November 2011 Archives

November 27, 2011

Tow Trucker's Funeral Raises Awareness Of Amended New York Vehicle & Traffic Law Protecting "Hazard Vehicles".

Thumbnail image for Move_Over.pngYesterday, about one hundred tow-truck drivers formed a procession on East Molloy Road in Mattydale during the funeral of their brother tow-trucker, Todd Young, who was killed when a tractor trailer careened into him as he was attending to a broken down vehicle on the shoulder of the Thruway in Manlius, a mile east of Interstate 481. The fellow tow-truck drivers were thinking, no doubt, "but for the grace of god, there go I". All of them, if they have been in the business for any significant amount of time, have had "close calls"; vehicles speeding by within feet, or even inches, of them as they dutifully attend to motorists in need on the shoulder of New York's Thruway and other highways.

And that's why a new law in New York, which takes effect January 1st, 2012, requires motorists to slow down and move over for "hazard vehicles", which includes tow trucks. The law, called the Ambrose-Searles Move-Over Act, as it is currently written (read my prior blog) applies only to "emergency vehicles", such as police cars. But the amended law will cover "hazard vehicles", too, including tow trucks. Violators face fines of up to $150 for the first offense, $300 for a second offense and $450 for a third offense.

So, fellow motorist, join this Central NY car accident lawyer in my pledge to slow down, move over, and . . .

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com I'd love to hear from you!

Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com
Central NY Car Accident Lawyer
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.

1-315-253-3293 Toll Free 1-866-698-8169


November 26, 2011

Bigger Trucks Mean Bigger Accidents, Says Central NY Injury Lawyer

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for tractor trailer.jpgHope you all enjoyed your pumpkin pie. I sure did. And have you examined your waist line recently? If you're like many Americans, it's expanding. But not as fast as American truck drivers, according to a NY Times article I read last week. And then just today I read an article about how trucks are getting heavier, too. It seems everything in America is super-sized these days.

But let's just talk trucks for now. Officially, the national weight limit for freight trucks on interstate highways is 40 tons (80,000 lbs). But in almost half of the 50 States, Federal laws now allows for trucks weighing more (not yet in New York). Last week, Congress added Maine and Vermont to the list, allowing trucks up to 100,000 pounds there.

So what's the BIG deal? (pun intended). Big trucks make for big accidents, as this Central and Syracuse NY trucking accident lawyer knows all too well. And they also make for more frequent accidents because they are harder to control and stop. And they also chew up our roads and bridges faster, which chews up your tax dollars faster.

Are trucks done getting bigger? Fat chance. The American Trucking Associations is already lobbying to raise the national weight limit to 97,000 pounds.

So why does Congress keep passing laws allowing steroid-enhanced trucks to roam our intrastate highways? If you ask them, they will say bigger trucks hauling more mean fewer trucks on the road, which lowers congestion and increases national fuel efficiency. But if you ask me, the reason is that money trumps safety. The trucking industry is not just growing its trucks, but also its friends in Congress' campaign wallets. In America, everyone thinks big . . .

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com I'd love to hear from you!

Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com
Central NY truck accident Lawyer
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.

1-315-253-3293 Toll Free 1-866-698-8169


November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving and Black Friday Accidents

turkey.jpgThanksgiving is this Central New York injury lawyer's favorite holiday. Why? Because I love good food, and good company, but don't like the complicated and expensive business of gift giving.

Although Thanksgiving is a holiday, unfortunately, it is not a holiday from accidents. In fact, there are more accidents on Thanksgiving than on other days. Primarily, car accidents. People drink too much, then they drive. Crash. Don't do it!

Tis the season for slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall accidents, too. Black Friday means packed stores, with shoppers tripping over objects left in aisles, or slipping on liquid spills.

And I already blogged about black Friday trample accidents here:

Black Friday Shopper Trampled -- Central NY Personal Injury Attorney Explains Liability

Hey, enjoy the bird and pie, and your loved ones and friends, but don't drink and drive, and be careful in those packed stores, ok?

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com I'd love to hear from you!

Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com
Central NY Personal Injury Lawyer
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.

1-315-253-3293 Toll Free 1-866-698-8169

November 21, 2011

Central New York Injury Lawyer: Hunters Beware!

Thumbnail image for hunter.jpgHunting season is once again upon us. Hunters, please be careful. I have blogged about hunting accidents before, so rather than repeat myself, I'll simply refer you to this prior blog post:

Central NY Hunting Accident Lawyer Reminds Hunters of Safety Rules

Our law firm has recovered several sizable settlements for injured hunters from the homeowners' insurance of their fellow hunters who accidentally fired at them. Maneuvering past the insurance issues can be tough, as I explain in this blog post:

Central New York Hunting Accident Lawyer Explains Unfairness of Insurance Rule

If any hunters out there have the bad luck of getting shot, give us a call for a free consultation.

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com I'd love to hear from you!

Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com
Central NY Hunting Accident Lawyer
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.

1-315-253-3293 Toll Free 1-866-698-8169

November 20, 2011

Do New York Personal Injury Lawyers Favor Republicans Or Democrats?

obama.jpgAs the presidential election campaign heats up, I thought you might want to know where we New York personal injury lawyers stand. Do we favor democrats, like Obama, or Republican like _______ (fill in the blank)?

I won't give you a bunch of crap about us being impartial. We favor democrats hands down. Why? Among other reasons, because many republicans are in favor of tort reform (personal injury lawyers like me call it "tort deform").

But that's just one reason. Republicans, generally speaking, favor corporations and the rich at the expense of the down-trodden and the poor. Many of our clients are down on their luck. They are injured, out of work, dependent on social services, and have a legitimate personal injury claim against a corporation or an insurance company that they hope will help them get their life back on track. Many Republicans want to take away, or sharply curtail, their right to get justice. They belief people should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they have neither boots nor straps.

It's not that Republicans don't sometimes have good ideas and good motives. They do. And there are a lot of good Republicans out there. Hey, my mom, dad, and two of my five brothers are all Republicans, and they are some of the loveliest people I know.

But generally the philosophy of the Republican Party is inconsistent with the interests of the vast majority of our clients. So sure, we favor democrats, generally.

That being said, I voted for at least two Republicans in my local elections in Geneva, New York a few weeks ago. You have to look at the candidate, not just the party affiliation.

Will I vote for Obama or _____ (fill in the blank)? Uh hem. I haven't decided yet. Do you believe me?

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com I'd love to hear from you!

Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com
Central NY Injury Lawyer
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.

1-315-253-3293 Toll Free 1-866-698-8169

November 13, 2011

Central NY Injury Lawyer Discusses New York Statute Of Limitations In Child Sexual Abuse Cases

Thumbnail image for sad teen silouette.jpgYesterday I blogged about whether a "governmental immunity " or "sovereign immunity" defense would bar a claim by child sex abuse victims against the State University of New York ("SUNY") if something like what happened at Penn State (State university football coach sexually abuses children on campus) happened in New York at SUNY Geneseo, or SUNY Albany, or SUNY Cortland, etc. I concluded that those defenses generally would not be applicable in New York. But unfortunately, unlike in Pennsylvania, another defense would likely prevail in New York: The statute of limitations.

Pennsylvania, unlike New York, has extended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims until they reach age 30. From news reports, it seems that all the Penn State child sexual abuse victims are still under 30 years old. So they can, and probably will, be able to sue Penn State for compensation, though on the very same facts, they would not be able to do so in New York

In New York, there is no specific statute of limitations for civil cases based on child sexual abuse claims. The child victim must rely instead on traditional statutes of limitations for assault (by the perpetrator) and negligence (by the employer of the perpetrator or owner of the building where it happened). In New York, the statute of limitations for assault is one year, and for negligence it is three years.

But a child victim's statute of limitations is "tolled" (doesn't start to run) until he or she is 18 years old. That means that the statute of limitations against the perpetrator of the sexual abuse generally expires on the victim's 19th birthday, and against the employer/property owner, on the victim's 21st birthday.

But there are other --- and longer --- statutes of limitations that might apply. Under CPLR 213-b(2), if the sexual abuser is convicted of a criminal offense, the victim gets 10 years to sue him starting from the date of the crime. But this statute of limitations applies only to a lawsuit against the rapist/abuser who was convicted of the crime, not a lawsuit against his employer or others who may have negligently allowed the rape/abuse to occur. Thus, in a Penn State-like situation, the sexually abused child could not use this statute of limitations to extend his time to sue the State University.

What about CPLR 215(8)? That Statute gives the child victim of sexual assault in New York an additional five-year window to sue the perpetrator from the date the criminal action against the perpetrator terminates. But can a child sex abuse victim use this statute to extend his statute of limitations for suing not only the perpetrator, but also the negligent employer or premises owner or other culpable people who are not defendants in the criminal case? The courts in New York are divided on this issue, so this is far from a sure bet.

The bottom line is that most victims of child abuse in New York would probably be barred from suing SUNY (i.e., State Universities like Penn State) unless they did so before they turned 21. This is extremely unfair, because, as any psychologist will tell you, and as experience confirms, most victims of childhood sexual assault don't come to terms with what happened to them, or consider going to the police about it or making a claim for compensation, until they are closer to thirty years old. From what I have read, the victims of child sexual abuse at Penn State are now all over 21 years old, but younger than 30. Thus, their claims would likely be barred in New York, but not in Pennsylvania.

Why doesn't New York have a more fair law, like Pennsylvania's, that protects the rights of victims of child sexual abuse? Glad you asked. In 2009, the New York State Legislature considered a law that would have liberalized the statutes of limitations for child sex abuse cases. The "Child Victims Act" would have, among other things, extended the statute of limitations for filing civil suits for child sexual abuse to 10 years after a victim turns 18 (i.e., to age 28). But a very strong Catholic Church lobby defeated the bill.

There are some "loopholes" New York plaintiffs' lawyers might try to latch onto to avoid New York's harsh statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims, such as "equitable estoppel". But those are very difficult arguments to make. For example, with an "equitable estoppel" claim, the once-child, now adult, victim must show that a defendant such as Penn State did more than merely cover up a crime; he must show that the defendant engaged in fraud, deception or misrepresentations that induced him to refrain from filing a timely action. This is almost never the case --- rather, usually the victim's own shame induced him to refrain from filing a timely action.

Maybe the Penn State drama will induce New York law makers to again attempt reforming New York's antiquated child sexual abuse law. Let's hope so.

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com I'd love to hear from you!

Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com
Central NY Personal Injury Lawyer
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.

1-315-253-3293 Toll Free 1-866-698-8169

November 12, 2011

Central New York Injury Lawyer Discusses Penn State Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

sad teen silouette.jpgLike everyone else, I have been following the "Happy Valley" Penn State child sexual assault scandal with disgust, awe, shock and dismay. But unlike everyone else, I am also thinking, as I read, who I would sue, for how much, and under what legal theories.

Although I am admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania, I have never handled a case there. My practice is limited to New York personal injury cases, and particularly to cases in Central and Western New York State. So I was surprised to read that some PA lawyers saw obstacles under Pennsylvania law to a lawsuit against Penn State because of the doctrine of "sovereign immunity". Penn State would, of course, be the principle target of my lawsuit because of its deep pockets. The lawsuits brought against the rapist/sexual predator, Sandusky, or any of the individual coaches, such as Joe Paterno, would quickly deplete all their assets, leaving the plaintiffs under-compensated. There are at least eight victims, and probably a lot more will be stepping forward, which in my mind equates to many, many millions of dollars in lawsuit recovery.

In New York, a suit against a State University for something like this would not trigger a viable sovereign or governmental immunity defense. That's because New York law distinguishes between the State's traditional governmental role (such as providing police protection) and non-traditional roles the State has assumed over time, such as owning and running a university. Generally, the State can raise the governmental immunity defense only against tort lawsuits for the former, not the latter.

If what happened at Penn State happened at one of New York's SUNY colleges, the only possible governmental immunity defense in New York would, in my opinion, be against allegations the campus police should have intervened. Since police protection is a traditional governmental function, a governmental immunity defense against that cause of action might prevail. But so many other causes of action abound for holding the State college or university liable here: Negligent hiring, supervision and retention of the football coaches; civil conspiracy; premises liability (knowingly allowing a dangerous condition to exist on their premises). And the government immunity defense would not bar these causes of action at all.

The problem in New York would not be governmental or sovereign immunity. Unlike in Pennsylvania, the problem would be the statute of limitations. I'll be discussing that tomorrow, so stay tuned . . .!

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com I'd love to hear from you!

Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com
Central NY Personal Injury Lawyer
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.

1-315-253-3293 Toll Free 1-866-698-8169

November 7, 2011

How Much Are The Mentally Disableds' Lives Worth In New York (Hint: ZERO!)

Thumbnail image for flowerongrave.jpgJust read a great article in the New York Times about developmentally disabled people in New York State care, or in the care of not-for-profit homes charged by the State to care for them, who die for "reasons other than natural causes". Check out the stats: One in six such deaths in the past decade have been chalked up to "unnatural" or "unknown" causes. Other states, like Connecticut and Massachusetts for example, count only 1 in 25 such deaths.

The Times, God bless their soul, undertook its own analysis of death records, to find out just what these poor folks were dying from. What they found is very disturbing: Many of these deaths result from errors and preventable deaths, such as drowning in bath tubs where the disabled were not supposed to be left alone in the tub, or choking on food when they were not supposed to be left alone with food; or falling down stairs when they were not supposed to be navigating stairs on their own. Some of the mentally disabled simply ran away, repeatedly, until they died out on their own.

The Times further found that these preventable deaths rarely resulted in measures being implemented to prevent the same mistakes from recurring.

Is this shocking? Yes. Surprising? Maybe for you, but not for me. Why? Well, you might think the State and these private homes would get the pants sued off of them for their deadly neglect, which would cause an about face. But I know better. As a New York personal injury lawyer, the most telling part of the article for me was this sentence: "Lawsuits are relatively rare after the deaths of developmentally disabled people in New York, in part because economic damages are difficult to prove, given that the victims are seldom employed".

The Times is absolutely right. Under New York's wrongful death law, a case can be brought to recover only the "economic loss" to the estate of the deceased. In other words, the family members who the deceased was supporting have a right to claim the "economic loss" of the support money they no longer receive because the bread-winner died. Most states, unlike New York, also allow surviving family members to sue for their grief, but New York does not.

Where does that leave New York victims of wrongful death who were not supporting anyone, such as children, the elderly, or the mentally or physically disabled? In the trash bin, that's where. Their lives are worth NOTHING under New York's antiquated, extremely unjust wrongful death law. I have blogged repeatedly about how unfair this rule is. See my prior blog posts below.

But this law is not just unfair. New York's wrongful death law is literally KILLING US. New York State and the not-for-profit homes that care for the disabled know they can, with impunity, neglect their charges, cause their death, and pay nothing to compensate the family. With no price to pay, why should they bother mending their ways?

To be fair, there is one kind of death claim involving disabled people that New York personal injury lawyers might find worth while pursuing. That's where there is proof of considerable conscious pain and suffering before death. The estate of the deceased, even a deceased disabled person, has a right to claim compensation for that pain and suffering. But since these poor souls often die alone, without witnesses, those cases must be rare.

Still, if you have a case where a mentally or physically disabled family member died from neglect while in New York State's care, or in a private home-for-the-disabled's care, call me. I would love to sue these guys to teach them a lesson! Lawsuits like that would make them think twice before neglecting their next victim.


Related blog posts:

New York Wrongful Death Law: A Travesty Of Justice For Elderly Victims Of New York Nursing Home Malpractice and their families

New York's Wrongful Death Law Is Wrongful

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com I'd love to hear from you!

Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com
Central NY Wrongful Death Lawyer
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.

1-315-253-3293 Toll Free 1-866-698-8169

November 6, 2011

My Kid Got Hurt By Another Kid At School. Can I Bring A New York Personal Injury Claim Against The School District?

Thumbnail image for schoolhallway.jpgKids have a known propensity to fool around, sometimes dangerously. Some kids go beyond mere fooling around, and bully or hit other kids. All these childish behaviors are dangerous, which is why God invented adults. Yes, we adults were put here on earth to keep kids from killing and maiming each other! (Unfortunately, some adults are like children, but that's another story. . . )

When you, as a parent, turn your sweet little Johnny over to the school district to receive his education, you also hand over to the school, to a certain degree, parental responsibilities. The school, in the eyes of the law, steps into the shoes of a parent, which means the school has a duty to provide proper supervision and control of your child and all others. If the school does not properly supervise its students, the school district can be sued and held liable for the harm caused.

But not all harm that befalls your child at the hands of other kids at school can, in the eyes of the law, be blamed on the school. The school is not an insurer of your child's safety. The school must act responsibly in fashioning sound safety rules, and in supervising its students, and it must ensure that the rules are being implemented by teachers and other staff. But it cannot prevent all injuries caused by other kids, especially unexpected and unforeseeable injuries.

What kind of classmate-caused injuries can you bring a New York school injury case against the school district for? Here are some examples: If a teacher or aid leaves a group of students unsupervised for a period of time, and the students engage in horseplay, or a fight breaks out during that unsupervised period of time, the school might, depending on the circumstances, be held liable for failing to provide adequate supervision. Or if a child has a history of assaulting other kids at school, and the school does not properly discipline or control him, and he then hurts another child, the school district may be held liable. Or if a group of students is allowed to engage in dangerous horseplay, and an accident causes injury to a child, the school district may be held liable for negligent supervision.

On the other hand, if a student suddenly, spontaneously, and without warning, does some foolish act, or takes a swing at another kid, and an injury results, the school probably can't be held liable. That's because the law recognizes that no amount of supervision can prevent sudden, unexpected, spontaneous acts of violence or horseplay.

The legal analysis of whether a school district can be held liable for injuries caused by other kids at school is actually a very complex one. Many factors come into play. If your child is injured by another child at school, call an experienced New York school accident lawyer to find out whether you can hold the school liable.

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com I'd love to hear from you!

Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com
Central NY Personal Injury Lawyer
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.

1-315-253-3293 Toll Free 1-866-698-8169

November 5, 2011

Does Workers' Compensation Bar My New York Injury Lawsuit?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for constructionworkeronroof.jpgI get calls from people all the time like this one: "I was injured at work, and I am getting comp, but it's not enough to pay the bills. Can I sue for more"?

But I need more info. So I start asking questions back. As I listen to how the accident happened, I am trying to see if anyone other than the employer or co-employees was partially at fault. Was some third-party, such as an outside contractor, partially responsible? If not, at least a little bit, then we can't sue anyone. That's because the employer and co-workers can't be sued, even though they were at fault, as long as the injured employee got comp. This is known in colloquial legalese as "the workers' comp bar".

Just to make sure we can't sue anyone, after I have all the facts, I usually ask the caller, "can you think of anyone who was at fault for this accident other than your employer or your co-workers"? If the answer is "no", then chances are the guy is stuck with just his comp, which sucks, because that pays, at most, 2/3 of his pay. If you are a member of the working class, and you are just barely getting by on full pay, imagine trying to pay those same bills on 2/3 pay. A lawsuit, on the other hand, could result in full payment of lost wages, plus pain and suffering compensation.

Sometimes an employee works for one company, but is sent to another company to work. For example, a temp employment agency might send a worker to an outside company for a day's work. If the worker gets hurt because of that company's, or it's employee's negligence, can he sue?

As usual, the answer is "depends". New York has a "special employment" a/k/a "borrowed servant" doctrine, which basically says that if you are employed by Company A, which lends you to Company B, and you are injured because of Company B's negligence, you can't sue Company B as long as Company A provided you with workers' compensation. Although the courts consider several factors in determining whether to apply this "special employment" doctrine, the main one is "control". If Company B "controlled" your work, i.e., supervised you, told you what to do and how to do it, then generally you are considered a "borrowed servant" and the "special employment" doctrine bars you from suing Company B, just as it would bar you from suing your true employer, Company A.

The only way to know for sure whether your lawsuit is barred by workers' compensation, or there is a way around the workers' comp bar, is to talk to a qualified New York personal injury lawyer. So call me!

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com I'd love to hear from you!

Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com
Central NY Personal Injury Lawyer
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.

1-315-253-3293 Toll Free 1-866-698-8169