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Laguna Nurse Gets Jury Award in Crash Case : Courts: Woman who contended she suffered from memory loss, lack of concentration after 1990 collision is given $504,000.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jury awarded $630,000 Friday to a Laguna Beach nurse who contended she suffered brain damage stemming from a collision with another motorist at a Laguna Hills intersection four years ago.

An Orange County Superior Court jury also found that Rosemary Palmer was 20% responsible for the crash, which means that her award will be reduced by that amount, to $504,000. The money is to be paid by the other driver’s insurance company.

In the accident, Palmer’s nose was fractured and she subsequently suffered from memory loss and lack of concentration, her attorney James Traut said.

The driver, Betty Cooper, now 84, of Laguna Hills, declined to discuss the jury’s decision. Palmer, 30, also declined to comment Friday.

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Traut said Palmer had been northbound on Moulton Parkway in Laguna Hills on July 13, 1990. Cooper, who was traveling west on La Paz Road, failed to yield the right of way and attempted to make a left turn in front of Palmer, he said. Palmer’s car then collided into Cooper’s car in the intersection.

Neither driver was cited in the accident, in which Cooper suffered seven broken ribs.

During the nine-day trial, Palmer contended that she was traveling within the 55-m.p.h. speed limit, but Cooper estimated Palmer’s speed at 72 m.p.h.

Much of the testimony centered on whether Palmer’s documented brain damage was due to the accident. The defense contended her problems were psychologically troubles tied to changes in her personal life immediately after the accident.

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Palmer had worked as a registered nurse at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo until a year before the accident but quit when she became engaged to a neurosurgeon on staff at the hospital. She had been accepted to law school.

Throughout the trial, Traut argued that because of the accident his client could no longer work as a nurse and was forced to drop plans for law school. Traut said that after the accident, Palmer began suffering from memory loss and a lack of concentration, making it impossible for her to return to work.

“It’s very difficult for her to even comprehend a book now,” he said.

But attorney Tom Mei, who represented Cooper, argued that the lapses could likely be the result of vast changes in Palmer’s personal life. “We think it’s a psychological disorder brought about by things not connected to the accident,” Mei said.

Jeffery Schaeffer, a neuropsychologist called by the defense to testify during the trial, said that Palmer could be suffering from “psychological overlay” brought on by changes in her life, including getting married two days after the accident and having three children in three consecutive years.

But Palmer’s attorney refused those contentions and introduced testimony from a neurologist and a neuropsychologist, who said Palmer’s memory losses and lack of concentration were linked to the accident.

Jurors awarded Palmer $380,000 for future loss of wages and $250,000 for other damages including medical bills.


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