This is an action to recover damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained by plaintiff wife as a result of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on the westbound Long Island Expressway, approximately 500 feet west of South Oyster Bay Road, in the County of Nassau. New York on May 13. 2008. The accident allegedly occurred when the vehicle operated by defendant and owned by the other defendant struck the rear of the vehicle operated by plaintiff husband while it was stopped in traffic. Plaintiff at the time of the accident was a front seat passenger in the vehicle operated by her husband,. By her bill of particulars, plaintiff alleges that she sustained various personal injuries as a result of the subject accident, including straightening of the cervical and lumbar curvature; disc bulges at levels C3 through C6 and level L4-L5; vertebral subluxation complex; and derangement of the left shoulder. Plaintiff alleges that she was confined to her bed and home for approximately two days immediately after the accident. Plaintiff further alleges that she was totally incapacitated from her employment as a registered nurse at the Hospital for approximately three days following the car accident and continues to be partially incapacitated from her employment to date.
A report said that, defendants now move for summary judgment on the basis that plaintiffs alleged spinal injuries do not meet the "serious injury" threshold requirement of Insurance Law § 5102(d). In support of the motion, defendants submit a copy of the pleadings, plaintiffs’ deposition transcript, and the sworn medical reports of the doctors. At defendants' request, a neurologist, a chiropractor, and a physiatrist licensed in medical acupuncture, conducted independent examinations of plaintiff on September 23, 2008. A Lawyer said that, plaintiff opposes the instant motion on the ground that defendants failed to meet their burden of establishing that her injuries do not come within the meaning of the serious injury threshold requirement of Insurance Law § 5102(d). Alternatively, plaintiff asserts that she sustained spinal injuries within the "limitation of use" and the "90/180 days" categories of serious injury as a result of the accident. In opposition to the motion, plaintiff submits her own affidavit, the affidavit of her treating chiropractor, , and the sworn medical reports of her doctors.
The issue in this case is whether plaintiff sustained serious injury as defined under the Insurance Law.
The Suffolk Court said that it has long been established that the "legislative intent underlying the No-Fault Law was to weed out frivolous claims and limit recovery to significant injuries". Therefore, the determination of whether or not a plaintiff has sustained a "serious injury" is to be made by the court in the first instance.
Insurance Law § 5102 (d) defines a "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."
A defendant seeking summary judgment on the ground that a plaintiffs’ negligence claim is barred under the No-Fault Insurance Law bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case that the plaintiff did not sustain a "serious injury". When a defendant seeking summary judgment based on the lack of serious injury relies on the findings of the defendant's own witnesses, "those findings must be in admissible form, such as, affidavits and affirmations, and not unsworn reports" to demonstrate entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. A defendant may also establish entitlement to summary judgment using the plaintiffs deposition testimony and medical reports and records prepared by the plaintiffs own physicians.
Once defendant has met this burden, plaintiff must then submit objective and admissible proof of the nature and degree of the alleged injury in order to meet the threshold of the statutory standard for "serious injury" under New York's No-Fault Insurance Law. However, if a defendant does not establish a prima facie case that the plaintiff’s injuries do not meet the serious injury threshold, the court need not consider the sufficiency of the plaintiffs opposition papers.
Initially, the Court notes that the report submitted by defendants' chiropractor, is inadmissible, inasmuch as it was not sworn to before a notary or other authorized official does not allow for a chiropractor to affirm the truth of his statement with the same force as an affidavit. Thus, defendants' failure to submit the chiropractor's report in admissible form requires that it be excluded from consideration.
However, defendants have established their prima facie burden that plaintiff did not sustain a serious injury within the meaning of Insurance Law § 5102(d). The reports of defendants' various experts state that plaintiff has full ranges of motion in her cervical and lumbar regions when compared with the normal ranges of motion for those areas. The reports also state that although plaintiff complains of minimal tenderness upon palpation over the cervical and lumbar spines, no muscle spasm is elicited when the cervical or lumbosacral musculature is palpated and that there is no tenderness upon palpation of the thoracic spine. The reports further state that the cervical and lumbar spines sprains that plaintiff sustained as a result of the subject accident have resolved and that plaintiff is capable of performing all of her daily living activities without restriction. Furthermore, reference to plaintiffs own deposition testimony sufficiently refuted the "limitation of use" categories of serious spinal injury and the "90/180 days" category under Insurance Law § 5102(d).
Therefore, the burden shifted to plaintiff to come forward with competent admissible medical evidence based on objective findings, sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact that she sustained a "serious injury". A plaintiff alleging an injury within the limitation of use categories must present either objective medical evidence of the extent, percentage or degree of the limitation or loss of range of motion and its duration in order to prove the extent or degree of physical limitation he or she sustained. A sufficient description of the "qualitative nature" of plaintiffs limitations, with an objective basis, correlating plaintiff's limitations to the normal function, purpose and use of the body part may also suffice. A minor, mild or slight limitation of use is considered insignificant within the meaning of the statute.
In opposition, plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact as to whether she sustained a serious injury within the meaning of Insurance Law § 5102(d) as a result of the subject accident. Plaintiff relies upon the affidavit of her treating chiropractor, which states that he initially began treating plaintiff on May 2, 2008 and continued to treat her until February 2010. Dr. Wright's affidavit reveals that plaintiff had significant range of motion limitations in her cervical and thoracolumbosacral regions contemporaneous with the subject accident, and that those limitations still were present when he re-examined plaintiff on September 25, 2010. He opines that plaintiff's range of motion limitations are permanent and are the direct result of the subject accident. The report further states that the spinal injuries plaintiff's sustained as a result of the accident will "inhibit her ability to carry out her normal living activities of daily living, which involve prolonged sitting, standing, bending, walking, lifting or extreme physical exertion."
Contrary to defendants' contention, plaintiff adequately explained her gap in treatment. The doctor’s explanation for the gap in treatment essentially is that plaintiff reached her maximum medical improvement and any further treatment would have merely been palliative in nature. Furthermore, inasmuch as plaintiff established that at least some of her injuries meet the "No Fault" threshold, it is unnecessary to address whether her proof with respect to other injuries she allegedly sustained would have been sufficient to withstand defendants' motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied.