It is Not Enough to Complain About a Headache

The first thing you should always do after an automobile accident is seek immediate medical attention. It is imperative a physician not only diagnose and treat your injuries, but also properly document any potentially “serious injuries” that might entitled you to recover damages against the person or persons responsible for the accident. It will not be enough to tell a judge you suffered these injuries; without objective proof, your case will never even make it to a jury.

Sciarrone v. Juliano

Here is arecent example from a federal court in Manhattan. In this case, the plaintiff was driving her car and stopped at a red light in Staten Island. A truck rear-ended the plaintiff at the intersection. She declined medical assistance at the scene, and instead returned her car home before visiting a local emergency room. The ER physician diagnosed the plaintiff with a concussion based on her complaint of headaches and nausea following the accident. The physician did not conduct any additional tests or prescribe treatment for the concussion.

The plaintiff subsequently received medical treatment for head, neck, back, and shoulder injuries she claimed were the result of the accident. More than a year after the accident, the plaintiff fell down the stairs of her home and fractured her ankle. She said this was the result of “dizziness” traceable to injuries she allegedly suffered in the motor vehicle accident.

The plaintiff sued the driver and owner of the truck for negligence. The case was transferred to federal court in Manhattan. (Although personal injury lawsuits such as these are governed by state law, federal courts may have jurisdiction to try the case if the plaintiff and defendants are residents of different states.) In an order issued on December 2nd, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff's complaint.

Judge Gleeson said the defendants met their burden under New York law to show the plaintiff had not alleged a “serious injury,” which is a precondition for recovering damages. For instance, the judge said the plaintiff's emergency-room concussion diagnosis was not enough to prove she suffered a serious head injury. That diagnosis was based solely on the plaintiff's complaint of headaches. But as Judge Gleeson explained, “subjective complaints … unaccompanied by objective findings, does not provide the requisite proof of serious injury.” The physician never did an MRI, X-ray, or any other test to provide objective proof of the concussion diagnosis. Furthermore, the defendants presented their own expert testimony demonstrating the plaintiff had a history of “migraines and disorientation” well before the date of the car accident.

Judge Gleeson similarly dismissed the plaintiff's complaints with respect to her neck, back, and shoulder injuries. All were based on “subjective complaints” not supported by objective evidence or otherwise attributable to pre-accident conditions. With respect to the plaintiff's fractured ankle more than a year after the accident, Judge Gleeson said it was nothing “more than sheer speculation that the [car] accident was the proximate cause of her dizziness, and thus the proximate cause of her fracture.” No reasonable jury could hold the defendants liable for those injuries.

Get Help Right Away

A case like this highlights the importance of receiving timely and comprehensive medical attention following an accident. If you have been in an accident and need advice on how to properly document and prove serious injury claims in court,contact an experienced New York accident attorney who can help you today.