New York Team Secures Defense Verdict in Trucking Case Following Week-Long In-Person Jury Trial

New York, N.Y. (April 21, 2021) - New York Partners James T. Whalen, Jr. and Kevin Zimmerman recently secured a defense verdict on behalf of a trucking company and its driver following a week-long in-person jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, during which the plaintiff alleged that she suffered severe injuries arising from an accident that resulted in discectomies and a spinal fusion. This was one of the first in-person jury trials to take place in the Southern District since courts started reopening in 2021 amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The accident at issue occurred on the Cross Bronx Expressway near the Sheridan Expressway merge in Bronx County, New York. The plaintiff, a 37-year-old mother of three, alleged that construction signs and cones directed her vehicle to merge from the entrance ramp of the Cross Bronx Expressway into the right lane and then middle lane of traffic. As she did so, a full-sized tractor-trailer was traveling in the middle lane. The plaintiff claimed that she had already moved a significant portion of her vehicle into the middle lane when the tractor-trailer made contact with her vehicle, rupturing her tire and causing her car to move violently from side to side.

Following the collision, the fire department extricated the plaintiff from her vehicle, and she was taken by ambulance to a local emergency room where she was treated and released after six hours. Subsequently, the plaintiff was treated by various medical providers including chiropractors, acupuncturists, physical therapists, and pain management doctors who administered epidural injections. The plaintiff also underwent a discectomy at L4/L5 and, later, an additional discectomy and fusion at L4/L5. Moreover, the plaintiff alleged at trial that future adjacent disc surgeries would be necessary, at a cost of $50,000, and that she would also require future MRIs, X-rays, and physical therapy.

As this was one of the first in-person jury trials to take place in the Southern District of New York since courts began reopening, strict health and safety protocols were enforced. The witness stand and attorney podium were outfitted with surrounding plexiglass. Within the plexiglass structures, HEPA air filters were installed so that the attorneys and witnesses could remove their masks while speaking. All members of the courtroom, including the jury, were required to wear double masks throughout the trial. Additionally, the jurors were provided with individual screens on which they viewed the exhibits, which the parties were required to submit in an electronic manner. Moreover, due to the court’s quarantine restrictions, Jim and Kevin had to produce the out-of-state driver’s testimony via live video conference. 

Despite the unique circumstances of the trial, Jim and Kevin successfully presented a persuasive case that the plaintiff had caused the accident. Relying on photographs from the accident scene, they established that the tractor-trailer was fully within its lane of travel at the time of impact, as the photographs confirmed that the impact involved the front right tractor tire of the defendant’s vehicle and the front left tire of the plaintiff’s vehicle. Jim and Kevin further relied on the testimony of the parties to emphasize the traffic in the area and the low-speed nature of the collision. In addition, the defense’s accident reconstructionist provided testimony to further refute the plaintiff’s claim and her expert's testimony that a significant portion of her vehicle had entered the middle lane prior to the impact.

With respect to damages, Jim and Kevin contended the plaintiff’s alleged injuries, procedures, and surgeries were not the result of the subject accident. Medical records established that the plaintiff had received treatment for back pain over a period of several years. Importantly, the spinal surgeon expert called on behalf of the defendants compared the plaintiff’s prior and subsequent lumbar MRI films to show the jury that there was no significant change between them.

Following two days of deliberations, the panel of eight jurors returned a unanimous decision, answering the single question on the verdict sheet – Was the defendant negligent? – in favor of the Lewis Brisbois client.

For more information on this case, contact Jim Whalen or Kevin Zimmerman directly. Visit our National Trial Practice page to learn more about our trial capabilities. Please also feel free to visit our National Transportation Practice page or contact New York Managing Partner Gregory S. Katz to learn more about our National Trial and National Transportation teams.

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