ACCIDENT VICTIM BEATS BUS CO. SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION ON: (1) SHORT STOP, AND, (2) NEW YORK NO-FAULT "SERIOUS INJURY" THRESHOLD

Court: Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, New York

Case: Black v. County of Dutchess

Date: Sept. 27, 2011

From: New York attorney Gary E. Rosenberg (personal injury and accident attorney and lawyer; serving Queens Bronx; Queens injury lawyer)

Comment: Plaintiff/accident victim alleged that she was hurt when the bus she was on stopped short. Defendant asked the court to throw out (dismiss) her case on summary judgment on two different grounds. First, because she did not make out a case that the bus stopped short and, second, that she didn't have a "serious injury" as required by New York's No-Fault insurance law.

To win a bus "short stop" case, the accident victim has to show more than bumps and jolts from traffic; the accident description needs to be fairly dramatic and detailed - which plaintiff here did. So the appeals court let this part of plaintiff's claim go forward.

As to her "serious injury," the appeals court found that the defendant's own examining doctor noted a diminished range of motion in plaintiff's right knee, and that the defense did not show that the plaintiff''s knee problems were from a pre-existing or degenerative condition.

Defense summary judgment motion denied. Plaintiff gets to move forward and take her case to a jury.

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RELATED POSTS:

NO SUMMARY JUDGMENT TO DEFENSE ON NO-FAULT "SERIOUS INJURY" THRESHOLD MOTION; CAR ACCIDENT VICTIM HAD KNEE SURGERY 4 MONTHS POST-ACCIDENT (Posted by Queens injury lawyer Gary E. Rosenberg on Oct 7, 2011)

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In an action to recover damages for personal injuries, the defendants appeal, as limited by their brief, from so much of an order of the Supreme Court, Dutchess County (Brands, J.), dated June 4, 2010, as denied those branches of their motion which were for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the grounds that they were not at fault in the happening of the accident and that the plaintiff did not sustain a serious injury within the meaning of Insurance Law ' 5102(d).

ORDERED that the order is affirmed insofar as appealed from, with costs.

While we affirm the order appealed from, we do so on grounds other than those relied upon by the Supreme Court.

On February 23, 2006, the plaintiff was a seated passenger on a bus owned by the defendant County of Dutchess and operated by the defendant Christopher J. Lorefice, when Lorefice applied the brakes, allegedly to avoid a collision with another vehicle while in a parking lot. As a resut of Lorefice applying the brakes and stopping the bus, the plaintiff allegedly sustained injuries. The plaintiff thereafter commenced this action to recover damages for personal injuries.

To establish a prima facie case of negligence against a common carrier for injuries sustained by a passenger when the vehicle comes to a halt, the plaintiff must establish that the stop caused a jerk or lurch that was "unusual and violent" (Urquhart v. New York City Tr. Auth., 85 N.Y.2d 828, 830, 623 N.Y.S.2d 838, 647 N.E.2d 1346; Trudell v. New York R.T. Corp., 281 N.Y. 82, 85, 22 N.E.2d 244; Rayford v. County of Westchester, 59 A.D.3d 508, 873 N.Y.S.2d 187; Golub v. New York City Tr. Auth., 40 A.D.3d 581, 836 N.Y.S.2d 197; Aguila v. New York City Tr. Auth., 2 A.D.3d 761, 769 N.Y.S.2d 733). However, the plaintiff's proof "must consist of more than a mere characterization of the stop in those terms by the plaintiff" (Urquhart v. New York City Tr. Auth., 85 N.Y.2d at 830, 623 N.Y.S.2d 838, 647 N.E.2d 1346).

Here, in support of that branch of their motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that they were not at fault in the happening of the subject accident, the defendants failed to establish their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. The defendants relied upon, inter alia, the deposition testimony of the plaintiff and Lorefice. The plaintiff testified that, prior to the bus stopping, the bus appeared to her to be trying to "out beat" a car in the parking lot in which it was traveling. She further asserted that the bus was traveling "pretty fast," although she could not quantify a speed. She further recalled that Lorefice slammed on the brakes, which caused her entire body to come off her seat and into the metal partition and pole directly in front of her seat, causing injuries to, inter alia, her right knee. Lorefice admitted at his deposition that he braked "hard" to avoid a collision with a car in the parking lot, and that the car he was trying to avoid had the right‑of‑way. The evidence submitted in support of the motion raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the stop at issue was unusual and violent, as opposed to whether the stop involved only the normal jerks and jolts commonly associated with city bus travel (see Urquhart v. New York City Tr. Auth., 85 N.Y.2d 828, 623 N.Y.S.2d 838, 647 N.E.2d 1346).

As to that branch of the defendants' motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that the plaintiff did not sustain a serious injury within the meaning of Insurance Law ' 5102(d), the defendants failed to meet their prima facie burden of showing that the plaintiff did not sustain a serious injury to her right knee as a result of the subject accident (see Toure v. Avis Rent A Car Sys., 98 N.Y.2d 345, 746 N.Y.S.2d 865, 774 N.E.2d 1197; Gaddy v. Eyler, 79 N.Y.2d 955, 956-957, 582 N.Y.S.2d 990, 591 N.E.2d 1176). The Supreme Court erred in concluding that the defendants met their prima facie burden on the issue of serious injury. In support of that branch of their motion, the defendants relied upon, inter alia, the affirmed medical report of their own expert orthopedic surgeon, as well as the plaintiff's medical reports from her treating orthopedic surgeon. The defendants' examining orthopedic surgeon (hereinafter the defendants' expert) examined the plaintiff on September 14, 2009, approximately three years and seven months after the accident. During that examination, he noted that the plaintiff's right knee range of motion was from 0 to 100 degrees, when 0 to 140 was normal. Thus, the defendants submitted evidence on their own motion that the plaintiff was suffering from a significant restriction of motion in her right knee (see Sainnoval v. Sallick, 78 A.D.3d 922, 911 N.Y.S.2d 429; Cheour v. Pete & Sals Harborview Transp., Inc., 76 A.D.3d 989, 907 N.Y.S.2d 517; Bagot v. Singh, 59 A.D.3d 368, 871 N.Y.S.2d 917). The defendants' expert also noted in his report that an MRI scan of the plaintiff's right knee revealed the existence of a tear in the medial meniscus of the right knee.

The defendants also submitted contradictory proof on this branch of their motion as to whether the plaintiff's right knee condition was caused by the subject accident, a degenerative disease, or a previous accident (see Dettori v. Molzon, 306 A.D.2d 308, 760 N.Y.S.2d 658; Coscia v. 938 Trading Corp., 283 A.D.2d 538, 725 N.Y.S.2d 349; Julemis v. Gates, 281 A.D.2d 396, 721 N.Y.S.2d 665).

Since the defendants did not meet their prima facie burden with respect to either of the branches of their motion at issue, it is unnecessary to determine whether the papers submitted by the plaintiff in opposition thereto were sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact (see Alvarez v. Prospect Hosp., 68 N.Y.2d 320, 324, 508 N.Y.S.2d 923, 501 N.E.2d 572; Winegrad v. New York UniMed. Ctr., 64 N.Y.2d 851, 853, 487 N.Y.S.2d 316, 476 N.E.2d 642; see also Dettori v. Molzon, 306 A.D.2d at 308, 760 N.Y.S.2d 658; Coscia v. 938 Trading Corp., 283 A.D.2d at 538, 725 N.Y.S.2d 349).

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