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Thomas-Young v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. New York

April 28, 2014

JOANNE THOMAS-YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER

WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff commenced this action against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) and § 2671 et seq. She seeks damages for injuries she allegedly sustained in an automobile accident caused by a United States Postal Service employee. Presently before this Court are Defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment on the issue of negligence. The Court finds both motions fully briefed and oral argument unnecessary.

For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion is granted, Plaintiff's cross-motion is denied as moot, and the complaint is dismissed.

II. BACKGROUND

The present action is the result of an accident occurring in Buffalo, New York, on December 20, 2010. The facts of the accident itself are not in dispute. Plaintiff was traveling west on William Street when a postal letter carrier, attempting to make a left hand turn onto William Street, crossed into traffic in front of her. Plaintiff attempted to avoid the postal truck, but the vehicles collided. (Docket No. 34-3 at 20-24.)

Plaintiff commenced the instant action in November 2011, and she alleges that the accident exacerbated her pre-existing cervical spinal pain from a 2003 injury. (Docket No. 34-2 at 4.) Plaintiff was also involved in additional car accidents during 2010. The first occurred on September 3, 2010, when Plaintiff ran into the passenger side door of another vehicle while attempting to enter traffic from a driveway. (Docket Nos. 34-9 at 2; 35 ¶ 7.) The second occurred on December 22, 2010, two days after the accident at issue in the present case. (Docket No. 35 ¶ 8.) During this accident, Plaintiff rear ended another vehicle that was stopped at a traffic light. (Docket No. 34-10 at 2.)

Plaintiff sought medical attention for neck pain on December 22, 2010. (Docket No. 34-4 at 8-9.) She was subsequently referred to a neurosurgeon in February 2011, who recommended cervical spine surgery. That surgery was performed in May 2011, and a subsequent surgery was performed in November 2011 to remove a cervical plate and screw that had loosened. (Docket No. 38-10 ¶¶ 4, 9-11, 14-15.)

III. DISCUSSION

"A motion for summary judgment may properly be granted... only where there is no genuine issue of material fact to be tried, and the facts as to which there is no such issue warrant the entry of judgment for the moving party as a matter of law." Kaytor v. Elec. Boat Corp. , 609 F.3d 537, 545 (2d Cir. 2010). A court's function on a summary judgment motion "is not to resolve disputed questions of fact but only to determine whether, as to any material issue, a genuine factual dispute exists." Kaytor , 609 F.3d at 545 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). "A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Weinstock v. Columbia Univ. , 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248), cert denied, 540 U.S. 811 (2003). A court must also "construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant." Dallas Aerospace, Inc. v. CIS Air Corp. , 352 F.3d 775, 780 (2d Cir. 2003).

Defendant contends that it is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff has not suffered an economic injury in excess of $50, 000 or a "serious injury" caused by the subject accident as defined by New York[1] Insurance Law § 5102(d). Defendant argues that, as such, Plaintiff's claims are barred by New York's No Fault law. There is no dispute that Plaintiff's property damage claim is for only $843.79, [2] (Compl. ¶¶ 14-18), therefore resolution of Defendant's motion turns on the issue of serious injury.

In order to weed out frivolous claims and limit recovery to significant injuries, New York's No Fault law requires that a plaintiff commencing an action for damages as a result of a motor vehicle accident establish that he or she sustained a serious injury. See N.Y. Insurance Law § 5104(a); Pommells v. Perez , 4 N.Y.3d 566, 571, 830 N.E.2d 278 (2005); Toure v. Avis Rent A Car Sys. , 98 N.Y.2d 345, 350, 774 N.E.3d 1197 (2002); Dufel v. Green , 84 N.Y.2d 795, 798, 647 N.E.2d 105 (1995).

"Serious injury" means 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 non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person's usual and customary daily activities ...

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