Bedford Park Med. Practice P.C. v American Tr. Ins. Co.
Decided on August 12, 2005
Civil Court of the City of New York, Kings County
BEDFORD PARK MEDICAL PRACTICE P.C., aao SANDRA BERGER, Plaintiff,
AMERICAN TRANSIT INSURANCE CO., Defendant.
Jack M. Battaglia, J.
Recitation in accordance with CPLR 2219(a) of the papers considered on Plaintiff's motion for an order granting summary judgment against Defendant; and Defendant's cross-motion for an order granting summary judgment dismissing the claim:
Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment
Attorney's Affirmation in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment
Notice of Cross-Motion
Affirmation in Support and in Opposition
The parties appeared as follows: Plaintiff by Alden Banniettis, Esq. and Defendant by Netanel Benchaim, Esq. of the Law Offices of Stacy R. Seldin.
These competing motions require the Court to consider the relationship between an opposer's showing of a triable issue of fact sufficient to deprive the initial movant of summary judgment and the opposer's prima facie showing of an entitlement to judgment as a matter of law sufficient to warrant summary judgment on the opposer's cross-motion. This in the context of an action for first-party no-fault benefits after the insurer denied payment for lack of medical necessity.
Bedford Park Medical Practice, P.C. submitted ten bills to American Transit Insurance Company for physical medical and rehabilitation services rendered to its assignor,Sandra Berger, from October 23, 2002 through April 15, 2003. The bills total $6,091.78. At oral argument on the return date, American Transit stipulated that Bedford Park had submitted proper proof of claim for each of the bills, and Bedford Park stipulated that American Transit had made timely denial of each of the bills for lack of medical necessity based upon a medical examination of [*2]Bedford Park's assignor.
The medical examination of Sandra Berger was conducted on July 9, 2002 by Dr. Irving Liebman, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, and the findings and opinions of Dr. Liebman are summarized in an affirmed report of the same date. A copy of Dr. Liebman's report was apparently sent to Bedford Park on July 22, 2003, three months before it rendered the services billed for and subject to this action. Dr. Liebman's affirmed report is provided by American Transit on its motion. Bedford Park provides no evidence of medical necessity other than its Verification of Treatment forms.
In similar opinions issued on the same day, Appellate Term for the Second and Eleventh Judicial Districts and Appellate Term for the Ninth and Tenth Judicial Districts made clear that the burden of production, at least, on the issue of medical necessity rests on the insurer. "[A] provider's proof of a properly-completed claim makes out a prima facie case upon its motion for summary judgment...thereby shifting the burden to the insurer who, if not precluded, may rebut the inference by proof in admissible form establishing that the health benefits were not medically necessary...If not refuted by the no-fault benefits claimant, such proof may entitle the insurer to summary judgment."(Amaze Medical Supply Inc. v Eagle Ins. Co., 2 Misc 3d 128[A], 2003 NY Slip Op 51701[U], *3 [App Term, 2d and 11th Jud Dists]; Damadian MRI In Elmhurst, P.C. v Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 2 Misc 3d 128[A], 2003 NY Slip Op 51700[U], *2 [App Term, 9th and 10th Jud Dists]; see also A.B. Medical Services PLLC v Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co., 4 Misc 3d 86, 87 [App Term, 2d and 11th Jud Dists 2004].)
And subsequently: "[W]here the plaintiff relies solely on its proof of claim to establish a prima facie showing, without any additional submission of proof of medical necessity in admissible form, and, in opposition, the defendant provides proof in admissible form of the lack of medical necessity, summary judgment may, in appropriate circumstances, be awarded to the defendant unless the plaintiff comes forward with admissible proof in reply to create a triable issue of fact." (A.B. Medical Services v New York Central Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 3 Misc 3d 136[A], 2004 NY Slip Op 50507[U], *2 [App Term, 2d and 11th Jud Dists]; see also CPLR 3212[b].)
In Stephen Fogel Psychological, P.C. v Progressive Casualty Ins. Co. (7 Misc 3d 18 [App Term, 2d and 11th Jud Dists 2004]), an opinion addressing the effect of an insured's failure [*3]to attend a pre-claim medical examination, the court stated that the failure to attend "negates the presumption of medical necessity which otherwise attaches to [the provider's] claim forms" (Id., at 22-23).
There is no appellate decision that explicitly addresses the burden of persuasion on medical necessity in the no-fault context, and one court's survey of decisions rendered under general medical insurance policies did not reveal any that explicitly addressed the question. (See Oceanside Medical Healthcare, P.C. v Progressive Ins., 2002 NY Slip Op 50188[U], *15-*16 [Civ Ct, Kings County]; but see Igor Shtarkman, Neurologist, P.C. v Allstate Ins. Co., 2002 NY Slip Op 50568[U][App Term, 9th and 10th Jud Dists]). Although this Court once held otherwise (see Elm Medical, P.C. v American Home Assurance Co., 2003 NY Slip Op 51357[U], *8-*9 [Civ Ct, Kings County]), the Court is now of the view that the insured / provider bears the burden of persuasion on the question of medical necessity. Specifically, once the insurer makes a sufficient showing to carry its burden of coming forward with evidence of lack of medical necessity, "plaintiff must rebut it or succumb." (See Baumann v Long Island Railroad, 110 AD2d 739, 741 [2d Dept 1985].)
Courts have recognized, however, that a proffer that is sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact may not be sufficient to establish an entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. (See American Honda Finance Corp. v Progressive Casualty Ins. Co., 290 AD2d 850, 852 [3d Dept 2002]; Ocean Diagnostic Imaging P.C. v State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., 7 Misc 3d 130[A], 2005 NY Slip Op 50535[U][App Term, 9th and 10th Jud Dists]; Ocean Diagnostic Imaging, Inc. v Utica Mut. Ins. Co., 6 Misc 3d 131[A], 2005 NY Slip Op 50081[U][App Term, 2d and 11th Jud Dists].) This Court is unaware of an explicit articulation of the difference, except where a triable issue might be found by reason of the more "flexible" evidentiary requirements imposed on the opposer. (See Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562 ; Kwi Bong Yi v JNJ Supply Corp., 274 AD2d 453, 453 [2d Dept 2000]; A.B. Medical Services PLLC v State-Wide Ins. Co., 7 Misc 3d 136[A], 2005 NY Slip Op 50785[U], *2 [App Term, 2d and 11th Jud Dists].)
On a provider's motion for summary judgment, the insurer may meet its burden of production with "affirmed reports based upon independent medical examinations (IMEs) conducted by the [the insurer's] physicians, which sufficiently raise issues of fact as to the necessity of the medical services and treatment provided." (Park Health Center v Prudential Property & Casualty Ins. Co., 2001 NY Slip Op 40650[U], *2 [App Term, 2d and 11th Jud Dists].) Presumably, the medical examination report must, like a peer review report submitted for the same purpose, "set forth a factual basis and medical rationale" for the claim's rejection. (See S & M Supply Inc. v Kemper Auto & Home Ins. Co., 2 Misc 3d 134[A], 2004 NY Slip Op
50209[U], *1 [App Term, 2d and 11th Jud Dists].)
Here, Dr. Irving Liebman concluded in the report of his July 9, 2002 examination of Bedford Park's assignor that there was "no necessity for further treatment" and "no necessity for household help or a special transportation allowance." Specifically, he found "no orthopedic [*4]objective evidence of disability."
Dr. Liebman notes that x-rays of Sandra Berger's cervical and lumbar spine were negative, but that an MRI of her left shoulder revealed a "supraspinatus tendinopathy". He found no muscle spasm in her cervical, dorsal or lumbosacral spine; "full range of motion" throughout the spine; in both shoulders and hips; her elbows, wrists and hands; her knees, ankles and feet; and that the "straight leg raising test was unrestricted bilaterally." He also reports that there was "no sensory loss" and that "cranial nerves were intact."
The Court finds sufficient "factual basis and medical rationale" in Dr. Liebman's report to raise a triable issue as to medical necessity, and to warrant, therefore, denial of Bedford Park's motion. Does the report, however, establish prima facie that any subsequent treatment was not medically necessary? Are these the "appropriate circumstances" where the provider's failure to come forward with admissible proof in reply warrant granting summary judgment to the insurer? (See A.B. Medical Services v New York Central Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 2004 NY Slip Op 50507[U], at *2.)
It seems to this Court that, in the absence of any specific direction from the appellate courts, an appropriate reference would be to caselaw describing the insurer's prima facie burden on a motion to dismiss for absence of "serious injury" as defined in Insurance Law §5102(d). If the evidence submitted on lack of medical necessity would not be sufficient to preclude a claim for non-economic loss, it is difficult to see why it should suffice for cessation of benefits. After all, the no-fault scheme is intended to provide "prompt payment for basic economic loss...in exchange for a limitation on litigation to cases involving serious injury." (See Pommells v Perez, 4 NY3d 566, 571 .)
In this case, the Court finds that Dr. Liebman's report would not establish prima facie the absence of "serious injury", in that it fails to describe the "objective tests" he performed that support his findings and opinions, including his findings that Ms. Berger exhibited "full range of motion". (See Edwards v New York City Transit Authority, 17 AD3d 628 [2d Dept 2005]; Korpalski v Lau, 17 AD3d 536 [2d Dept 2005]; Hanna v Alverado, 16 AD3d 624 [2d Dept 2005]; Nembhard v Delatorre,16 AD3d 390 [2d Dept 20005]; Remekie v Atileh, 6 Misc 3d 134[A], 2005 NY Slip Op 50191[U][App Term, 2d and11th Jud Dists].) Moreover, Dr. Liebman does not describe the significance of the MRI finding of "supraspinatus tendinopathy" in Ms. Berger's left shoulder.
Under these circumstances, the "presumption of medical necessity which...attaches to [the provider's] claim forms" (see Stephen Fogel Psychological, P.C. v Progressive Casualty Ins. Co., 7 Misc 3d at 22-23), in particular that attaches to the treating doctor's order for additional treatment, is not sufficiently rebutted to establish prima facie that the insurer is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. As in the "threshold" cases, even in the absence of specific, additional evidence of medical necessity, American Transit's motion must be denied. (See Hanna v Alverado, 16 AD3d 624; Nembhard v Delatorre,16 AD3d 390; Qu v Doshna, 12 AD3d 578 [2d [*5]Dept 2004].)
Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied. Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.
Defendant shall serve a copy of this order with Notice of Entry upon Plaintiff within 20 days after entry.
August 12, 2005
Judge, Civil Court