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Multiple Motions for Summary Judgment Complicate New York Auto Accident Cases

Car Accidents

Summary judgment is an important part of New York car accident cases. It allows the court to make determinations as a matter of law based on the evidence presented by the parties so that all or part of the case does not have to be addressed at trial. Parties commonly seek summary judgment as to liability and the existence of a serious injury. New York attorneys know that cases can become very complex when multiple motions for summary judgment are filed.

One recent case illustrates how complex seemingly straightforward cases can become. The plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident and filed suit against multiple defendants, alleging injuries to her spine, shoulder, and knee. She subsequently had a diagnostic arthroscopic surgery on her knee and a spinal fusion surgery on her cervical spine.

The parties made various motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants from the other vehicle on the issue of serious injury, denied the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on liability, and granted summary judgment to the defendant driver of the vehicle in which the plaintiff was riding. The appeals court addressed several issues.

The plaintiff filed for summary judgment as to liability against the owner and operator of the other vehicle. She had testified that the defendants’ vehicle sideswiped the vehicle in which she was riding. The defendants did not submit any evidence that disputed the plaintiff’s description of the accident. The appeals court therefore modified the order to grant summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff as to liability.

The other vehicle defendants moved for summary judgment on the issue of serious injury. They pointed to the plaintiff’s testimony that she had sustained injuries to her neck, back, and knees in previous car accidents. She had also had previous surgery on her knees. The defendants submitted an affirmed report of an orthopedist, who opined that his examinations of the plaintiff found normal results, with the exception of the cervical spine. However, he attributed the limitations in the cervical spine to preexisting degeneration and fusion surgery. He concluded that the plaintiff’s injuries were preexisting and degenerative. The defendant also submitted MRI reports that supported the orthopedist’s opinion. The court found that the defendant had established a prima facie case that the plaintiff had preexisting degenerative conditions in her shoulder, knee, and lumbar spine.

The plaintiff opposed the motion and submitted affirmed reports of a physiatrist and her orthopedic surgeon. The court found the plaintiff’s doctors did not sufficiently address the issue of preexisting degenerative conditions.

The plaintiff did, however, raise an issue of fact as to her cervical spine injury that would preclude summary judgment on that issue. Both doctors had noted a limited range of motion. The orthopedic surgeon opined that the cervical spine injury was caused by the accident and that the plaintiff had recovered from her previous injuries. There was nothing in the record showing the herniated disc in her cervical spine was present before the accident, so she did not have to provide any additional evidence to support her cervical spine injury at the summary judgment stage.

The appeals court therefore modified the trial court’s order granting the motion as to serious injury to deny the motion with respect to the claim of serious injury of the cervical spine.

The appeals court also found the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the issue of serious injury under the 90/180-day category. The plaintiff’s bill of particulars and testimony stated she had not been confined to bed or home for the required 90 days.

This case shows not just the complexity that can be involved in an automobile case, but also the importance of strong medical records. Here, the plaintiff was not able to successfully oppose the defendant’s motion on serious injury as to most of her injuries. However, her records were sufficient to oppose the motion as to the injury to her cervical spine. A question of fact as to one serious injury is sufficient to keep the case alive.

If you have been seriously injured in a car accident, a skilled New York auto accident attorney can help you through the complexities of a personal injury case. Call the Law Offices of Marc S. Albert at 1.855.252.3788 for a free consultation.

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New York Auto Accident Plaintiff Succeeds on Summary Judgment for Serious Injury

New York Auto Accident Plaintiff Defeats Defense Motion for Summary Judgment with Medical Evidence Supporting Serious Injury

Image: / Toivo Lagerweij