This is an action to recover damages for serious personal injuries allegedly sustained by plaintiff as a result of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on Route 109 at or near the overpass of the Southern State Parkway, County of Suffolk, New York on March 9, 2005. Plaintiff claims in his complaint that he sustained serious permanent injuries as defined in Section 5102 (d) of the Insurance Law and economic loss greater than basic economic loss, as defined in Section 5102 (a) of the Insurance Law. A Lawyer said that, defendants now move for an order pursuant to CPLR 3212 granting them summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the grounds that plaintiff did not sustain a “serious injury” as defined in Insurance Law § 5102 (d). Plaintiff cross moves for partial summary judgment on liability grounds and for an inquest as to the assessment of damages. Plaintiff opposes defendants’ motion, and defendants have filed a reply.
A source said that, in support of this motion defendants submit, the pleadings; the plaintiff’s verified bill of particulars; plaintiff’s Hospital emergency department records, including x-ray reports of plaintiff’s cervical and thoracic spine; the affirmed report of defendant’s examining neurologist,; the affirmed report of defendant’s examining radiologist,; the affirmed report of defendant’s examining orthopedist,; plaintiff’s employment verification records dated March 1, 2006; and plaintiff’s deposition testimony.
A Spine Injury Lawyer said that, plaintiff claims in his verified bill of particulars that he sustained, among other things, disc bulges of the cervical spine injury and ventral cord abutment; a limited range of motion of the cervical spine injury; weakness in the upper extremities; and lumbar radicular dysfunction. Plaintiff also claims that he sustained scarring, anxiety and mental suffering. Additionally, plaintiff claims that he was totally disabled for about three weeks and that he remains partially disabled to date. Lastly, plaintiff claims that he sustained a serious injury in the categories of a permanent loss of use, a permanent consequential limitation, a significant limitation and a non-permanent injury.
Plaintiff’s Hospital emergency department records for treatment rendered on the day of the accident show that he complained of pain in his neck and upper back. X-rays of plaintiff’s cervical and thoracic spine performed at the hospital that day show no signs of fracture, dislocation, significant subluxation, or soft tissue abnormalities. The hospital radiologist opined that x-rays of plaintiffs thoracic spine taken that day showed mild degenerative changes and minimal biconcave scoliosis of the lower-thoracic-upper lumbar spine. Based on these findings, the attending physician diagnosed plaintiff with neck/back pain, but also found that there were no injuries to his head, shoulder, arm or leg. In his report dated August 30, 2006, the neurologist doctor states that he performed an independent neurological examination of plaintiff, and his findings include a motor examination that was “5/5” in all extremities with normal tone; DTR’s that were “2 +” and symmetrical; an intact sensory examination; and a normal gait. The doctor opined that plaintiff had sustained sprains of the cervical and thoracic spine injury, but that there were no objective findings to indicate a neurological disability. He also concluded that plaintiff had a pre-existing history of a degenerative condition of the spine. In his report dated October 23, 2006, the orthopedic doctor states that he performed an independent orthopedic examination of plaintiff on that date, and his findings include no muscle atrophy; a negative straight leg raising test; and motor strength that was “5/5.” His testing also showed a normal range of motion of the cervical spine, thoracic spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands as well as no tenderness, heat, swelling, erythema or effusion of the upper or lower extremities. Additionally, he noted that plaintiff’s medical history included a prior neck and back injury. He opined that plaintiff had sustained sprains on the cervical and lumbar spine which exacerbated pre-existing injuries.
A Suffolk Spine Injury Lawyer said that, plaintiff Employment Verification records show that he was employed continuously with the from April 20, 1998 until the date of the verification, March 1, 2006. These records also show that plaintiff was paid in full from an LIRR sick bank from March 11, 2005 through to March 15, 2005, and from March 21, 2005 through to March 31, 2005, and that he worked on March 16 and April 1, 2005. Plaintiff testified that he was employed on a full-time basis as a plumber at the time of the accident. His duties included maintaining the plumbing systems at different stations and outlying buildings. He went to work the Friday after the accident, but he was sent home after a few hours. In total, he missed approximately three weeks of work as a result of his personal injuries. Upon his return, he performed the same duties as before, except that he was unable to lift heavy equipment or materials. He also has difficulty gardening and engaging in various sporting activities such as waterskiing. In addition, he restricts himself to a 40-hour week and has turned down available overtime since the accident. Plaintiff further testified that he was injured in a prior motor vehicle accident about 20 to 25 years ago, at which time he received some chiropractic treatment to his back.
The issue in this case is whether plaintiff sustained serious injury as defined under the Insurance Law.
Insurance Law § 5102 (d) 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.”
The Court said that, in order to recover under the “permanent loss of use” category, plaintiff must demonstrate a total loss of use of a body organ, member, function or system. To prove the extent or degree of physical limitation with respect to the “permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member” or a “significant limitation of use of a body function or system” categories, either a specific percentage of the loss of range of motion must be ascribed or there must be a sufficient description of the “qualitative nature” of plaintiff’s limitations, with an objective basis, correlating plaintiff’s limitations to the normal function, purpose and use of the body part. A minor, mild or slight limitation of use is considered insignificant within the meaning of the statute.
It is for the Court to determine in the first instance whether a prima facie showing of “serious injury” has been made out. The initial burden is on the defendant “to present evidence, in competent form, showing that the plaintiff has no cause of action”. Once defendant has met the burden, plaintiff must then, by competent proof, establish a prima facie case that such serious injury exists. Such proof, in order to be in a competent or admissible form, shall consist of affidavits or affirmations. The proof must be viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, here, the plaintiff.
By their submissions, the Court held that the defendants made a prima facie showing that plaintiff did not sustain a serious injury. Defendants’ examining orthopedist found, upon a recent examination, that plaintiff had a normal range of motion of the upper extremities with no atrophy. Similarly, defendants’ examining neurologist, round, upon a recent examination, that plaintiff had normal range of motion of the cervical and lumbar spine, with no paravertebral tenderness or spasm. Furthermore, defendants’ examining radiologist opined, based upon his review of plaintiff’s MRI studies, that plaintiff had a multilevel preexisting degenerative condition of the cervical spine, but that there was no evidence of any causally related injuries. Defendants remaining evidence, including plaintiff’s deposition testimony, also supports a finding that he did not sustain a serious injury. As defendants have met his burden as to all categories of serious injury alleged by plaintiff, the Court turns to plaintiff’s proffer.
In opposition to this motion, plaintiff submits, among other things, the unaffirmed report of plaintiff’s treating radiologist; and the affirmed report of plaintiffs treating osteopath. Initially, the unsworn report of the doctor that was discussed in detail by defendant’s examining orthopedist has been considered as it is admissible. In his report, the doctor states that he performed MRI studies of plaintiff’s cervical spine, and his findings include straightening of cervical lordosis; diffuse disc dehydration; and posterior disc bulges. While he observed a ventral cord abutment at C-4/5 through C-6/7, he also noted that there were no significant protrusions into the neural canal, recesses or foramina. He opined that these studies showed no focal prevertebral or posterior paraspinal abnormal masses.
The Court held that, plaintiff has provided insufficient medical proof to raise an issue of fact that he sustained a serious injury under the no-fault. Initially, it is noted that plaintiff failed to submit any medical proof addressing his prior neck/back injuries as well as his condition relative to thereto. In this regard, the doctor failed to indicate awareness that plaintiff had previously injured his neck/back, therefore, any conclusion on his part that plaintiff’s claimed injuries were causally related to the subject incident was mere speculation. The doctor also failed to adequately address the preexisting degenerative condition of plaintiff’s cervical spine as diagnosed by his own treating radiologist only two months after the accident, as he did not provide a sufficient foundation or objective medical basis supporting the conclusion which he reached, namely, that the alleged conditions were causally related to or exacerbated by the accident. Further, while the doctor records plaintiffs complaints of pain, he has failed to present medical proof that was contemporaneous with the accident showing any initial range of motion restrictions for the affected body parts. Additionally, the report of the doctor tends to show that plaintiffs injuries, which consisted of a cervical and thoracic sprains/strains and myofascial derangements, were mild, minor or slight. In any event, the doctor has not adequately explained the approximate 14-month gap in treatment between the conclusion of plaintiffs last exam on March 30, 2006 and his most recent examination of plaintiff in May 3, 2007, shortly after the filing of defendants’ motion. Thus, plaintiff’s unexplained gap in medical treatment was in essence, a cessation of treatment that is not addressed by competent proof. Additionally, the proof submitted by the plaintiff is insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact.
Moreover, since there is no evidence in the record demonstrating that plaintiff’s alleged economic loss exceeded the statutory amount of basic economic loss, his claim in this regard must be dismissed. Accordingly, the Court held that this motion for summary judgment is granted and plaintiff’s cross motion is denied as moot.