This action was commenced by a man to recover damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained in a motor vehicle accident. He alleges that he sustained neck and back injury when the vehicle he was driving, which was stopped for a red light, was struck in the rear by a vehicle driven by a woman. More specifically, the man alleges in his bill of particulars that he suffered spinal injuries as a result of the subject accident. At a deposition conducted, he testified that he is employed as a Bronx laborer for a Brooklyn construction company, and that he missed 11 days of work due to his spine injuries.
The opponent woman moves for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that the man is precluded by Insurance Law from recovering for non-economic loss, as he did not sustain a serious injury within the meaning of Insurance Law. The woman’s submissions in support of the motion include copies of the pleadings; a transcript of the man’s deposition testimony; medical reports prepared by the complainant man’s treating chiropractor, and his treating neurologist; and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) reports regarding the man’s cervical and lumbar regions prepared in February 2005. Also submitted by the woman in support of the motion is a sworn medical report prepared by the orthopedic surgeon. At the woman’s request, the orthopedic surgeon conducted an examination of the man on June 28, 2006, and reviewed various medical records related to the man’s alleged spinal injuries.
The orthopedic surgeon’s report states that the man presented with complaints of chronic neck and back pain, as well as an occasional limp. The report states, in relevant part, that the man exhibited full range of motion in his cervical and lumbar regions, with no palpable muscle spasm or tightness, during the physical examination. It states that the man stood erect, with no evidence of asymmetry, and that he moved easily during the examination. The report also states that the man demonstrated full range of motion in his upper and lower extremities; that there was no evidence of muscle atrophy or compression neuropathy; and that there was no evidence of any motor or neurological dysfunction. The orthopedic surgeon opines that the man suffered cervical and spine injuries as a result of the accident, and that both conditions have resolved. He further concludes that there was no evidence that the man suffers from any ongoing orthopedic dysfunction or disability.
The man opposes the motion for summary judgment, arguing that the proof submitted by the woman fails to establish legitimately that he did not suffer a significant limitation of use in his lumbar spine as a result of the subject accident. Alternatively, the man asserts that medical evidence presented in opposition raises a triable issue of fact as to whether he sustained injury within the significant limitation of use category of Insurance Law. The Court notes that although the affirmation by the man’s counsel states that a denial of benefits statement from the no-fault carrier, the insurance company was included with the opposition papers, no such statement was annexed thereto. In addition, while an affidavit by the man states that he treated with a doctor until September 2005, the doctor’s affidavit states that the man ceased treatment in July 2005, because of financial constraints.
Insurance Law defines serious injury as a personal injury which results in death; dismemberment; significant disfigurement; a fracture; loss of a fetus; permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function or system; permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member; significant limitation of use of a body function or system; or a medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person’s usual and customary daily activities for not less than ninety days during the one hundred eighty days immediately following the occurrence of the injury or impairment.
An accused seeking summary judgment on the ground that a complainant’s negligence claim is barred under the No-Fault Insurance Law bears the initial burden of establishing a legitimate case that the complainant did not sustain a serious injury. When an accused seeking summary judgment based on the lack of serious injury relies on the findings of the accused party’s own witnesses, those findings must be in admissible form, and not unsworn reports to demonstrate entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. An accused also may establish entitlement to summary judgment using the complainant’s deposition testimony and medical reports and records prepared by the complainant’s own physicians. Once an accused meets the burden, the complainant must present proof in admissible form which creates a material issue of fact, or demonstrate an acceptable excuse for failing to meet the requirement of tender in admissible form. However, if an accused does not establish a legitimate case that the complainant’s injuries do not meet the serious injury threshold, the court need not consider the sufficiency of the complainant’s opposition papers.
Contrary to the conclusive assertions by the man’s counsel, the medical evidence presented by woman establishes legitimately that the man did not suffer a serious injury as a result of the accident. The Court notes that an accused who submits admissible proof that a complainant has full range of motion and suffers no disabilities as a result of the subject accident establishes a legitimate case that the complainant did not sustain a serious injury, despite the existence of an MRI report showing a herniated or bulging disc. The burden, therefore, shifted to the man to raise a triable issue of fact.
A complainant claiming injury within the limitation of use categories must substantiate his or her complaints of pain with objective medical evidence showing the extent or degree of the limitations of movement and their duration. He or she must present medical proof contemporaneous with the accident showing the initial restrictions in movement or an explanation for its omission, as well as objective medical findings of limitations that are based on a recent examination of the complainant. In addition, a complainant claiming serious injury who ceases treatment after the accident must offer a reasonable explanation for having done so.
The man’s submissions in opposition are insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact. The affidavit by the man’s doctor improperly relies on unsworn reports of others in concluding that the man suffered significant limitations in spinal function as a result of the accident. Further, the man’s doctor’s affidavit states that on February 22, 2005, the man was sent for spinal rave of motion testing using a dual inclinometer and details the degrees of movement measured at that time. It states that range of motion testing using a dual inclinometer was performed again in March 2005 and provides the measurements taken, yet does not indicate who performed such testing. The doctor’s affidavit, therefore, is without probative value on the question of whether the man suffered a serious injury in the accident.
Moreover, the man failed to present competent medical proof contemporaneous with the accident showing significant limitations in spinal movement and the duration of such limitations. He also failed to provide evidence substantiating his allegations that he was forced to cease medical care just months after the accident, because his no fault benefits were terminated and he lacked the financial means to pay for such care. Finally, absent objective medical proof as to the significance or duration of the alleged spinal injuries, the man’s self-serving affidavit, which contains allegations of continued lower back pain and restricted movement, is insufficient to defeat summary judgment. Accordingly, summary judgment dismissing the complaint based on the man’s failure to meet the serious injury threshold is granted.
If ever we encounter accidents due to other’s negligence, we should not take the possibility that in one way or another, our actions could have contributed to the accident. When you are in the middle of a lawsuit and you want to be tried fairly, consult the Suffolk County Personal Injury Lawyers and Suffolk County Medical Malpractice Attorneys. Stephen Bilkis and Associates can also provide you with the best Suffolk County Spine Injury Attorneys.