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In a car accident case, defendants argued plaintiff didn’t meet the serious injury threshold. Martinez v. Hillard, 2022 N.Y. Slip Op. 32204 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2022)


When it comes to recovering damages in a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must be able to prove that they suffered serious injuries. In the case of Martinez v. Hillard, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit to recover damages for injuries she allegedly sustained in a motor vehicle accident. The defendants moved for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the plaintiff failed to meet the “serious injury” threshold defined by New York Insurance Law §5102(d).

Background Facts
Manuela Martinez, the plaintiff, was involved in a car accident on July 12, 2019, while traveling on City Island Road near Park Drive in Bronx, New York. She was driving a vehicle that was rear-ended by a bus operated by John A. Santana and owned by Lorinda Enterprises. Martinez claimed she sustained significant injuries to her right shoulder, cervical spine, and lumbar spine due to the accident.

Immediately after the accident, Martinez sought medical attention for her injuries. Her treating physician, Dr. Jeffrey Guttman, noted significant range-of-motion limitations in her right shoulder and spine. Despite initial treatments and subsequent medical evaluations, Martinez continued to experience pain and limitations. The defendants contended that Martinez’s injuries were not serious or permanent, submitting medical evidence to support their claim. They also argued that the injuries were not causally related to the accident but were pre-existing or degenerative.

Whether Martinez met the “serious injury” threshold under New York Insurance Law §5102(d) and whether the defendants, Santana and Lorinda Enterprises, were liable for the accident.

The court partially granted and partially denied the motions for summary judgment. The court dismissed Martinez’s claims that she sustained a “permanent loss of use” and a “90/180 day” injury. However, the court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment regarding the “serious injury” threshold, finding that there were factual issues that needed to be resolved. The court also granted the motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability in favor of Santana and Lorinda Enterprises, concluding that they were not negligent in the accident.

The defendants argued that Martinez did not suffer a serious injury as defined by New York Insurance Law §5102(d). They submitted medical reports from Dr. Jason R. Baynes, an orthopedic surgeon, who found normal or near-normal ranges of motion in Martinez’s injured body parts. Dr. Baynes concluded that Martinez’s injuries were not significant or permanent. Additionally, the defendants presented evidence suggesting that Martinez’s injuries were degenerative and not caused by the accident.

In response, Martinez provided affirmed treatment records showing significant limitations in her right shoulder and spine shortly after the accident and during subsequent medical examinations. Dr. Guttman, her treating physician, noted persistent limitations and concluded that Martinez sustained a permanent partial disability as a result of the accident. The court found that Martinez raised a triable issue of fact regarding whether she sustained a “permanent consequential” or “significant” limitation of use of her right shoulder and spine, thus denying the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on this ground.

Santana and Lorinda Enterprises sought summary judgment on the basis that their bus was rear-ended by a vehicle operated by co-defendants Harold Hillard and Amber Anderson-Hillard. They argued that the rear-end collision established a prima facie case of negligence on the part of the Hillard defendants, who failed to provide a non-negligent explanation for the accident.

The court agreed with Santana and Lorinda Enterprises, stating that a rear-end collision with a stopped or stopping vehicle typically establishes negligence on the part of the driver of the rear vehicle. The court found that the Hillard defendants did not offer any non-negligent explanation for the collision. As a result, the court granted summary judgment on the issue of liability in favor of Santana and Lorinda Enterprises, dismissing the claims and cross-claims against them.

If you or a loved one has sustained spinal injuries in an accident, immediately seek expert legal guidance. Navigating the complexities of personal injury claims requires experience and a thorough understanding of the law. An experienced New York spinal injury lawyer can help you understand your rights, evaluate your case, and pursue the compensation you deserve.

Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates today to discuss your case with an experienced New York spinal injury lawyer. We are committed to protecting your rights and helping you achieve the justice and compensation you deserve.

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