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If you are like us, about 90% of your conscious life these days can be summed up in one word: coronavirus.  President Trump has declared a national emergency.  New York State is just about in total lock-down. Our office, just like all other offices, has been ordered physical “closed” by Governor Cuomo.  No staff is there.  Our doors are locked.  But we are not resting idle!  Read on!

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We are not at the office, but we are answering the phone!  Call us and one of our staff will pick up and put you through to your lawyer!  While our office is closed, we will be happy to “meet” with you by phone, Skype, or FaceTime, at your convenience.

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If you are like me, about 50% of your conscious life these days can be summed up in one word: corona-virus.  President Trump declared a national emergency yesterday.  We are urged to engage in “social distancing”, to avoid crowds, wash our hands thoroughly and frequently, and to refrain from touching our face.

What is Michaels & Smolak doing to keep its staff, clients and others safe?  Here’s our current policy, which is still evolving to meet new developments:

Staying informed

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Our senior lawyer, Lee Michaels, has been teaching trial practice at the Syracuse College of Law for decades.  Many of Lee’s former students keep in touch with him well into their law careers.  Lee continues to mentor many long after they have graduated.  Recently, Lee got a letter from a student, Steve Kim, who took his class nine years ago.  Here it is, abridged somewhat.  We publish it with the Kim’s permission.  At Michaels & Smolak, we are all proud of our senior trial lawyer’s achievements not only in the courtroom but in the classroom!

Dear Lee,

I was a student in your trial practice class nine-years ago.  I write to you to thank you for teaching the single most impactful class of my entire career. Although I lost most of my law school notes, books, and outlines– I held on closely to my trial practice binder and always made sure I knew where it was.

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This Syracuse car accident lawyer keeps getting too many rear-end collision cases.  This uptick in my rear-end collisions case load has nothing to do with me. The same uptick is experienced by all Syracuse car accident lawyers, and in fact by auto accident attorneys everywhere in the USA.  This has been a trend for at least a decade, ever since smart phones really took off so that everyone and their mother has one.  Not only does everyone have one, but it seems almost every one at some point in time uses their phone while they are driving.  Be honest, have you?  Ever?

If not, you are in the minority. According to a recent study, almost 90 percent of drivers in the USA admit to using their cell phones (at least sometimes) when they are driving.  Scarier still, the average driver is on his phone 3.5 minutes for every hour of driving.

This doesn’t sound like a lot but it totally explains my uptick in rear-end collision cases.  If you look down at your phone for only one second at a speed of 55 miles per hour, your car travels 80 feet during that second.  So guess where the hood of your car ends up if, during that second, the car you were following decides to stop?  That’s why car accident lawyers all around the Syracuse area, and in fact all around the nation, surely have, like me, increased their rear-end collision case portfolio over the last decade.

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Attorney and client walking up the steps of a courthouse

New York personal injury lawyers usually charge on a “contingency fee” basis.  The contingency fee allowed in a personal injury case varies from state to state, but generally it is either 1/3 (33 1/3%) or 40%.  In New York it’s at most 1/3.  It is often less where the lawyer is representing a minor and in medical malpractice cases.  For the purposes of this blog post, let’s assume it is 1/3.  But 1/3 of what exactly?  It depends.  Read on to find out!

But before I explain how it works, let me explain why it even exists.  The contingency fee exists because most people can’t afford the very high hourly-based fees lawyers would charge.  The hourly-based fees might reach over $100,000 in a complicated case.  The contingency fee allows regular folks who have a valid personal injury claim to seek justice.The contingency fee is a gamble for your lawyer.  If he does not win your case, he does not get paid. If he does win, or settles, he gets roughly a third of the money.

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Believe me, getting injured is not worth the money you can get in settlement or at trial with a personal injury like me.  It never is.  I have represented hundreds of clients over the years, and every single one of them would have gladly returned the money in exchange for turning back the clock to their pre-injury life.  Although obviously no one can turn a clock back (well, except for Marty McFly in “Back to the Future”), there is a lot we all can do to reduce the odds that a serious accident – one of life’s great wrecking balls – will strike us.

In my line of work, I see accident victims all the time.  Most serious injuries I see happen while my clients are operating a motor vehicle or dangerous machinery or when they are working from heights. To help avoid or minimize these injuries, drive carefully, don’t get distracted, wear seatbelts, wear helmets when required or advisable, use the right safety equipment, use eye protection when using power equipment, and don’t drink when you are using machinery of any kind. The point is this: Even when your injuries are largely someone else’s fault, you still might avoid or minimize the injuries if you just use your common sense.

What about Medical Malpractice?  Can you avoid being a victim of that kind of injury?  This is an important question because medical malpractice is now the third leading cause of death (after heart disease and cancer) in America.

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Photo of newest roundabout in Ontario County

Before I explain why roundabouts (also called traffic circles) are popping up all around us, let me digress.  I lived in France for five years back in the 70’s and 80’s and I never once came across a four-way stop.  That’s because they don’t exist there.  In fact, I recently had a French visitor driving my car in Geneva, New York, with me as passenger.  When we approached the four-way stop on Castle and Brook Streets, he did not know what to do. After I explained to him the “first come first go” principle,  he seemed perplexed, and asked me, “but what if we get to the stop sign at the same time?” Touché!  Good question.

France has more roundabout intersections than baguettes. They’re everywhere.   One out of every 45 intersections in France is a roundabout.  Au contraire over here.  It’s only one in a thousand.

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The City this Central New York personal injury lawyer calls home, Geneva, New York, recently amended its sidewalk law.  Many local homeowners are concerned about the effect this might have on their “liability” for snow and ice on sidewalks. Before the amendment, the City Code had said, and continues to say, that homeowners (and business owns) “shall at all times keep the sidewalk (abutting their property) free from ice, snow, grass, weeds, rubbish and other obstructions; and shall at all times keep said sidewalk in a good state of repair . . .”.  (Geneva City Code section 306-7).  The Code further said, “If any person shall neglect or refuse to comply with the requirements of this section as to snow, ice or other obstructions, or sidewalks out of repairs, the Director of Public Works may cause all necessary work to be done at the expense of the person so in default” (id.)  The amended law now states that, for snow and ice, the abutting property owner has only 24 hours from the cessation of snowfall to clean it up.

Bottom line, the City has upped the ante so that now, if you don’t remove the snow and ice within 24 hours, the City will do it and charge you for it.

The question for today’s blog post is, given the mandates of this City Code, can a passerby who slips on snow or ice or trips on a defect on the sidewalk abutting my property sue me for failing to remove snow or ice or otherwise failing to maintain the sidewalk abutting my property so that it is safe?

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As I write this blog, the roads in Syracuse, New York and surrounding areas are deadly.  Sleet and freezing rain have been falling all day .  The roads are frozen.  My driveway in Geneva, NY is an ice skating rink.  My windshield had a thick shell of ice covering it before I rolled it into the garage.

The National Weather Service just posted that the roads in Syracuse and all the way down through Pennsylvania are likely to be “treacherous” for travel for the next 48 hours.  The National Weather Service is warning of “nearly impossible” driving conditions. They warn drivers to stay home or at least “use extreme caution, allow plenty of distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you”.

Already about a dozen Onondaga County vehicles are reported crashed or disabled likely due to the weather.

I recently flew across the Great Pond to France. I’m no stranger there. I lived there for five years in my 20’s.  So my French ain’t bad.  I also have three daughters and four grandchildren over there.  Here we are having some fun:

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While in Toulouse, my French son-in-law and father of two of my grandchildren, Fabrice, took me to a Court called the “Tribunal d’Instance”.  There’s no exact translation for this since the justice system is so different over there.  Mostly this Court processed what we would call misdemeanors and low-level felonies.   Fabrice and I sat through four legal proceedings in one afternoon for about 5 hours.

Here’s a picture of the courthouse:

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