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We are proud to announce that once again all four lawyers in the Michaels & Smolak team have been selected by other New York lawyers and New York judges for inclusion in “Best Lawyers in America”. The 2020 edition of the publication names all four partners, Lee Michaels, Jan Smolak, Mike Bersani, and Dave Kalabanka “Best Lawyers” in the Syracuse metropolitan area for representing injured plaintiffs in three categories:  Personal injury, professional malpractice and products liability. Senior partner Lee Michaels has been named in the publication for decades, and the other partners have been included since 2012.  All four lawyers have argued and tried personal injury and malpractice cases in courts all over Upstate New York, and each of them have settled or received multi-million dollar verdicts. Lee Michaels, the firm’s senior partner, says, “I am very honored that the law firm my father started decades ago is considered one of the best of the best in Upstate New York for personal injury practice.”  Dave Kalabanka, another M&S partner, responded to the news, saying, “folks who are injured through the fault of others often come to us in desperate economic circumstances, hoping we can save them from ruin. And more often than not, we do save them.  Getting justice for our clients is its own best reward.  But this continued recognition from our peers is great to have.”  M&S partner Jan Smolak noted that “being top-ranked in a publication like Best Lawyers is not only good for us, it’s good for our clients.  Our reputation breeds more success for our clients because the lawyers and insurance adjusters we are up against can see that we are tough and successful, and they are thus more likely to want to settle with us for larger amounts so as to avoid trial”. The American Lawyer magazine describes the Best Lawyers publication as “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”  All four lawyers at Michaels & Smolak are also named in “Super Lawyers”, another prestigious directory of top lawyers.

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com

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After decades of dealing with insurance adjusters in personal injury cases, this Syracuse personal injury attorney has come up with his personal list of do’s and don’ts in his dealings with them.  I published my first two rules yesterday here.  Below are the last three rules for dealing with a personal injury insurance adjuster:

Rule # 3:  Know the Medical Records Better than the Adjuster

When adjusters calls me, I often put them into voicemail so I can review the medical records and highlight the key facts before speaking to them.  I then call them back with the highlighted records in front of me.  Now I am ready to talk.  That’s because adjusters often have a “cherry-pick” method of discussing a case.  They take only selective quotes from doctors that supports their position that the injuries are not so bad.  But it won’t work with me.  I am ready to cherry-pick back at them.  The adjusters will quickly see I am no pushover and they are going to have to deal with me, and with ALL the medical records, not just their selective reading of them.  Believe me, it’s worth the effort.

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After decades of dealing with insurance adjusters in personal injury cases, this Syracuse personal injury attorney has come up with his personal list of do’s and don’ts in his dealings with them.  Check my five hard-and-fast rules here:

Rule #1:  Do Not Allow Your Client to Give a Recorded Statement

This is rule number 1.  It’s hard for me to figure out why insurance adjusters keep asking for this.  I can only assume it’s because some personal injury lawyers are dumb naïve enough to allow them.  The adjusters try to sell the recorded interview by telling you that, once they have it, the case is more likely to settle.  They will say it will help them assess liability and your client’s credibility.  As long as your client is truthful, what have you got to lose?

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As a New York personal injury lawyer, I know that words are weapons.  When I prepare to try a personal injury lawsuit, I arm myself with the word-weapons I will parade before the jury.  They are arrows in my quiver.  I carefully pick them, and fine tune, and then deploy them.  I am the general, the commander, and they are my infantry, my soldiers. Below I will give you some examples of how I choose and deploy my soldiers for battle.

But before I do, let me tell you that words are also my enemies.  Certain words will forever be banned from my trial lexicon.  The prime example is the word “accident”.  Whether my client was injured in a car collision, or in a scaffold collapse, or slipped and fell in a supermarket, you can sit through the entire trial and never hear the word “accident” spill out of my lips.  I will never say “car accident”.  I will say “collision” or “crash”.

Why?  The whole premise of a personal injury trial is that the plaintiff’s horrific injuries were no “accident” at all.  They were caused by the NEGLIGENCE or CARELESSNESS of the defendant.  The word “accident” implies that no one is to blame.  An accident simply happens.  In popular jargon, this is expressed as , “s_ _ _ happens”.  The whole point of my personal injury trial is to prove that s_ _ _ did not just “happen”.  Rather, the defendant MADE it happen by CHOOSING to cut corners, not pay attention, allow himself to be distracted, or whatever.

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This Syracuse New York personal injury lawyer loves to travel all over the world.  I find other cultures and places fascinating.  Last year I went to Japan.  And this year it was Egypt, Jordan and Israel.  (Just got back last week).  See some pics I took above.

When I travel, because of what I do for a living, I can’t help noticing how other societies organize and structure their safety rules. I’m always on the lookout for dangerous conditions and am impressed when I see really safe practices. For example, in Japan I was impressed how pedestrians would wait for their light to turn green even when there was no motor vehicle anywhere near the intersection.  I went right ahead and crossed if there was nothing coming.  Made no sense to me to wait. The Japanese must have thought I was just another crazed foreigner.  The Japanese seem obsessed with safety, cleanliness and rule-following.  That’s probably one reason they live longer than any other people on the planet. Their average life expectancy is over 83 years.  Ours is only 78.

Egypt was another story.  I spent a few days in Cairo, a ramshackle city of 22,000,0000 people. It’s a fascinating place with thousands of years of history.  The people are friendly, the food delicious and the sites incredible. But safety?  Not a lot of emphasis on that.  For example, there are almost no rules for crossing the street.  I walked all over Cairo, and rarely did I see a crosswalk (and even then, motorists paid no attention to them).  So how do you cross a street in Cairo?  When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  Here is a video I took of my wife, Alejandra, and I braving a stream of Cairene motorists:

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At Michaels & Smolak, we all wear our seatbelts, everywhere, every time we are in a car, whether we ride in the back or the front. Hey, as Syracuse car accident lawyers, what would you expect?  We’ve handled many cases where we believe even backseat belts have saved lives or reduced injuries.   We’ve also represented families of several unrestrained backseat passengers who were killed or seriously injury and who we believe would have survived or suffered less serious injuries had they been restrained.  According to AAA statistics, unrestrained rear-seat passengers involved in crashes are eight times more likely to be seriously injured and three times more likely to be killed.

So that’s why we support the new bill, likely to become law in New York, requiring backseat passengers to buckle up.  The current law requires only front seat occupants to wear seatbelts, and those in the back seat who are under 16 years old.

New Yorkers will not be alone in being required to buckle up in back.  Twenty-nine other States already have a buckle-up-in-back law.

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As a finger lakes boat accident lawyer and boating enthusiast, I try to keep up on boating law developments.  Well, there’s a big development coming down the pipes:  A bill is sitting on the Governor’s desk that will require all owners and operators of motorized boats (including jet skis) to take a NY State certified boating safety course. The current law says that only those born after May 1, 1996 have to take the boating safety course.

When the proposed new law says “alloperators and owners of boats, it really does mean all, no matter how old, no matter how long they have owned or operated a boat.  Are you 93 and been boating for 73 of those years?  You still would have to take the course! The new proposed law is called “Brianna’s Law” in honor of Brianna Lieneck, an 11-year-old victim of a boating accident.  Most legal experts think the Governor will sign the bill.  If so, it will take effect on January 1, 2020.  The good news is that the course can be taken online, though it can also be taken in a classroom setting.

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Becky Kinney                                                           Michel Tortorello

This Syracuse/Auburn NY injury lawyer is proud of his staff!  Before I tell you why, let me give you a little background.

First, working in a New York personal injury firm, whether in the Syracuse area or elsewhere, is stressful.  Litigation can be intense.  The pressure to get papers out on time, and in perfect order, is sometimes overwhelming.  When an attorney is about to go to trial, reams of binders, exhibits, and copies must be produced.  And you know who gets stuck with all that hard work?  The lawyers?  Hell no!  Staff.  And who has to deal with a stressed-out-on-edge lawyer?  Staff.

thumbs-up-e1558988680142-200x300I get calls and emails all the time from people seeking a New York personal injury lawyer.  One of the first questions I ask them is, “have you talked to any other lawyers”?  Often the answer is yes.  That’s a bad sign.  I am usually going to turn that case down. If other New York personal injury lawyers have rejected the case, chances are there were good reasons.

So my next question is:  “Why did those other lawyers turn your case down”?  Common answer:  “They said I have a good case but they are too busy to take it”.  Yes, many lawyers will claim they are “too busy” to take a case to avoid having to explain to a caller what is wrong with their case.  “Too busy” is just two words.  It takes two seconds.  Explaining why the case is no good involves a dialogue and some explaining.  Most lawyers don’t have the patience for this so they opt for the “too-busy” excuse.

At my law firm, we are different.  When we turn a case down, it is never because we are “too busy”.  No New York personal injury lawyer in his right mind would turn down a case for that reason.  In our view, it is dishonest to turn a case down for that reason.  If it is a good case, any New York personal injury lawyer worth his salt will take it.  A lawyer is never “too busy” to take a good case, only a bad case.

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Not trying to brag or boast or “holier-than-Thou” anyone, but I just need to say how proud I am to be part of a personal injury law firm that doesn’t see money as the be-all-and-end-all of the practice of law.  And yes, there are plenty of personal injury firms that do.  Not us.  Not Michaels & Smolak.  We are damn good at what we do, second to none, in the personal injury litigation field.  Our results are outstanding.  Look us up.  Ask around.  You’ll see. But besides being damn good at what we do, we also try to be just plain “good”.  And sometimes folks notice and we end up getting awards for it.  Like the one in these recent photos:

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Call us old-fashioned, but we still see the practice of law as a service, not just a money-making machine.  We treat each client as a human being, whether their case is large or small, whether we stand to make lots, or little, or no money at all representing them.  I mean this when I say it – it is NOT about the money.  It is about helping people.  I won’t lie – we make a good living at this.  But the money not only allows us to live comfortably and bring up our families in financial security, it also allows us to give more back to our communities.

Helping our injured clients is not enough.  There are many people of limited means who need legal help for reasons other than having suffered injuries.  That’s why a couple of times a month, at prearranged times, our lawyers sit at Auburn’s public library for two-hour stretches to give completely free legal advice to any stranger who shows up.  It’s called the “Volunteer Lawyers Project”.  The program is well publicized in Cayuga County, where our main office sits, so we get plenty of takers.  If we can’t help the folks who walk in to see us because their problem is not in our wheel house, we figure out how to get them to cheap or free legal help elsewhere.  If we can help them, we do.

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