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My last blog post described how I got whacked by a hit-and-run driver and then chased him down.  You can read that blog post here.  Some of my readers commented that I was a stubborn fool for pursuing him at fairly high speeds on a snowy day.  I agree.  As it turns out, though, my stubbornness may have paid off and made the roads safer for my fellow motorists in Wayne, Seneca and Ontario Counties.  Read on to find out how!

As I explained in my prior post, I kept up my hot pursuit until the 911 operator asked me to cease it.  But by then I had at least gotten his license plate number and several pictures of his tan-colored Chevy pickup truck.  Seneca County law enforcement now knew who owned the vehicle, a Lyons NY resident.  Here’s one of the pictures I snapped of the offending vehicle while on the chase:

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After I posted my blog, several of my readers from the Geneva area tipped me off about Facebook postings they had seen describing a similar tan-colored pickup truck deliberately rear-ending folks. Could this be the same guy?

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This Central New York car accident lawyer was involved in a hit-and-run and a wild chase.  So buckle up and follow my story!

Last Tuesday morning, I was heading east on Route 318 through the Town of Tyre, Seneca County, NY, my usual route to get from my home in Geneva to my office in Auburn.  I had been following a slow-moving tractor trailer on the slippery, snow-covered road.  The tractor trailer was going 55 miles per hour.  A rust-colored pickup truck trailed me.  The tractor trailer then moved into the left-turn lane at the intersection with Route 414 to turn left toward the Thruway.   I slowed down to about 30 mph behind the tractor trailer as it moved into the left-turn lane.  I kept going straight through the green light.  Just after I passed through the intersection, I glanced up  and noticed the rust-colored pickup truck growing large – quickly — in my rear-view mirror.  I knew I was going to get wacked, and hard, so I braced for it.

Here’s a google map showing the approximate location of where I got rear-ended:

Last night my wife Alejandra and I attended the Geneva YMCA’s fundraiser, the “Frost Fest”, at Three Brothers Winery right along the eastern shores of Seneca Lake.  Here is a photo of us sitting on the ice thrown:

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Yes, lots of beautiful ice carvings.  And lots of other great stuff to see and do.  Local wine, beer and restaurant tastings and to top it all off a huge fireworks display.

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And notice the beautiful moon-lit evening:

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On January 28 of this Year New York’s legislative bodies put the final touches on the “Child Victims Act”.  This is HUGE.  The new law will extend the statute of limitations for suing both sexual predators and anyone who negligently allowed the abuse to take place, including institutions such as schools, little leagues, boy scouts, counties who place children in foster care, churches, temples, and virtually anyone who knew or should have known of the abuse but did not do what they should have done to prevent it.

The previous statute of limitations was 23-years-of-age.  Now it’s 55.  But if the childhood victim is now older than 23 years of age, and his or her statute of limitations was thus expired before this new law passed, there is only a short window of time to sue:  from August 14 of 2019 through February 14, 2020.

Until this law took effect, New York lawyers had only two words to say to a victim of childhood sex abuse who wanted to bring a claim after his or her 23rd birthday:  “Too late”.  Now those two words will be:  “Sign here”.

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As a longstanding NY personal injury lawyer, I have seen my clients’ right to privacy disintegrate over the years.  And just when I thought it could not get much worse, it got worse. Let me tell you about it.

First, though, a little background. When you sue for personal injuries, you give up some of your privacy.  The insurance company lawyer has a right to pry into your medical records, at least to the extent they are relevant to the injuries you are claiming from the accident.  So if you are claiming a broken right arm, for example, they have a right to scour through any medical records related to your right arm, whether from before or after the accident.  But they would not have the right to look at records for treatment unrelated to that arm.  You don’t give up all your privacy, just that much of your privacy that is related to the injuries you are claiming.

Now, if you are claiming that your injuries have hampered your lifestyle – as they often do – and that you can no longer do certain things you used to do, the insurance company lawyers can try to uncover evidence that you are either lying or exaggerating your disability.  For example, they can have investigators secretly trail you and try to catch you – on camera – performing activities you claim you can’t do.

Happy New Year’s readers!   In my last blog I talked about my New Year’s plan to volunteer on a week-long assignment in an immigrant detention center near the Texas-Mexico border. I was to help asylum seekers advance their claims.  Not really in my wheelhouse, since I am a New York personal injury lawyer.  But I speak Spanish, and am married to a Guatemalan, and wanted to help out with all the Central Americans claiming asylum on our border right now.  I am writing now to report that my efforts were successful.  Here is an article by a reporter at the Finger Lakes Times about my journey.  Thanks for reading!

Mike Bersani

BORDERLINE: PART II: Freedom fighter

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Merry Christmas everyone!  Hope you all enjoy this holiday season.  Like most of you, I will be spending Christmas with family and friends.  But come the New Year, I will be spending a week with complete strangers.  Here’s my story:

I will be a volunteer lawyer on a week-long assignment in an immigrant detention center near the Texas-Mexico border. I will be helping asylum seekers advance their claims. I will help them present evidence that they have a credible or reasonable fear of returning home because their safety or lives are threatened there. The fear cannot be simply economic. It has to be a fear of persecution based on their ethnicity, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

It’s not an easy claim to win.  As anyone who follows the news knows, our borders are now crowded with refugees, mostly from Central America.  Some politicians have painted these refugees as evil.  Although there may be a criminal here and there in the group, the vast majority of refugees consist of simple, poor, and desperate families seeking safe harbor.  And unfortunately for them, most of their asylum claims will fall on deaf ears.  Their “reasonable fear” of returning home will not fit within the narrow confines of asylum law.

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Most lawyers, whether they make their living representing personal injury victims or others, have a few heroes who inspire them to fight the good fight, to go above and beyond, and to be courageous warriors for their cause.  We at Michaels & Smolak are no different.  So let us tell you about one of our heroes, George Michaels.

To tell the George Michaels story, we need to take a walk through the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center (located right next to the historic William H. Seward museum and about a mile from the Harriet Tubman home, in our home town of Auburn, New York), which had its grand opening on November 13, 2018. The Center celebrates New York State’s progressive history of promoting social and equal rights by luminaries such as Harriet Tubman.

As we start our tour, the first thing we see is a seven-and-a-half-foot commemorative statue of Harriet Tubman, which adorns the entrance.

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We are proud to announce that U.S. News & World Report  has once again honored Michaels & Smolak with its “first tier” ranking in its “Best Lawyers in America” listings for personal injury litigation firms in the Syracuse, New York metropolitan area. In the 2019 edition, just as past editions, the firm was ranked “first-tier” in the categories of both “personal injury” and “product liability”.

These days, personal injury trial lawyers like us are bombarded with letters and “announcements” notifying us that we have been selected as part of an “elite group” of trial lawyers.  These letters go on to tout the very “stringent requirements” that attorneys must meet in order to qualify for the elite listing.  Only a very small percentage of lawyers, the letters say, have been selected.  And guess what?  YOU have been selected!

There’s only one hitch:  You have to pay for it.  These type of “award” or “honor” letters almost always end with a sentence like this: “to have your name registered as a member of this select group of top attorneys, simply make payment of (a few hundred dollars) to ____”.

scaffold-300x200If you walk into a Syracuse, New York pub on a Friday at 5:20,  and you happen upon a group of personal injury lawyers having an end-of-the-week beer, you might hear them rant about how unfair some New York personal injury laws are.  For example, unlike most States, New York does not allow the immediate family of a wrongful death victim to receive compensation for their grief and heartache at losing their loved one, even if that loved one is a child.  A millionaire drunk driver ran over your thee year old?  Tough luck, mom.  Was he supporting you economically?  Of course not, so you don’t get economic loss recovery.  So what if he was the most important thing to you in the whole world, and your life has been destroyed by losing him.  No compensation for your grief!  You might settle that case for a few thousand dollars, but not the millions it is really worth. Very unfair!

But New York personal injury law has its upside, too.  For example, unlike any other state, New York has something called “the scaffold law”, also known as Labor Law section 240.  That law allows construction workers and others who fall from heights – and  in some cases upon whom objects fall — to get full compensation for their injuries.  This compensation goes far beyond mere workers’ compensation.  The injured fallen worker can sue the general contractor and owner of the construction project for real money, including pain and suffering compensation.  Usually, the case will involve a ladder or scaffold that failed, but can also involve a worker falling because he was not provided with adequate fall protection, such as a harness or barrier.

But here’s the real kicker, and here’s why New York construction accident lawyers like me just love Labor Law section 240:  The injured worker gets fully compensated even if the fall from the height was partially his own fault, as long as Labor Law section 240 was violated.  And Labor Law section 240 is violated almost anytime a construction worker falls from a height, whether because the ladder or scaffold or harness failed, or because such safety devices were not provided, or because proper barriers were not in place.

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