United States District Court, D. Minnesota
N. Edwards, for plaintiff.
Voss, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, for defendant.
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Patrick J. Schiltz United States District Judge
Sara Tucker brought this action against defendant United
States of America under the Federal Tort Claims Act
("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b), for injuries
that she suffered in a collision with a vehicle driven by a
mail carrier. Both parties agree that the United States is
liable to Tucker, and both parties agree that the United
States must pay past medical expenses in the amount of $9,
718.43. The parties dispute how much the United States must
pay Tucker for (1) future medical expenses; (2) past pain and
suffering; and (3) future pain and suffering.
claim was tried before the Court. Having heard the evidence
and arguments of counsel, the Court makes the following
findings of fact and conclusions of law under Fed.R.Civ.P.
FINDINGS OF FACT
Tucker is 34 years old and works as a nurse at the Maple
Grove Hospital in Maple Grove, Minnesota. TT 15,
58. Before the accident, Tucker was
healthy and led an active life. TT 15-16. Tucker and her
husband have one child and, at the time of trial, were
expecting a second child. TT 18, 34.
Tucker timely filed a complaint on August 10, 2017. ECF No.
May 27, 2014, an employee of the United States Postal Service
negligently crashed his vehicle into Tucker's car as she
was driving home. TT 13-15; JE 660-63.
Immediately after the accident, Tucker felt "sharp
pain" in her head and neck. TT 13. An ambulance arrived
and transported Tucker to the emergency room at Mercy
Hospital in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. TT 13-14; JE 574. A
doctor ordered CT scans of Tucker's head and cervical
spine; the scans were normal. TT 187, 190-91; JE 574, 577-78.
After the doctor diagnosed Tucker with a headache, neck pain,
and dizziness, JE 574, she was given pain medication and
instructed to follow up with a primary-care physician, TT 19.
Court finds that Tucker was a credible witness. She appeared
to testify truthfully about the accident and the pain that
she has experienced since May 2014. There is no reason to
believe that Tucker has been malingering or exaggerating.
Several witnesses described how the accident has affected
Tucker, and their testimony corroborated Tucker's.
See TT 86 (co-worker testifying that the accident
has changed how Tucker works as a nurse); TT 76-78 (husband
testifying that the accident has "affect[ed] her whole
life" by causing pain and forcing her to give up certain
Since the accident, Tucker has experienced chronic
mild-to-moderate pain. The pain has not had a debilitating
impact on Tucker's life. Tucker can still perform her
daily activities, TT 43-44; she can still work as a nurse, TT
58; she has become pregnant, given birth to a child, helped
raise the child, and become pregnant again, TT 18, 40-42; and
she regularly drives to Iowa to visit her parents, TT 37-38,
said, Tucker does suffer from chronic pain-and all the
frustration and stress that typically accompany chronic pain.
Tucker's pain waxes and wanes; Tucker occasionally
experiences stiffness, burning, tingling, headaches, and neck
discomfort. TT at 20-21. Tucker's injury can make it
difficult for her to complete basic activities such as mowing
the lawn, cooking food, and shoveling the driveway, TT 30-32,
61-62, and she has given up some of her hobbies, such as
gardening, TT 35, 76, 79. At times, the pain has made it
harder for Tucker to care for her family. TT 40-41.
From June 2014 to November 2015, Tucker tried different types
of non-invasive pain treatment. On three separate occasions,
Tucker participated in physical-therapy courses involving
outpatient treatment and at-home exercises. All told, Tucker
attended over 50 physical-therapy sessions from June 2014 to
May 2017. See TT 67-68 (testifying that her first
and second rounds of physical therapy involved between 40 and
50 visits combined); TT 52-53 (testifying that her third
round of physical therapy involved 11 sessions); see
also JE 191-92. Tucker also tried a handful of other
treatments, including massage therapy, chiropractic care,
TENS units,  and a corticosteroid injection. TT 21-22,
25-26, 53; see JE 533-64.
of these treatments brought lasting pain relief. TT 23-26
(physical therapy, TENS unit, trigger point injection).
Although physical therapy brought temporary relief,
Tucker's symptoms-headaches, "aching" and
"stabbing" neck pain, and tingling in her left
little finger-reappeared after treatment ended. See,
e.g., TT 24-25 (testifying that her pain would gradually
return after attending physical therapy).
New Diagnosis and Radio frequency Ablations
Frustrated with these results, Tucker explored other
treatment options. In November 2015, she visited a
chronic-pain specialist at the Institute for Low Back and
Neck Care. TT 27; JE 1051-52. The doctor recommended that
Tucker go through a diagnostic procedure known as a
"medial branch block" to determine whether a treatment
known as "radiofrequency ablation" (or
"RFA") might reduce or eliminate her pain. TT
27-28; JE 1052.
is a widely accepted, minimally invasive surgical procedure
designed to treat facet-joint pain. RFA provides pain relief
by burning the nerves within the damaged facet joints.
See TT 99, 116. A doctor uses a special needle with
a heated tip to coagulate the proteins within the nerve so
that the nerve can no longer transmit pain signals. TT 99,
116. Over time, the nerve regenerates and can send pain
signals once again. TT 116, 129-30. For this reason, medical
professionals view RFA as a "management strategy"
rather than a "permanent cure." TT 116.
Court credits the testimony of Tucker's expert, Dr. David
Schultz, that RFA is a "common" and "fairly
routine" procedure that is performed at "all
interventional pain clinics," as well as at such
world-renowned medical facilities as the Mayo Clinic. TT 98.
The RFA procedure is backed by medical literature and
extensive practice. See TT 125-30. Dr. Schultz alone
has performed thousands of RFAs. TT 98. Dr. Schultz testified