RSD Claims in Accident Lawsuit Against Sam’s Club Leads to Small Verdict

Note: This post was updated in 2020 to provide more information on CPRS/RSD claims in Maryland.

The Maryland Daily Record reports that a federal court awarded less than $10,000 to a Montgomery County woman claiming permanent injuries to her arm as the result of negligence at a Gaithersburg Sam’s Club.

Spoliation Problem

Bizarrely, the plaintiff got rid of the outdoor fireplace just before trial that she still bought that she claimed was mishandled by a Sam’s Club employee. How do you get rid of that just before trial? It could have been innocent enough, but still buying it and then getting rid of it before the trial had to seem odd to jurors.

This is a real spoliation problem.  I don’t think Sam’s Club got a jury instruction. But it had to be lingering in the mind of jurors that she either destroyed it for a reason or she did not take her case seriously.  Either one can be a death knell for a personal injury claim.

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome

Moreover, this case was mostly about reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, which can be caused by trauma but can also be caused by a thousand other things as well.

What Is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy?

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is a syndrome involving color and temperature changes of a specific and discreet body part. RSD causes burning pain, sometimes great pain that is chronic, to that same body part. RSD begins with Initially there is vaso-dilatation with increasing temperature, sweating, and edema. You also often see atrophy of skin and cool, red, and clammy skin.

Is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Easy to Prove in a Car Accident Case?

The problem for car accident victims claiming RSD is there are so many possible causes. Major trauma from a car accident such as a fracture can certainly cause RSD. But so can small cuts and bruises. So defense lawyers often fight vigorously in RSD cases.

What Is the Difference Between RSD and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)?

There is no real difference. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome is basically the same thing as RSD. CRPS is a more 2020 way of describing this condition. (I should have said this from the beginning.)

Recent $6 Million Verdict Against Sam’s Club in Maryland

Let’s digress for a second back to 2018 when the Maryland Court of Appeals decided on a pretty amazing auto accident case in Montgomery County involving Sam’s Club.

Get this.  The defendant drove his car through a stop sign at the Sam’s Club store in Gaithersburg, Maryland, crossed a travel lane, and jumped a curb.  Improbable? Sure.  But then he jumped a curb and drove precisely through the frame of two fire exit doors in the store, hitting the plaintiff.   The plaintiff was taken by helicopter to the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. The doctors did what they could but his right leg above the knee had to be amputated.

Sam’s Club/Walmart tried to make it about foreseeability.  Why wouldn’t they?  Exactly how the accident happened could not be more unforeseeable.  So they sought summary judgment because Maryland law requires foreseeability of negligence must be established by a showing of “acts “occurring on the landlord’s premises, of which he knows or should have known (and not those occurring generally in the surrounding neighborhood).”

Good argument.  But plaintiffs’ lawyers did their homework and found twelve car-into-building crashes at Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs in the five years before this car accident.  So they framed it not as a risk of how this crazy accident happened but the well-understood risk of car-into-building crashes.

What happened? Plaintiff’s won.  Big. The jury awarded 6,476,550.60, which included $3,755,000.00 in noneconomic damages.  The verdict was reduced to conform with Maryland’s ridiculous cap on noneconomic damages.  But the plaintiff still had a verdict in excess of $3 million.

Sam’s Club appealed and won and the court order a new trial, citing evidentiary errors by the trial judge.  But the plaintiff won the bigger battle on foreseeability.  (I can only assume the case settled for something approaching $3 million. It was not retried.)


So, going back to the case that got us here, the jury obviously did not buy that the plaintiff had reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome or they did not buy that it was caused by the accident. Incredibly, the demand was $1.2 million, which I have to think (hope?) represented the thinking of the victim, not her accident lawyer. The accident lawyer already has a difficult case, coupled with the fact that it was in front of a federal jury, which tends to be conservative on damages in all but serious accident cases.

Certainly, the defendant’s accident lawyer did his job in defending the case. “She asked for a lot of money and she got almost none,” the lawyer said, rubbing the plaintiff’s nose in it. He then said that the small verdict is “better than a defense verdict because it takes out all of their appealable issues.”

I don’t think this is actually true. If a legal ruling is wrong in an accident case against the plaintiff, it is still wrong and subject to appeal.