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Martinez-Cepero v. Wagner

November 19, 2008

ROBERTO MARTINEZ-CEPERO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLARD P. WAGNER, IV, AND WILLARD P. WAGNER, III, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, Senior District Judge

OPINION

This is a personal injury diversity suit subject to New Jersey's Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act ("AICRA"), N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1.1 et. seq.*fn1 Defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I.

Plaintiff and Defendant Wagner, IV were involved in an automobile accident in the parking lot of a K-Mart store in Middle Township, New Jersey, on July 30, 2004. Defendant Wagner, III owned the vehicle operated by Wagner, IV, his son.*fn2 According to the allegations of the Complaint, which are not disputed for the purposes of the instant motion, Wagner IV backed out of a parking space and hit Plaintiff's pick-up truck.*fn3 Plaintiff asserts that he suffered serious injuries to his back and neck, which will be discussed in more detail infra. The Complaint asserts two counts: Wagner IV's negligence in operating the vehicle, and Wagner III's negligence in entrusting the vehicle to his son.

Because the instant motion mainly attacks the cause of Plaintiff's injuries, a somewhat detailed discussion of Plaintiff's relevant undisputed medical history is necessary. In August, 1982, just before Plaintiff's 26th birthday, while at work,*fn4 he fell five floors.*fn5 He broke his leg in two places and fractured his spine at the C3 bone, which is in the neck. (Defs' Ex. E) Upon Plaintiff's release from the hospital, his discharging physician concluded, "[t]he prognosis is fairly good, although there will be prolonged disability from his injuries." (Defs' Ex. E)

Approximately six years later, in April, 1998, Plaintiff fell again. He reported to Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital complaining of "leg, back, head, [and] neck pain." (Defs' Ex. G) Neither the circumstances, nor the severity, of these injuries is disclosed in the record.

Plaintiff fell a third time in October, 1999, injuring his back and left ribs. (Defs' Ex. I) As a result, he was unable to work for a little less than a month. (Id.)

Apparently in connection with his application for permanent disability benefits from the State of New Jersey, Plaintiff underwent medical examinations in 2001 and 2002. In March, 2001, he was diagnosed with "degenerative disc disease C4-5 and C5-6; Date of onset: 1982." (Defs' Ex. F) In that same month, x-rays of Plaintiff's spine revealed:

There is straightening of the lordotic curve. There is spur formation anteriorly. This is particularly noted at C4 through C7. The neural foramina are narrowed on both the right and left side in the lower cervical region. No fracture is seen.

(Defs' Ex. F) The examining doctor concluded that the x-ray showed "straightening of the lordotic curve and degenerative changes." (Id.)

Later in 2001, Plaintiff underwent an MRI of the lumbar spine, which revealed "small central disc herniations at L4-L5 and L5-S1." (Defs' Ex. K) Another MRI performed in April, 2002, reported no changes from the 2001 MRI.

In an April, 2002, report, Dr. Sidney Tobias stated that Plaintiff had "a history of significant and debilitating rheumatoid arthritis as well as degenerative joint disease of the cervical spine." (Defs' Ex. J)

In the years prior to the accident at issue, three MRIs were performed on Plaintiff. The results of those MRIs are as follows:

* July 24, 2003 "MRI Lumbar Spine WO Contrast": "Disc osteophyte formation at L4-5 and L5-S1 with mild central impression upon the thecal sac. No disc ...


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