Woman Wins $ 195,300 in Suit Against U.S.

The Times Union, April 6, 1994
Copyright 1994 The Hearst Corporation
THREE STAR EDITION

SECTION: CAPITAL REGION, Pg. B4

HEADLINE: Woman wins $ 195,300 in suit against U.S.; Federal court verdict may set precedent in Northern District Schenectady woman suffers from myofascial pain syndrome after accident

BYLINE: JOHN CAHER; Staff writer

ALBANY: A U.S. judge, concluding that a Schenectady woman suffers from the legally and medically controversial ailment of ''myofascial pain syndrome,'' has ordered the federal government to pay $ 195,300 in the case of a civilian/Army car crash.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph W. Smith Jr., in what may be the first Northern District ruling on myofascial pain syndrome, held that the government owes Mary Ann Kindler $ 45,300 for lost wages and $150,000 for past and future pain and suffering.

Kindler sued the Army, alleging that she is frequently in pain as a result of a July 3, 1986, accident. Records show Kindler was a passenger in a car that collided with an Army vehicle making an illegal U-turn in the middle of the night. The accident occurred north of Utica.

Myofascial pain dysfunction syndrome is a medically difficult diagnosis and legally difficult cause of action because it involves injuries, frequently to soft tissue, which usually cannot be detected through X-rays or other testing. Additionally, it can be caused by an accident or through the overuse of certain muscles.

Critics contend myofascial pain syndrome, if it is used successfully in personal injury lawsuits, could prove to be a bonanza for ''malingerers,'' or people who fake an injury, since it is difficult to either prove or disprove their claims.

No one suggested that Kindler, who had been an active bicyclist and hiker, was faking. But a local orthopedic surgeon did dispute the plaintiff's contention that she is a victim of myofascial pain dysfunction syndrome and did testify that there was a ''psychosomatic overlay'' to her complaints, according to court records.

Smith, however, accepted the diagnosis of Kindler's doctors.

Evidence at trial showed that the accident occurred after several Army vehicles separated from the main convoy while traveling along Route 12 in Deerfield, Oneida County, and attempted to backtrack. The car in which Kindler was riding, forced to make a sudden stop on the highway because of the other driver's illegal U-turn, was rear-ended by another vehicle.

Kindler suffered a whiplash-type injury and continues to have difficulty turning her head, bending and performing other routine physical tasks, her attorney, James W. Bendall of the Schenectady firm of Bendall & Mednick, argued in a non-jury trial earlier this year.

Smith ruled in favor of Kindler, who at the time of the accident was a substitute schoolteacher. The judge found that injuries from the accident prevented Kindler from completing the requirements for a master's degree in special education.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James C. Woods defended the government.

Last year, a state Supreme Court jury awarded a Bethlehem woman $100,000 for myofascial pain syndrome in what lawyers said was the first such award in Albany County. Kindler's case apparently marks the first time a plaintiff has sustained a myofascial pain syndrome claim in federal court in this region.