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WAHL v. LOTHIAM

December 18, 2002

DAVID C. WAHL, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CLIVE LOTHIAM, JUDITH H. GOLD AND TOYOTA MOTOR CREDIT CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR Marrero, United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff David Wahl ("Wahl") brought this action against defendants Clive Lothiam ("Lothiam"), Judith Gold ("Gold") and Toyota Motor Credit Corporation ("Toyota," and together with Lothiam and Gold, the "Defendants") alleging personal injuries arising out of an automobile accident that occurred on March 8, 1998 involving Wahl, Lothiam, Gold and a car driven by Gold and owned by Toyota. Wahl claims that as a result of the accident, which he contends occurred due to the negligence of the various Defendants without any fault of his own, he sustained "serious injuries" as such term is defined by § 5102(d) of New York State's Insurance Law ("NYIL"). Following the close of discovery, each of the Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons described below, all of the motions are DENIED.

I. DISCUSSION

A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion for summary judgment may be granted only if the court concludes on the basis of the record before it that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The role of the Court is to determine whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to decide them (see Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994)), while resolving ambiguities and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

In a situation like the one at bar involving allegations of personal injuries sustained on an automobile accident, the moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue as to the existence of a "serious injury," Madden v. Lee, 2002 WL 31398951, (S.D.N.Y. 2002), and is required to identify those portions of the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, [that] show that there is no genuine issue as to" the existence of such an injury. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In response, the party opposing the motion must demonstrate through admissible evidence that an issue of fact exists as to whether he suffered a "serious injury" by reason of the car accident. See Madden, 2002 WL 31398951, at *4. He must do this by going "beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the `depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate `specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (quoting Fed.R. Civ. p. 56(e)).

Because this action is based on diversity jurisdiction, the applicable substantive law is that of the State of New York. See, e.g., Lee v. Bankers Trust Co., 166 F.3d 540, 545 (2d Cir. 1999). New York's "no-fault" insurance law places limits on any recovery by a person involved in an automobile accident. The governing statute states:

Notwithstanding any other law, in any action by or on behalf of a covered person against another covered person for personal injuries arising out of negligence in the use or operation of a motor vehicle in this state, there shall be no right of recovery for non-economic loss, except in the case of a serious injury, or for basic economic loss.

N.Y. Ins. L. § 5104(a).

Enacted nearly thirty years ago, the "no-fault" law was designed to provide automobile accident victims with prompt uncontested statutorily assured payment of "first party benefits" [such as reimbursement for medical expenses and loss of income] . . . for basic economic loss without the necessity of recourse to the courts. Medical Society of the State of New York v. Levin, 712 N.Y.S.2d 745, 747 N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2000). In exchange, victims lost their common law right to sue for damages for personal injuries unless they could prove a serious injury, as defined by the statute. The law was intended to remove the vast majority of claims arising from vehicular accidents from the sphere or common-law tort litigation, and to establish a quick, sure and efficient system for obtaining compensation for economic loss suffered as a result of such accidents. See Walton v. Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co., 644 N.Y.S.2d 133, 135 (N.Y. 1996).

B. "SERIOUS INJURY" ANALYSIS

The Court begins its analysis by recognizing that in a personal injury action arising out of a motor vehicle accident, New York courts have required plaintiffs to demonstrate a serious injury in order to recover damages. See Licari v. Elliott, 455 N.Y.S.2d 570, 573 N.Y. 1932).

A serious injury under this statute is defined as:

[A] personal injury which results in death; dismemberment; significant disfigurement; a fracture; loss of a fetus; permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function or system; permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member; significant limitation of use of a body function or system; or a medically determined injury or impairment of a nonpermanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person's usual and customary daily ...

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