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Lisa Robinson Springer v. Stephanie R. Cedro et al

October 1, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gabriel W. Gorenstein, United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Lisa Robinson Springer brought this action seeking to recover damages arising from a car accident on May 19, 2010. The trial, held over six days in March 2012, was bifurcated. First, the jury rendered a verdict on liability, finding that Springer and defendant Stephanie Cedro were each partially at fault for the accident. The jury then heard evidence on damages and rendered a verdict awarding Springer nominal damages for both past and future pain and suffering, $30,000 for past medical expenses, and $46,000 for future medical expenses. Springer now moves for a new trial challenging the jury's verdicts as to liability and damages.*fn1

For the reasons given below, Springer's motion for a new trial is granted to the extent that it seeks a new trial on damages. It is denied in all other respects.


A. Liability Phase of Trial

At trial, Springer testified that on May 19, 2010, she was seated in the driver's seat of her husband's sport utility vehicle, which had been parked on West 83rd Street in Manhattan, between Columbus Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue. See Transcript, filed May 18, 2012 (Docket ## 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 43) ("Tr.") at 49--50, 68--71. West 83rd Street is a one-way street with westbound traffic. Tr. 51, 68. Springer testified that she had parked along the right side of the street and had turned the "four-way flashers" of her vehicle on. Tr. 52, 71. The vehicle was in this position for approximately one or two minutes while her husband investigated whether a nearby parking garage was the one they had intended to use. Tr. 52, 54, 85--86.

Shortly after Springer's husband emerged from the parking garage, Springer's vehicle was hit by a car driven by Cedro. Tr. 54--55. The rear passenger door of Cedro's vehicle made contact with the front driver's side of Springer's vehicle. Tr. 54--55. Springer testified at trial that the contact had caused a "violent jolt" to her car. Tr. 54, 79. Shortly after the accident, though, Springer described the impact as a "sideswipe." Tr. 80.*fn2 At the moment of the collision, Springer was turned around facing her son in the rear passenger seat. Tr. 54. Springer testified that she was speaking with her son at the moment of impact, Tr. 54, and never placed her vehicle in reverse gear, Tr. 65. Springer did not notice Cedro's vehicle until after the accident had occurred. Tr. 93.

Cedro testified that on the date and time in question, she drove a sedan along West 83rd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. Tr. 168--70. Cedro was crossing over Columbus Avenue and headed towards Amsterdam Avenue when she noticed that Springer's car displayed "white reverse lights" and was "backing up down the middle of the street." Tr. 167. Cedro stopped her own car on 83rd Street approximately half-way between the two avenues. Tr. 167--68, 181--82. She stopped "a couple car lengths," or about 30 feet, away from Springer's vehicle. Tr. 181--82. Cedro testified that Springer's vehicle was parallel to a row of parked cars. Tr. 243--46. There was space between Springer's car and the left side of the road, which was sufficiently wide in Cedro's estimation to permit her own car to pass by Springer's. Tr. 169, 170--71. Eventually, Springer's vehicle stopped moving in reverse, Tr. 168--69, and at that point, Cedro felt that it was "safe to try to ease around the vehicle," Tr. 169. As of the time Springer's vehicle stopped moving, there was still sufficient space in Cedro's judgment to permit her to "slowly pass by" Springer's vehicle. Tr. 170--71. Cedro testified that she began to pass by Springer, but around the same time, Springer proceeded to move her vehicle in reverse at a slight angle such that the front of Springer's car faced southwest and the rear of Springer's car moved slightly toward the passenger side, and the two cars thereupon made impact. Tr. 171, 244--45. The front of Cedro's car was turned toward the center of the street at an angle greater than the degree to which Springer's car was turned toward the street center. Tr. 246. Cedro testified that she applied the brakes of her car, but there was "really nothing [she] could do at that point," and the collision occurred. Tr. 171. The two automobiles "were both barely moving" at the moment of impact. Tr. 171; accord Tr. 183 (Springer's vehicle was "barely moving"); Tr. 245 ("We were both going extremely, extremely slowly.").

The jury returned a verdict finding Cedro negligent and apportioning to Cedro 23 percent of the fault in causing the accident. Tr. 322--23. The jury found Springer negligent as well and apportioned 77 percent of the fault to her. Tr. 323.

B. Damages Phase of Trial

Following the jury verdict as to liability, the parties presented evidence regarding the damages Springer sustained. The day after the accident, Springer felt dizzy, nauseous, and as if she was experiencing vertigo. Tr. 388. Springer went to Syosset Hospital and reported these symptoms and her physical pains. Tr. 388--89. X-ray images were taken of Springer at Syosset. Tr. 389--90.

Springer testified that she experienced pain in her head, back, neck, shoulder, legs, and entire right side following the accident. Tr. 387--89, 398. Springer experienced pain predominantly on her right side. Tr. 398. Springer testified that she has suffered a loss of range of motion and that she endures "excruciating pain" when she moves. Tr. 399--400. She cannot exercise anymore as a result and she lacks body strength. Tr. 399--400. As often as twice per day, Springer complains to her son of pain in her back and arms and of headaches. Tr. 487. Springer's husband testified that Springer "is constantly in pain" and "not able to have various movements." Tr. 475. Springer testified that the courtroom's benches were "so painful" and "crippling to sit in" because of their seating angle that she had been "suffering" while sitting in them. Tr. 357. Springer testified that she suffered from depression, Tr. 407; memory loss, Tr. 398, 403--04; and difficulty sleeping, Tr. 412. Springer's husband testified that following the accident, Springer had exhibited less interest in physical intimacy. Tr. 475.

Springer testified that she was subsequently treated by a pain management doctor, who administered certain injections into Springer's neck and shoulder area to relieve pain. Tr. 397--98. She also received acupuncture treatment, attended physical therapy, and was prescribed pain medications and muscle relaxant medication. Tr. 394--95, 400--01.

In June 2010, Springer had MRI images taken of her lower back, and on some date thereafter had an MRI taken of her shoulder and upper spine. Tr. 395--96.

One of plaintiff's experts, Dr. Stuart Kahn, reviewed the MRI images and testified that Springer was then suffering from pinched nerves in the lumbar spine and neck, a superior labral tear of the rotator and glenohumeral joint, shoulder tendinitis, and multiple herniated discs in her spine. Tr. 546--47. Kahn opined on direct examination that these injuries were sustained in the accident with Cedro. Tr. 547, 552--53, 561--63. Kahn found that Springer had a severely limited cervical range of motion: 10 degrees of extension, 15 degrees of flexion, and five degrees of side bending. Tr. 585. Dr. Aric Hausknecht, however, another treating physician of Springer, found that Springer had the following cervical ranges of motion: 35 degrees of left lateral movement, 40 degrees of right lateral movement, 60 degrees of left rotation, 65 degrees of right rotation, 60 degrees of forward flexion, and 60 degrees of extension. Tr. 586--87. Khan testified that normal range of motion for extension of the cervical spine is 50 or 60 degrees, Tr. 541, 587; that normal "side bending" is 20 degrees, Tr. 541; and that a normal range of rotation is 80 or 90 degrees, Tr. 541. Kahn opined that Springer's injuries prevented her from performing ordinary activities of daily living, such as running her household and performing ordinary duties. Tr. 562--63. On cross-examination, Kahn clarified that bulged discs and degenerative changes occur over time, Tr. 579, and acknowledged that he could not determine from the data before him whether Springer's disc herniations resulted from trauma, Tr. 580.

On January 6, 2011, Springer had a hysterectomy. Tr. 403. In April 2011, Springer was first treated by Dr. Joel Redfield, Tr. 648--49, a psychologist, Tr. 651. Springer complained to Redfield of her physical injuries and told him that she had severe memory problems, was easily distracted, had difficulty following instructions, and had difficulty planning daily activities. Tr. 627--28. After performing a series of cognitive and psychological tests on Springer, Tr. 628--29, Redfield opined that Springer sustained a concussion in the car accident with Cedro, Tr. 633, which precipitated a "significant limitation in [Springer's] cognitive abilities," Tr. 638. Specifically, Springer exhibited substantial impairments to her memory, attention, visual-spatial skills, nonverbal reasoning skills, ability to solve puzzles, and the speed at which she processed information. Tr. 629--31. Redfield also diagnosed Springer with traumatically induced dementia. Tr. 639--40. On cross-examination, Redfield acknowledged that Dr. Hausknecht, a treating psychologist of Springer, disagreed with Redfield's conclusion that Springer had sustained a concussion. Tr. 640--41.

Dr. Franklin Porter, Springer's treating psychologist, diagnosed Springer with a mood disorder that could cause significant impairment in routine daily functioning, such as gardening, cooking, and physical intimacy. Tr. 669--70. Porter opined that the mood disorder was caused by Springer's car accident and her resulting injuries. Tr. 672. Porter, however, found no significant deficits in Springer's attention, concentration, short-term memory, or long-term memory. Tr. 685. Porter also concluded that Springer does not have dementia. Tr. 686.

The defendants presented testimony of Dr. Ashok Anant, a neurosurgeon who examined Springer on June 24, 2011. Tr. 723, 725. Anant reported that Springer "was not very forthcoming regarding details of the accident." Tr. 726. Initially, Springer also resisted disclosing her medical history to Anant until he indicated that he could not conduct the examination unless she provided him with her medical history. Tr. 727. Anant testified that he "found it very difficult to examine [Springer] because [he] couldn't get her to do things that [he] asked her to do." Tr. 730. Springer "would vary the resistance" that she gave to Anant, which made it difficult to assess her true strength. Tr. 730. Anant found that Springer's reflexes were intact, that she could walk, and that she could stand on her tiptoes but would not walk on them. Tr. 730. Anant reported that he endeavored to test Springer's lumbar spinal movement, but Springer exhibited "practically zero movement in her lumbar spine. And that is not possible. Because when patients are asked to bend the first 20 percent of the movement occurs from the hips and not the spine." Tr. 730. With respect to Springer's flexibility, Anant's "general impression was that she did not want to move." Tr. 731. Anant believed that Springer was exaggerating her symptoms. Tr. 737, 739. Anant's impression that Springer exaggerated her limitations was partially informed by the fact that she exhibited significantly more normality in her movement ability when Springer performed other tasks around the office than she did when Anant examined her. Tr. 731. Asked how he could explain Springer's complaints of pain following the accident if she had not suffered a bulged or herniated disk, Dr. Anant opined that Springer may have sprained ...

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