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Judgment Affirmed for Motor Vehicle Passenger with Non-Surgical Herniated Lumbar Disc

Posted in Back Injuries

On May 21, 2010, Elizabeth Eastman, a home health aide for Access Nursing Services, was a rear seat passenger in an ambulette that was transporting her client from a nursing home in Manhattan to her client’s residence in Harlem. The ambulette collided with another vehicle on the FDR Drive in Manhattan.

As a result of the accident, Ms. Eastman, then 40 years old, struck the back of the driver’s seat before landing on the floor of her vehicle. She claimed that she felt immediate pain in her lower back but her driver did not wait for the police to arrive at the scene and he drove the client home. Ms. Eastman, a Brooklyn resident, then went to a hospital there complaining of back pain. She was treated and released with a prescription for Motrin.

In the ensuing lawsuit, a Kings County jury found both drivers liable for the crash – the ambulette driver 60%  and the other driver (who had been attempting to overtake the ambulette) 40%. In the damages phase of the trial, the jury returned a verdict awarding plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $200,000 ($150,000 past – four and a half years, $50,000 future – one year).

In Eastman v. Nash (2d Dept. 2017), the judgment has been affirmed.

As set forth in the court’s decision, plaintiff sustained a herniated disc at L4-5. Here are the additional injury details:

  • L4-5 herniation with indentation on the thecal sac; bulging disc at L5-S1
  • lumbar spine radiculopathy
  • lumbar spine range of motion deficits up to 50%
  • 10 months of physical therapy
  • 10 months unable to return to work
  • unable to do any heavy lifting or sit still in a chair without pain
  • unable to resume jogging (can only walk short distances without pain)

A neurologist testified on plaintiff’s behalf and opined that her injuries are permanent and she will need future medications, physical therapy, chiropractic treatment and acupuncture.

The defense medical experts included a diagnostic radiologist, a neurologist and an orthopedic surgeon. They conceded that plaintiff’s MRI exam eight weeks after her accident showed a herniation but contended it was degenerative and preceded the crash and that plaintiff sustained only insignificant and non-permanent soft tissue injuries and no surgery has been recommended.

Inside Information:

  • Plaintiff had been laid off from similar employment earlier in 2010 and at the time of the accident had applied for unemployment benefits because there was no work for her (this was the first day of her employment for the client).  Ten months after the accident, plaintiff returned to work with another agency (on a light duty basis). There was no wage loss claim in the lawsuit.
  • Plaintiff’s treating orthopedist for the first six months after the accident, David Lee Hsu, M.D., was indicted in 2011 in connection with health care billing scams and pled guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud. He surrendered his medical license in 2013. He was not called to testify at trial. Defendants sought to introduce evidence of his conviction but the trial judge sustained plaintiff’s objection and did not allow evidence of either the conviction or the fact that the doctor’s clinic where plaintiff treated with him closed as a result.
  • There was little or no visible damage to either vehicle and in her report of the accident shortly thereafter, plaintiff described it as a “fender bender.”