Articles Posted in General

law-360-300x182I recently posted a blog about New York’s top Court’s recent ruling that New York personal injury plaintiffs can win “summary judgment” against defendants without proving that the plaintiff was blameless for his own injury.  The rule previously, in most courts, was that the plaintiff could not get summary judgment without first proving that he or she was blameless. You can read that earlier blog here.

Since the blog was posted, Law360, and online legal newspaper of national renown, interviewed me about the case.  The article’s headline is:  “NY High Court’s Injury Ruling Could Spark Fast Settlements”.  The article quotes me as follows:

Michael Bersani, a personal injury plaintiffs lawyer for Michaels & Smolak PC in Syracuse, New York, said it has been in insurance companies’ best interests to stall litigation given their considerable resources. But if liability is already established, then a 9 percent interest rate on a potential $1 million verdict would glean $90,000 annually, he said. “It makes the plaintiff comfortable and makes the insurance companies very uncomfortable,” Bersani said. “If the insurance adjuster knows I’m going to get a verdict, they have much more incentive to get it resolved early and get it settled.” Bersani said the ruling will also help injured clients obtain third-party litigation funding in order to pay for daily living expenses. “Some plaintiffs are poor, and to wait out their case they have to borrow money from third-party lenders,” said Bersani, who noted that many can’t work due to their injuries and often run out of disability insurance funds. “Once you get a finding of liability, it’s easier to get a third-party lender at a better rate,” he said. “If I have an iffy case and can’t get a lender, if I get summary judgment, then it makes it a lot easier because the lender knows there will be money coming in and will get paid.”

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Michaels & Smolak has several connections with the Auburn Maroons hockey team: (1) We are financial & broadcast supporters; (2) our law partner Dave Kalabanka is the father of goalie Jack Kalabanka; and (3) we love to win in Court just like the Maroons love to win on the ice!

And now we have even another reason to be proud of “our boys”: On Monday evening, at the Onondaga County War Memorial, Auburn defeated Clinton Warriors 5-1 to take the Division II section 3 final. Among the hundreds of exuberant Auburn players and fans who filled the ice in pan-demonic celebration were M&S partners Dave Kalabanka (proud father!) and Jan Smolak (proud supporter!).

“I’m just ecstatic to see this team make it this far” said Dave Kalabanka. “I have followed these kids for years. I know their capabilities. There is so much potential to be harnessed. I don’t think they realize just how good they can be with the right focus. They are a great bunch of kids. They are everything we want our kids to be: Hard-working, dedicated, spirited, respectful of each other, and with a never-give-up attitude.  They so deserve this win!”

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Since I am a New York personal injury lawyer, you might think I never met a personal injury case I didn’t like.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I reject more injury cases than I take.  One reason I reject so many is that injuries are often caused by no one but the injured.  They sometimes try to blame others when there is no one to blame but themselves.  When that happens, obviously, there is no one to sue.

One thing I have learned in this profession is that, if there is a way to get hurt, some people will find it.  Mostly guys.   Some guys just live kind of dangerously. And I am one of those guys.

I have gotten injured through my own male stupidity many times.  Here’s one more to add to my long, painful record.

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Everyone knows you can get injured when you get into a motor vehicle, operate dangerous equipment, or climb up on a scaffold at a work site.  The risk of a serious physical trauma (impact) is inherent in all those activities.  I have represented countless victims of such accidents.

But sometimes big injuries can also result from small traumas.  For example, I once had a client who suffered a serious injury when one of those drive-thru bank teller windows closed on her hand as she was reaching in for her money.  The glass window closed on her hand fairly slowly, and only bruised her hand.  But the bank customer later developed a very serious injury known as RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy), also known as complex regional pain syndrome, a rare disorder of the sympathetic nervous system characterized by chronic, severe, permanent pain.

Who would have thought that such a minor trauma could cause such a serious condition? Even so, under principles of New York injury law, if we could prove that the bank teller negligently closed the window on my client’s hand, my client was entitled to full compensation for her RSD.

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Seeking rescue.

A few weeks ago, a group of Florida teens saw a disabled man drowning in a local pond. Not only did they fail to take any steps to rescue him or call for help, they instead taunted, mocked, and ridiculed him.  How do we know?  They filmed it and posted it online (warning, it is disturbing to watch and hear)

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A delicious home made salsa pico de gallo with tomato, red onion, lime, cilantro, and jalapeno pepper.

People often ask me, “Mike, what kinds of NY personal injury cases do you take”?  My answer is simple:  Cases I can win.  I don’t mind if they are tough to win, but at least they must be winnable.  I want to help my clients, and taking an unwinnable case does the client no favor.  Tough for me to get paid on unwinnable cases, too, since I operate almost exclusively on a contingency fee basis.

Funny that no one ever asks me what kind of cases I don’t take.  Glad you asked.  I just read about a case that is the poster child for a case I would not take:  A Texas entrepreneur, Henry Riojas, recently sued a tortilla manufacturer claiming bad tortilla chips caused him to have a stroke.

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Love affairs are tantalizing, but dangerous.  I know because I have been involved in such a love affair for well over a decade.  The object of my affection is not a person.  It is a thing.  And what a lovely thing it is: Email!

Email has revolutionized my New York personal injury practice.  Before email, I would get back to the office from a day in court and have dozens of phone calls to return, and to make.  Ever since I got email on my smart phone (about 10 years ago?) that hardly ever happens.  My smart phone is always on me and I can read and respond to my clients’ inquiries while standing in the Deli line or while sitting in court waiting to argue my case. What a time saver!

Email, I love you.

billboard-300x225Every picture tells a story.  The photo above is no exception.  So sit back and listen to the story of this photo.  You won’t be disappointed (I hope).

The photo above accompanied an article on the front page of the Auburn Citizen yesterday.  The article was about the billboard.  Recognize those guys in the billboard?  Yup, that’s us.  In our one and only billboard.

Before I tell you the story behind the billboard, let me tell you why we have only one billboard.  Generally, we under-spend our rivals on advertising by a long shot.  That’s because we get most of our cases from our network of referring lawyers and prior clients who love our results.  We don’t need to advertise as much as those other guys.  But we do like to get our name out there a little.

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For years now I have made it my goal to clearly explain even the most complex concepts of the New York personal injury claim process to my clients.  And over the years I’ve gotten very good at it.  I love it when my clients call me bewildered and confused with a question about their claim, and five minutes later say, “now I get it, Mike, thanks“.  Some have even said, “hey Mike, you ought to write a book”!

But I didn’t really want to write a book.  I was too busy representing my many clients injured in New York accidents.  So instead I looked online and in book stores for a book that would explain what all my clients should know about their New York State personal injury claims process.

Guess what.  I didn’t find one.  (Well, there were some, but they were either inadequate or just plain wrong.)

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Unlike in past presidential elections, “tort reform” is not a hotly debated issue this time around.  Nevertheless, for a New York personal injury lawyer like myself, whose firm is currently representing hundreds of injured tort victims, it is an extremely important issue.  I therefore decided to research how the four main presidential candidates (Trump, Cruz, Clinton and Sanders) feel about so-called “tort reform”. (Note:  Those in favor of limiting injured victims’ rights in court invented the term “tort reform”, but since I don’t think our tort laws need “reforming”, and I think that denying victims their day in court is a bad idea, I would rather call it “tort deform“.  I recognize, however, that most people won’t know what I’m talking about if I call it “tort deform“, so I will — unwillingly — call it “tort reform” just like they do.)

Donald Trump:  Although many or even most of Trump’s supporters would probably support tort reform, Trump himself is no enemy of lawsuits.  In fact, he is one of the most free-wheeling lawsuit filers on the planet. He often uses lawsuits to force settlements or to stop people from saying things about him that he does not like. For example:

  • He threatened to sue Ted Cruz if he did not remove a campaign ad where Trump is shown in a 1999 interview claiming he was “very pro-choice.”

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