This is a review of a recent decision made by a New York State Supreme Court regarding a spinal cord injury claim. The plaintiff in this case had been struck by a car as he was working as a bicycle messenger. The cyclist later filed suit against the driver, claiming the collision had caused serious injuries to his back and shoulders.
The driver’s attorney responded to the suit with a Motion for Summary Judgment where he argued that the injuries were not serious enough for the amount of money the suit was seeking.
Statement of Facts…
On February 19th, 2011, Henry Jacob, while delivering a package across town as part of his job as a bicycle messenger, was struck by a vehicle driven by Alan Ock.
Jacob originally filed a spinal cord injury claim seeking a settlement for his injuries. He was unable to get what he wanted from the insurance negotiations, so he filed a lawsuit against Ock asking the court to award a judgment of $250,000.
In his suit, Jacob alleged Ock’s negligence had caused him to suffer injuries that included:
- Permanent Disk Herniation at the C6/7 level
- Flattening of the Left Ventral Margin of the Cord
- Permanent Formaminal Stenosis
- Cervical Radiculopathy
- Right Shoulder Contusion
- Right Elbow Contusion
Ock’s attorney responded by filing a Motion for Summary Judgment. In his motion the attorney argued that Jacob’s injuries did not meet the state’s definition of serious injury, and so Ock couldn’t sue for an amount over $100,000.
New York defines “Serious Injury” as: Injury which results in death, dismemberment, disfigurement, loss of a fetus, loss of a body organ, permanent loss of use of a body part, or medically determined impairment which prevents a victim from performing his normal activities for 90 days or more.
Under New York State law if a Plaintiff’s injuries rise to the level of serious injury as defined above a person can sue for, and be awarded, compensation of an amount of money over $100,000. If the Court found Jacob’s injuries did not meet the definition of serious injury then the spinal cord injury claim could be dismissed and Jacob’s lawsuit would end without ever going to trial.
The Court set a date for the hearing to decide on the Motion, and both sides prepared their arguments.
In the original lawsuit, at the hearing on the Motion for Summary Judgment Jacob, through Verified Affidavits, presented testimony from his doctors.
The Affidavits from his doctors alleged Jacob suffered from:
- Limitation of use to his legs which prevented him returning to work for 120 days.
- Lower right disk at the C6/7 level was herniated, and that such herniation could be permanent.
- A severely bruised right shoulder and right elbow, with both injuries causing acute pain requiring pain medication, and that such bruising could last anywhere from 60 to 90 days or slightly longer.
Ock previously received permission from the Court to have Jacob examined by his own doctors to determine the veracity of his spinal cord injury claim. In addition to a personal examination of Jacob, the doctors reviewed the Medical Affidavits presented by Jacob’s original doctors.
Ock’s doctors provided their own Medical Affidavits where they both stated Jacob’s injuries were acutely painful, but that none of the injuries he sustained rose to the level of “Permanent.”
They also stated the duration of Jacob’s injuries was not substantial enough to require him to have lost the ability to perform his normal activities, personal or work, for a period of more than 90 days as required by the legal definition of Serious Injury.
When both parties rested their cases the Court adjourned for the day, telling the parties she would take all the evidence presented in this spinal cord injury claim under advisement and would render her written opinion within the week. Four days later both parties received in the mail the Court’s decision. It stated:
“After hearing the arguments of the Attorneys for both sides, and reviewing the medical testimony presented during the hearing on the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, it is clear the Plaintiff did suffer injuries which were acutely painful to him, and that such injuries were real.
The Court also finds the injuries suffered by the Plaintiff were of a nature to have compelled him to have interrupted his daily normal work and personal activities, but that the evidence did not support a finding that such injuries lasted more than 90 days.
Finally, although the Plaintiff presented credible evidence of his injuries, such evidence did not rise to the level of Serious Injury as it is defined under New York State Law.
Therefore, it is ordered that the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment be in all things granted, and that the Plaintiff’s case be dismissed with prejudice.”
Before filing a lawsuit for personal injuries it is absolutely vital for you to read and understand your respective state’s laws and definitions regarding what constitutes “Serious Injury”.
If the doctors’ reports you plan on using as evidence in your trial do not clearly and unambiguously show your injuries are “serious” as defined by law, then be sure to file your lawsuit for a lesser amount of compensation.
Don’t exaggerate your injuries! Motions for Summary Judgment are serious business. The injuries you sue for must be verifiable and hold up against conflicting evidence. In this spinal cord injury claim example the plaintiff’s evidence did not hold up.
It’s better to have a court verdict for $5,000 then have a lawsuit which is thrown out because you exaggerated your injuries in hope of getting a much higher court verdict.
Your injuries may be real, but remember, it is better to receive some compensation, rather than none because your case was thrown out on a Motion for Summary Judgment with prejudice. Once a Court dismisses a case “with prejudice” you can’t for any reason re-file your case. You may be left with nothing more than a lot of pain and discomfort and a whole lot of doctors’ bills.
*This case example is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.
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