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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.

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:

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:

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:

I 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.

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:

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.

And notice the beautiful moon-lit evening:

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.

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.

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.

I hate to break it to you, but despite all the cute auto insurance ads on TV, insurance companies are not “nice guys”.  At least not if you were injured through the negligence of their insured.  You have to understand this very important fact right from the get-go:  In personal injury litigation, insurance companies are not your friend.  They are not a “good neighbor”.  They are not a cute little lizard.  They are not “by your side”.  You are not in “good hands” with them.  They are a business.  Their business is to pay you as little as possible on your claim so they can yield a bigger profit.

Case in point:  Last week I settled a case for a woman who fell off a horse at a local riding stable during a riding lesson in upstate New York (near Syracuse).  It was her first time on a horse. The saddle spun around while she tried to mount, throwing her to the ground, where she suffered a serious femur fracture.  Turns out she weighed more than the saddle setup could handle. The stable owners knew it, but failed to warn her.  Here was the original position the insurance company took (you need to click the image to read it):

After we got that letter, we sued  the stable owners.  We then took the deposition testimony of the owners and witnesses.  The insurance company lawyers then asked the trial judge to toss out our case because our client had “assumed the risk” of horse riding lessons, and had signed the waiver.  The trial judge dismissed our case.   We then appealed to the appellate court in Rochester, New York, got the trial judge reversed, and the case reinstated.  Last week, at a mediation, we settled the case for $130,000, which by the way was the amount of money we always thought the case was worth.

Yesterday there were lots of smiles on the sidewalk of East Genesee Street, Auburn, NY, just outside the office of Michaels & Smolak.   The reason?  Our back-to-school backpack giveaway.  We loaded up the new backpacks with all kinds of school goodies and supplies.  Live radio coverage was provided by Mix 98.5.  For a full hour they came, lined up, chose their backpack, and left with a smile.  Most takers were single parents or grandparents with their kids.  It was so great to see smiling kids pick out their backpacks.  Shout out to Catholic Charity volunteer Ellen Wayne and Angelo DiAngelo of Angelo’s Pizzeria (free pizza)! Check out our photos below:

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

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