Evidence of Injuries to Spine, Shoulder, and Knee Sufficient to Defeat Summary Judgment as to “Serious Injury” in Car Accident Case

In Nelson v. Tamara Taxi, the Appellate Division, First Department reversed a summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s complaint on the ground that he did not establish a “serious injury” under the Insurance Law.

In this car accident case, plaintiff alleged that he sustained serious injuries when the front of his vehicle was struck by a taxi. He claimed that the accident caused him to sustain injuries to his spine, shoulder, and knee.

As to plaintiff’s shoulder injury, the court held:

Although plaintiff’s shoulder injury was his second injury of a similar type, he properly asserted it under an aggravation or exacerbation theory, and, moreover, made a showing that the prior injury was less severe and that it had fully resolved before the accident. His physician concluded that the aggravation of the shoulder injuries was caused by the accident. While treatment for this shoulder injury was begun solely with physical therapy, his physician thereafter determined that arthroscopic surgery was necessary, and performed a subacromial decompression, extensive bursectomy and acromioplasty, continuing with physical therapy thereafter until the termination of plaintiff’s no-fault benefits. Despite the assertion of defendants’ expert that the surgery was a minor procedure that does not reflect a permanent orthopedic impairment, it has been found that this type of injury, warranting this type of surgery, may constitute serious injury. Moreover, three years post-surgery, plaintiff continued to experience pain and restrictions in his range of motion and his ability to lift and carry.

As to the injury to his spine:

[P]laintiff’s expert reported that an MRI revealed bulging discs at C4-5 and L4-5, and a herniated disc at L5-S1, that were causally related to the accident, and substantial reductions in his range of motion. The permanence of the injury is supported by defendants’ own expert’s report after his examination of plaintiff, in which he observed a 60ø/90ø restriction in plaintiff’s lumbar spine flexion. This reduction in range of motion may constitute objective evidence of serious injury.

As to plaintiff’s knee injury;

The swelling, tenderness and restriction in range of motion of plaintiff’s left knee was substantiated by an MRI that plaintiff’s expert interpreted as indicating a probable tear of the posterior horn of the medial meniscus; in a follow-up examination three years later, plaintiff’s physician observed the continued presence of pain and restriction in the knee, and recommended arthroscopic surgery. The assertion by defendant’s expert that in the MRI the menisci “appear” intact is insufficient to invalidate the reading of the MRI by plaintiff’s expert.

Finally, as to defendant’s argument that plaintiff’s cessation of treatment established an absence of permanent injury, “plaintiff testified that he continued to obtain the prescribed treatment and therapy for his injuries until the termination of his no-fault benefits, and that he could not afford to pay for continued care.”

Citing the Court of Appeals’ recent Ramkumar decision, the court held that “[t]his testimony explains the cessation of treatment and precludes reliance on the lack of continued treatment to establish an absence of permanent injury.”