August 1, 2022
James J Kim, L, AC, PC v Allstate Ins Co (2022 NY Slip Op 50700(U))
Reported in New York Official Reports at James J Kim, L, AC, PC v Allstate Ins Co (2022 NY Slip Op 50700(U))
James J Kim, L, AC., PC ASSIGNEE OF RICK GREENGUS, Plaintiff(s)
Allstate Ins Co, Defendant(s)
Index No. CV-718889-16/KI
The plaintiff was represented by Michael Nathan, Esq., Lewin & Baglio LLP, 1100 Shames Drive, Westbury, New York 11590, (T) 516-307-1777 ext. 121, (F)516-307-1770, Mnathan@lewinbaglio.com.
The defendant was represented by Adam Waknine, Esq., Peter C. Merani, P.C., 1001 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 1800, New York, NY 10018, Phone: (212) 629-9690, Fax: (212)629-9664, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.Nicholas W. Moyne, J.
After trial, held before me in the above captioned action on July 13, 2022, I find:
Plaintiff, James J. Kim, a licensed acupuncturist, commenced this no-fault action against defendant, Allstate Insurance Company (“Allstate”), following Allstate’s denial of plaintiff’s claims for no-fault benefits for acupuncture services provided from February 9, 2015, through December 7, 2015. Plaintiff’s assignor, Rick Greengus, was injured in an accident on December 7, 2013. Allstate denied the claims based upon the report of an Independent Medical Examination (“IME”) conducted by Dr. Thomas McLaughlin on March 13, 2014. At trial, Allstate defended their denials based on lack of medical necessity by solely relying upon the IME report and live testimony of Dr. McLaughlin. The plaintiff rebutted the denial through the live testimony of Dr. Kim, as well as by cross-examining Dr. McLaughlin about the contents of his IME report. Each party also submitted trial packets for the court’s consideration which were introduced into evidence on consent and without objection.
Dr. McLaughlin examined Mr. Greengus on March 13, 2014. At that time, Mr. Greengus had been receiving acupuncture services for approximately three months. Mr. Greengus complained of pain in his left shoulder and neck. Dr. McLaughlin referred to those complaints in his report as “non-descript” but did not specify what, if any, questions he asked that were designed to elicit a detailed description of Mr. Greengus’ symptoms. The report notes that Mr. Greengus indicated that his symptoms had not improved with care.
In his report, Dr. McLaughlin included a section on acupuncture treatment under the heading “Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Discussion.” In relevant part, Dr. McLaughlin concludes:
Combined with a full history and inspection the TCM practitioner will also study the quality of the patient’s pulse and tongue in order to determine not only if pathology is present and the type it is, but in order to devise a treatment protocol. Traditional Chinese [*2]Medicine, acupuncture being one facet of it, is then employed in order to rebalance the body and aid in the facilitation of health and wellness. The treatments are administered by applying needles, in the case of acupuncture, to acupoints along channels that course throughout the body and promote a physiologic response. Nine of the fourteen body channels used are named after organ systems in the body. With respect to Mr. Rick Greengus’s pulse, which has a rate of 64bpm, his tongue, and the channels are unremarkable with regard to a Qi and/or blood stagnation disorder according to the principles of TCM.
Based upon his examination findings, Dr. McLaughlin concluded that no further acupuncture care was necessary because Mr. Greengus’ examination did not reveal any objective findings of dysfunction or discomfort. His trial testimony echoed those findings to a certain extent. He opined that standard practice for an acupuncturist would be to evaluate the patient by taking a history and checking certain relevant factors such as pulse, the condition of the tongue and blood stagnation. Dr. McLaughlin testified that periodic evaluation or revaluation is warranted when there is an ongoing course of treatment in order to determine whether the medical provider needs to adjust the treatment being provided (Tr at 15, 17).
The plaintiff rebutted Dr. McLaughlin’s findings through the testimony of Dr. Kim the provider who opined that continued acupuncture treatment was medically necessary due to continued neck pain, shoulder pain and lower back pain. Dr, Kim also referenced the same traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis referenced in Dr. McLaughlin’s IME report, i.e., blood stagnation and tongue diagnosis. Dr Kim also testified that he performed through evaluations of Mr. Greengus prior to each treatment session.
After considering the testimony and evidence presented at this trial, I find that the plaintiff should have judgment in its favor. The defense being asserted by the defendant insurer is commonly known as a “IME cut-off”. The court finds this terminology, although widely used in no-fault litigation, to be imprecise and arguably misleading. To the defendant, IME cut-off is the sole proper basis for the denials. The assertion is that after March 14, 2014, based upon the findings of Dr. McLaughlin after the IME, Mr. Greengus was perfectly healthy and no longer required any further treatment, specifically acupuncture and chiropractic related. The defendant would have the court believe that the injured party’s health and condition is frozen in time as of the date of the IME and, absent evidence from the plaintiff that rebuts the findings of the IME, the plaintiff has failed to meet its burden for recovery of no-fault benefits. This misstates the purpose and/or probative value of an IME.
An IME is not some inflexible permanent fixture that cannot be altered or changed. An IME is merely a snapshot of the injured party’s medical condition as of the date of the IME. The opinion of the doctor conducting an IME and issuing a report that no further treatment or testing is needed is nothing more than an expert’s prediction that the claimant has fully recovered or received the maximum therapeutic benefit from the treatment and does not presently need any additional treatment.
An IME cut-off is not a complete defense to the action. While an IME can demonstrate a lack of medical necessity for future treatment, it does not, by itself, conclusively demonstrate that any future treatment would not be medically necessary. Instead, the IME merely shifts the burden to the plaintiff to demonstrate, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that the treatment at issue was medically necessary (see Amato v State Farm Ins. Co., 40 Misc 3d 129(A) [App Term 2d Dept 2013], Unitrin Advantage Insurance Company v Lake Chiropractic, PLLC, [*3]64 Misc 3d 1201[A] [New York County Civ Ct 2019]; Amato v State Farm Ins. Co., 30 Misc 3d 238, 242 [NY Dist Ct 2013]; All-In-One Med. Care, P.C. v Govt. Employees Ins. Co., 43 Misc 3d 726, 734 [NY Dist Ct 2014]).
The defendant maintains that by not recognizing the IME as a fixed cut-off date for no-fault benefits deemed not medically necessary, the Court is allowing for the reimbursements of benefits indefinitely so long as the provider self-certifies that the treatment is providing medical benefits to the injured party. This is not the Court’s intention nor is it the practical result. Again, the only effect of the pre-claim IME on this litigation was to shift the burden to the plaintiff-provider to show that the treatment was medically necessary. If the defendant subsequently felt the need to try to further limit the scope of future treatment, they could have requested a supplemental IME, an EUO of the provider, or they could have had their expert conduct a peer review of all the post-IME treatment records. Instead, the defendant just denied the bills and relied on a single pre-treatment IME. The defendant is entitled to rely on that single IME if they wish, but the effect is no different than any other denial based on the alleged lack of medical necessity. It simply shifts the burden to the plaintiff, who can then rebut with credible testimony and shift the burden back to the defendant insurer.
That is exactly what happened here. Dr. Kim credibly testified that he conducted an evaluation of the patient each time the patient came to see him before providing any treatment (Tr at 55, 60). This testimony is bolstered by the records in evidence of Dr. Kim’s treatment of the patient prior to the IME – which each contain notes regarding the current diagnosis of the patient and notes of what was evaluated. (Plaintiff’s Exh. D, pages 182-187, 332-356, 422-427, 451-456). The court credits the testimony of Dr. Kim that further medical treatment was necessary for the injured assignor, over the testimony of Dr. McLaughlin, that it was not medically necessary. The court finds that Dr. Kim properly performed additional evaluations of the patient, consistent with the very same standards of traditional Chinese Medicine referenced in Dr McLaughlin’s report, and Dr. Kim was in possession of both objective and subjective findings which correlated to support the conclusion that continued treatment was medically necessary. Dr. Kim possessed more information and was in a better position to make the determination than Dr. McLaughlin. I find that Dr. Kim’s testimony is sufficient to demonstrate, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that the treatments at issue were medically necessary.
Accordingly, judgment is rendered for the plaintiff in the amount of $2018.77 — the amount the parties stipulate is correct under the fee schedule — plus statutory interest and attorney fees.
The clerk may enter judgment.Date: August 1, 2022