Causation – Be aware of seeking a trial de novo after a master arbitrator affirms an award

State Farm v. Stack
2008 NY Slip Op 07651 (2d Dept. 2008)

“A no-fault arbitration tribunal twice concluded that the defendant, James Stack, was entitled to benefits arising from an automobile accident. Subsequently, the plaintiff, State Farm Automobile Insurance Company (hereinafter State Farm), commenced a de novo plenary action seeking a determination that medical expenses for Stack’s hospitalization were for a condition unrelated to the accident and that Stack failed to demonstrate his entitlement to lost earnings.”

“An insurer seeking to deny no-fault benefits on the basis that a claimant’s condition is not causally related to an accident “has the burden to come forward with proof in admissible form to establish the . . . evidentiary foundation for its belief’ that the patient’s treated condition was unrelated to his or her automobile accident” (Mount Sinai Hosp. v Triboro Coach, 263 AD2d 11, 19-20). The testimony of State Farm’s expert witness, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist, that his opinion was based solely upon a hospital discharge summary and insurance claim form, rendered his opinion speculative and of little probative value (see Gordon v Tibulcio, 50 AD3d 460).”

“In contrast, the testimony of Stack’s expert witness, a neurologist who based his opinion upon his examination of Stack and his review of Stack’s relevant medical records, including, inter alia, CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging, and determined that Stack’s symptoms first appeared within two weeks of the accident and progressively worsened, was sufficient to establish that Stack’s condition was causally related to the accident (see Scudera v Mahbubur, 299 AD2d 535, 536).”

Comment: Another case where the Appellate Courts are loathe to sustain an insurance carrier’s proof that a service is not causally related to a motor vehicle accident.