On January 17, 2015, Nicholas Avissato was stopped at a red light in Staten Island when his Nissan Maxima was struck in the rear by a Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Andrew McDaniel. In Mr. Avissato’s ensuing lawsuit, his motion for summary judgment as to liability was granted and the matter proceeded to a trial on the issue of damages only.
The Richmond County jury returned a verdict finding that the accident caused plaintiff’s alleged shoulder and neck injuries and that the injuries met the permanent consequential limitation serious injury threshold set forth in Insurance Law Section 5102. The jury awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $12,500 (all past – two years).
In Avissato v. McDaniel (2d Dept. 2019), the appellate court agreed with plaintiff that the pain and suffering damages verdict was:
- contrary to the weight of the evidence,
- inconsistent with the jury’s finding that plaintiff’s injuries are permanent, and
- inexplicably low
The court ordered that that case be remitted to the trial court for a new trial on the issue of pain and suffering damages.
Here are the injury details:
- shoulder – partial thickness rotator cuff and biceps tendon tears
- neck – disc bulges at C6-7
Plaintiff, a 39 year old Federal Express Company driver and route owner, testified that his shoulder pain is constant and debilitating leaving him unable to lift as many packages as he used to, resume recreational activities such as cardio kickboxing or pick up his young children without pain.
The defense argued at trial and on appeal that the accident was merely a “tap in the rear” causing minimal damage to the cars and noted that plaintiff declined medical attention at the scene, instead driving his car on to visit his grandmother at a hospital (where he did not mention his accident or seek any medical attention). The defense produced an expert radiologist who reviewed MRI reports from a week after the accident and argued that plaintiff’s injuries were not caused by the accident but instead were degenerative due to a lifestyle that had included kickboxing and frequent lifting of packages on his job.
Plaintiff testified that he first began to feel pain from the accident the next morning but conceded that he did not seek medical attention for his injuries until three days later. He contended that the MRI reports from within a week of the accident clearly disclosed traumatic injuries from the accident and that he’d never had symptoms or sought any medical treatment for these injuries before the accident.
Plaintiff’s pain management physician testified that his shoulder (with a 10% loss of internal rotation) and neck injuries and pain were caused by the accident, they will worsen and they are permanent. The doctor administered cervical steroid injections and said that plaintiff may require more in the future as well as arthroscopic surgery for his shoulder.
- In his closing argument, plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award $50,000 for past pain and suffering damages plus $76,000 for the future.
- Plaintiff missed only about thee days of work and made no lost earnings claim.