It is always a good idea to seek medical attention immediately following a car accident. Aside from ensuring your health, it is also critical to protecting your legal interests. New York law requires proof of a “serious injury” in order to bring a personal injury claim against any negligent parties responsible for a car accident. A victim who delays seeking medical treatment—or suddenly stops receiving treatment without sufficient explanation—risks having his or her lawsuit thrown out of court.
Delay in Seeking “Second Opinion” Does Not Defeat Personal Injury Lawsuit
For example, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, recently reinstated a personal injury claim brought by the victim of a 2009 car accident, reversing a trial judge's decision to dismiss the case. The plaintiff was a passenger in a car that was struck at an intersection by a second vehicle. The plaintiff immediately sought treatment at a nearby hospital, where he complained “of pain in his head, neck, lower back and right shoulder,” according to court records.
The plaintiff subsequently received two weeks of treatment from a specialist, who prescribed medication for the pain. About 14 months later, the plaintiff asked his primary care physician for a second opinion. This led to additional treatment using “nerve block injections,” and eventually spinal surgery some four years after the accident.
Prior to the surgery, the plaintiff sued the drivers of both vehicles for negligence, alleging the accident caused him “serious injury” as defined by New York law. A Supreme Court judge granted the defendants' motions for summary judgment, holding the plaintiff failed to demonstrate such an injury. The plaintiff appealed, leading to the Fourth Department's reversal.
Among other findings, the Fourth Department said the 14-month gap in treatment following the plaintiff's initial specialist treatments were not “fatal” to his serious injury claim. Indeed, the defendants submitted the plaintiff's own medical records, which included the “unrebutted explanation” that the specialist had prescribed a medication regimen for the plaintiff to administer “in a self managed fashion,” without the need for ongoing physician supervision. When the medication managed to provide only “mild relief” for his pain, the plaintiff then sought a second opinion. The Fourth Department said this was a “reasonable explanation for the gap in treatment,” at least for purposes of defeating the defendant’s demand for summary judgment.