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Licari v. Elliott

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York in the Second Judicial Department reversed a judgment pursuant to a jury verdict that found the Plaintiff, Licari (Plaintiff), personal injury victim, to be 30 percent liable and the Defendant driver, Elliot (Defendant), 70 percent liable and awarded the injured Plaintiff the principle sum of $ 14,700. The lower court also dismissed the injured Plaintiff’s complaint. The Plaintiff sought review.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A serious injury is defined as a personal injury which results in death; dismemberment; significant disfigurement; a fracture; permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function or system; permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member; significant limitation of use of a body function or system; or a medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person’s usual and customary daily activities for not less than 90 days during the one 180 days immediately following the occurrence of the injury or impairment.

    Facts. The Plaintiff, injured in a motor vehicle accident in February 1979, was diagnosed with a concussion, acute cervical sprain, acute dorsal lumbar sprain and a contusion of the chest and returned home later that day. Two days later he consulted with his physician and was admitted to the hospital for tests, which showed no damage. He was released and 24 days after the accident, he returned to his job as a taxi driver, resuming work with only minor limitations. The Plaintiff testified that he could not do various household chores and that he had occasional transitory headaches and dizzy spells which aspirin relieved. The Defendant then moved to dismiss, claiming the Plaintiff failed to establish that this injury met any of the threshold requirements of serious injury as defined by the Insurance Law. The court submitted the case to the jury on the theories that, in order to recover, the Plaintiff must have (1) suffered an injury which prevented him from performing all his daily act
    ivities for not less than 90 days during the 180 days immediately following the accident or (2) that as a result of the accident he sustained a significant limitation of use of a body function or system. The jury found for the Plaintiff. The Appellate Division reversed and dismissed the complaint, holding that the Plaintiff had failed, as a matter of law, to prove a serious injury under either definition.

    Issue. Did the injured Plaintiff meet the requirements to prove injury within the meaning of the no-fault provision found in the New York insurance law?

    Held. No. The court affirmed the order reversing the original judgment because the injured failed to establish a prima facie case that he sustained a serious injury.

    Discussion. The court in Licari first takes the opportunity to examine the policies and purpose of the “No-fault” law, which the court notes was created specifically to address “certain infirmities recognized to exist under the common-law tort system of compensating automobile accident claimants.” As the court explained, “By enacting the No-Fault Law, the legislature modified the common-law rights of persons injured in automobile accidents to the extent that plaintiffs in automobile accident cases no longer have an unfettered right to sue for injuries sustained. Thus, to the extent that the legislature has abrogated a cause of action, the issue is one for the court, in the first instance where it is properly raised, to determine whether the plaintiff has established a prima facie case of sustaining serious injury.” Economy of resources and judicial efficiency are also primary considerations. The court reasoned, “Since the purpose of the No-Fault Law is to assure prompt and full compe
    nsation for economic loss by curtailing costly and time-consuming court trials, requiring that every case, regardless of the extent of the injuries, be decided by a jury would subvert the intent of the legislature and destroy the effectiveness of the statute. The result of requiring a jury trial where the injury is clearly a minor one would perpetuate a system of unnecessary litigation.” Thus, in a limited capacity, “A court should decide the threshold question of whether the evidence warrants a jury finding that the injury falls within the class of injuries that, under no-fault, should be excluded from judicial remedy.” To that end, in this instance the court found that the jury could not have concluded that the injured suffered a significant limitation of use of body function or system, or that he was prevented from performing substantially all of his usual daily activities for 90 days as required by stat.


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