On March 5, 2015, Vale Thomas was stopped in his car at a red light on Rockaway Boulevard in Queens when his vehicle was struck from behind by another vehicle. Mr. Vale, then 64 years old, struck his knee on the dashboard and was jolted backwards and forwards.

In his ensuing lawsuit against the driver and owner of the other vehicle, full fault for the crash was found to be on the other driver’s part and the case then proceeded to a damages only jury trial.

The jury returned a verdict that the accident was not a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s injuries. Therefore, they made no award at all for any damages, despite plaintiff’s proof that he underwent a two-level cervical discectomy and fusion surgery on 7/16/15 and arthroscopic knee surgery on 6/18/15.

Plaintiff appealed but in Thomas v. Hudson Group HG Retail, LLC (2d Dept. 2023), the appellate court affirmed the verdict.

The defense argued, successfully, that plaintiff’s injuries were wholly due to pre-existing degenerative conditions that were caused by a 10/19/08 car accident. In that accident, plaintiff sustained similar injuries – neck, back, both shoulders and both knees. He underwent about seven months of medical treatment (but no surgery) and claimed then that he was totally disabled. In the new case, he claimed he’d fully recovered from his 2008 accident and had been asymptomatic for over five years.

Inside Information:

  • Just before the verdict was rendered, plaintiff rejected a so-called high-low settlement agreement whereby whatever the verdict amount, he would be awarded at least $300,000 but no more than $1,750,000.
  • In summations, the defendants’ attorney asked the jury to award no more than $10,000 for pain and suffering if they determined that plaintiff’s prior injuries were exacerbated or aggravated by the new accident while plaintiff’s attorney requested a pain and suffering award of $5,500,000.
  • Plaintiff did not assert a loss of earnings claim.