Nicoletti, Gonson, Spinner, LLP

Nikolas Zigas v. Ardreus Castellanos, Zeus Waste Management, Inc., Supreme Court, Queens County, Index No. 17672/2011

In June 2016, in New York State Supreme Court, Queens County, Partner Kevin Pinter defended Zeus Waste Management and its employee Ardreus Castellanos at trial in an action based on a claimed automobile collision on East 60th Street and Second Avenue, in Manhattan, on July 17, 2009.

On July 17, 2009, plaintiff Nikolas Zigas, 65, was operating a Jeep Grand Cherokee southbound on Second Avenue near its intersection at 60th Street. Zigas claimed that he was stopped at a red light at the intersection when his vehicle was struck in the rear at a high rate of speed by a trailing garbage truck owned by Zeus and operated by Ardreus Castellanos. Zigas claimed injuries of his right shoulder, neck and back and bilateral knee injuries. Zigas alleged that Castellanos was negligent in the operation of his vehicle. Zigas, who testified through a Greek interpreter, claimed that he was stopped at the red light for 30 to 60 seconds prior to the accident, and that the heavy force of the impact pushed his Jeep forward approximately one foot.

Castellanos claimed that Zigas cut in front of his garbage truck, and that his vehicle did not in fact strike the rear of Zigas’ vehicle; or that if there was contact, it was a “tap” at best. Defense counsel argued that if Castellanos’ 14-ton garbage truck had struck the rear of Zigas’ Jeep at a high rate of speed and pushed it forward as claimed, there would have been significant damage to the rear of Zigas vehicle, and that such damage was almost non-existent, as per photographs of the Jeep that were admitted into evidence at trial.

The trial was bifurcated and responsibility was split by the jury at 50% on each party during the liability phase. The matter then proceeded to the damages phase of trial with the same jury.

Zigas claimed injury to his neck, back, right shoulder and both knees. He claimed that the accident caused exacerbations of previous injuries to his neck and back including several cervical disc herniations. He further claimed to have suffered chondromalacia, synovitis and tears of the medial and lateral meniscus of the left knee; injuries to the right knee; and right shoulder injuries including impingement, synovitis, and partial thickness tears of the rotator cuff, labrum, and biceps tendon. To address his right shoulder injury, Zigas underwent surgery on May 25, 2010. The procedure consisted of an arthroscopy and synovectomy. He underwent surgery to address his left knee injury on February 16, 2010, consisting of a meniscectomy, synovectomy and chondroplasty. He also underwent arthroscopic surgery to address his right knee injuries on April 4, 2012. Zigas claimed that the injuries resulted in permanent pain and a decreased range of motion.

The plaintiff’s expert trauma surgeon testified that the plaintiff was totally disabled, and that the right shoulder and bilateral knee injuries were causally related to the subject accident. The defense contended that at the time of trial, Zigas had multiple past and subsequently filed personal injury lawsuits, with multiple lawsuits pertaining to the body parts he claimed to have injured in the subject accident. The defense argued that if the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff’s vehicle, the minimal force of the accident could not have caused the injuries claimed by Zigas. The defense also argued that Zigas had undergone a right knee surgery 25 months prior to the accident. The defense’s expert orthopedic surgeon testified that the subject accident caused minimal injuries if any, and that these injuries had resolved and had not caused any disabilities.

After a combined 7 day trial, and after deliberations during the damages phase, on June 21, 2016, the jury found that none of the injuries claimed were causally related to the subject accident; thus, the jury awarded $0 in damages. The verdict was unanimous.