Feldman, Kronfeld & Beatty Law Blog

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Rivera v. Fernandez: Motor Vehicle Accidents and Degenerative Injuries at the Court of Appeals

It is important, when finding trial lawyers to assist in a potential motor vehicle accident case, that the lawyers have familiarity with the medicine and the law surrounding auto accidents. Because of the strictness of the no-fault law in New York, if the medicine that is submitted to the Court isn’t comprehensive and accurate, there is a chance that the plaintiff’s case will be dismissed.

On August 27, 2015, in the case of Richard Rivera v. Fernandez & Ulloa Auto Group, New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, affirmed the decision of the 1st Department Appellate Division in a one short paragraph. This decision, while brief, impacts the rights of victims of motor vehicle accidents to sue in court to recover for their injuries.

On June 26, 2010, Mr. Rivera was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by the defendants. He told the Court and the defendants that he suffered meniscus tears in the left knee and had to undergo surgery. His doctor wrote an affidavit to the Court that the injuries he suffered were from the auto accident.

However, the defendant’s doctors wrote to the Court that Mr. Rivera’s injuries were “preexisting and degenerative,” and the plaintiff’s doctor only wrote that the plaintiff’s knee injuries were “secondary” to the accident. The plaintiff’s complaint was dismissed by the trial court, and appealed to the 1st Department.

The 1st Department agreed with the trial court. Because the injury was “secondary” to the car accident and plaintiff’s “surgeon not only failed to address or contest the opinion of defendants’ medical experts that any condition was chronic and unrelated to the accident, but also failed to address or contest the findings of degenerative changes in the MRI report in plaintiff’s own medical records.”

What this means, in summary, is that “anyone with degenerative changes [who is in an automobile accident] is automatically presumed to not have a traumatically induced injury even when the plaintiff’s doctor gives a medical opinion that the injury is traumatically induced” (NYSTLA Letter-Brief, pg. 8).

While this is one case, and every case is different, what this shows is that if you are in a motor vehicle accident, the attorneys that you choose to help you with your potential case must understood the medicine and the law surrounding motor vehicle accident cases in New York. Although attorneys are not doctors, attorneys should be familiar with the basics of anatomy, orthopedic surgery, and the difference between traumatic injury and degenerative and chronic injuries to work with you and your doctors to present the Court with all of the evidence it needs to prevent an untimely dismissal of your case.

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