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Articles Posted in Insurance

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Most New York State counties, including Monroe, Onondaga, and all the counties in between, have a law on their books which allows the county public health commissioner to issue an order for involuntary isolation if an individual disobeys a quarantine request and is believed to be an immediate threat to public health.  And the counties are not shy to enforce the law.  Example:  One of my brothers, who lives in Auburn, New York, developed Coronavirus symptoms a few weeks ago.  The Onondaga County Health Department ordered him to get the test (which he willingly did) and then ordered him quarantined in his home until the test results came back (7 days later).  Fortunately, he tested negative, but a County Health Inspector stopped by his house two times a day to make sure he was not leaving the home.  If they had found he had “flown the coop”, they likely would have issued an order for his arrest.

Here’s an even better example:  A Monroe County resident with Covid-19 symptoms, who refused testing, and then disobeyed a Monroe County Department of Public Health civil order to quarantine himself, was arrested and jailed recently in a County jail in Brighton, New York.   He has been isolated from other inmates to prevent COVID-19 spread.

Assuming this selfish and anti-social person passed the virus onto others, who got very sick or died, can his victims or their families sue him for money damages in New York?  That’s our New York personal injury law question for today.

IMG_0168-300x225 IMG_0172-225x300Like almost everyone else on Planet Earth, this Syracuse NY injury lawyer has been holed up at home, hunkering down against the pandemic.  My home is in Geneva, NY, which is a pretty nice place to be locked down.  People here are looking out for each other.  I’ve joined a group of corona virus fighters at a local church preparing cheap and even free meals for folks on the weekend.  Can you guess which one in the above photos is me?

My “real” job, though, is not on standstill.  In fact, my laptop keyboard is getting quite a workout:  I have been conducting online research, shooting out emails to adjusters and defense lawyers, preparing legal briefs, etc.  My cell phone has also been working overtime:  Insurance adjusters are still working (from home) so I have been trying to settle cases with them. I have also been catching up with clients on the status of their medical treatment.

The court system, however, is frozen solid, at least in the civil arena.  All motions, court filings, trials, etc. are suspended.  My calendar is just about empty.  And that does give me some extra time for reading and writing.

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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.

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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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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):

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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.

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This morning I was at the radio studios of Finger Lakes Radio Group in Geneva, New York.  They wanted to interview me about my new book, “Understanding Your New York Personal Injury Claim“.  Geneva’s station – WVGA – ran the interview live.  It’s sister station in Auburn, NY  – WAUB – will run it at a later date.

It was fun to be on the radio again.  Ted Baker is an excellent interviewer.  He has interviewed me several other times about my volunteer work for the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva.  He made me feel right at ease and asked very on-point questions about my book.  For example, he asked me:

Why did you write the book?

money-doctor-300x200I just read a disturbing article in the New York Times about a large-scale personal injury insurance scam in New York City.  It works like this:  A gang of fraudsters lines up “scouts” to go into poor neighborhoods in search of people willing to “fake” accidents and injuries in exchange for money.  The “victims” are then coached on how to fake both the accidents and the injuries.  Suitably trained, they then “fall” in potholes, deliberately trip outside of restaurants or other businesses, or crash cars.  The fake accident victims then visit doctors whose pockets are also being lined with the fraud ring’s money.  The dishonest doctors then “treat” the “patients” for broken bones or internal injuries that do not exist, and of course keep copious records of all the “treatment” they provide.  The doctors even go so far as performing unnecessary medical procedures to bump up the settlement value of the injury.

The five men who orchestrated this particular scam have now been indicted.  The indictment alleges that the scam lasted for five years and cost insurance carriers about $30 million.

This is the kind of dishonesty that gives New York personal injury lawyers, and personal injury victims, a bad name.  And this is the kind of news article that jury members I empanel will have in mind when I am presenting a legitimate personal injury case to them for a seriously and legitimately injured victim.  Unfortunately, juries have to wonder whether my client, and perhaps even I, am trying to pull the wool over their eyes.  And a lot of it is the fault of scammers like these guys.

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.”

insurance-claim-form-300x200 New York State lawmakers and Governor Cuomo just delivered New Yorkers a Christmas present.  Today Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Supplementary Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (SUM) bill, also known as the “Driver and Family Protection Act.” This important piece of legislation will protect New Yorkers statewide who are involved in auto accidents.

I know what you are thinking (if you have even read this far).  Supplemental what?  SUM what?  What the hell are you talking about?  Click.  I’m out of here . . .

But wait.  Don’t surf past this blog post just yet. I promise I will answer these questions:  What is SUM, why was it a problem, and how did New York State just fix it?  Read on, friend.

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