintiff trip, and any fall was because he was clumsy and overweight. The jury returned a defense verdict after deliberating 2.5 hours.
$482,329 Verdict (Cook County):  F-57, who weighed in excess of 400 pounds, claims she tripped/fell due to worn and rippled carpet in the vestibule while exiting defendant hospital following a doctor’s appointment for treatment of high blood sugar. Plaintiff fractured her right tibial plateau and, despite undergoing a complete knee replacement, now requires a walker or wheelchair to get around-limitations that she did not have before. The jury reportedly deliberated for less than 2 hours.
$600,000 Settlement (McHenry County):  F-63 tripped over a steel diamond plate built into the floor in the check-out aisle of defendant’s grocery store, suffering a spinal compression fracture that eventually resulted in paralysis. The plate protruded 1/8 of an inch above the floor surface and plaintiff-who was obese, disabled and walked with a cane-shuffled her feet when she walked.
$97,515 Verdict (Cook County):  F-59 claimed she fell while descending stairs in defendants’ apartment building due to loose carpeting. She fractured an ankle and suffered tendon damage that required surgery, and said ongoing pain limited her ability to work as a cleaning woman.  Defense admitted negligence and proximate cause. However, the defense contended that plaintiff made an excellent recovery with no complications, and attributed plaintiff’s residual symptoms to her being overweight.
$69,863 Verdict (Cook County):  Obese F-46 was involved in a vehicular collision at Governors Highway and Trails Drive (Olympia Fields), which resulted in soft tissue neck/back injuries. However, after conservative treatment failed to relieve her pain, she underwent breast reduction surgery-which had complications. Defense admitted negligence, but argued that plaintiff had pre-existing neck/back pain for which her doctor had previously recommended breast reduction surgery.
$230,000 Settlement (Lake County):  M-40 truck driver was making a delivery to defendant’s premises when he fell on loose steps, aggravating lumbosacral degenerative disc disease. Defense argued that plaintiff was grossly overweight, which contributed to his degenerative disc disease
 $42,500 Verdict (Cook County):  F-39 developed chondromalacia and synovial plica synovitis after she tripped/fell in a hole in defendant’s parking lot and landed on her knees.  Defense contended that plaintiff was contributorily negligent for failing to avoid the hole, and maintained that the knee problems were due to pre-existing degeneration caused by being overweight and running.  Verdict was $50,000 less 15%
$1,208 Verdict (Cook County):  Left-turning defendant struck plaintiff’s vehicle at Central Avenue and Pleasant Boulevard (Oak Lawn). Plaintiff F-40 sustained a cervical strain which she claimed caused development of a fibrolipoma-a fibrous fatty hump-on the back of her neck and upper back, which necessitated liposuction. Reportedly, plaintiff testified that the hump made her feel like Quasimoto. Defense argued that plaintiff failed to keep a proper lookout, and contested injury causation. Defense expert opined that the fatty hump was a natural result of plaintiff’s obesity.  Verdict was $1,342 less 10%, including nothing for either pain and suffering or loss of normal life. This verdict was subsequently affirmed on appeal.