Articles Posted in Lawyer Ethics

Syracuse area lawyers received two black eyes this weekend. The Syracuse Post Standard reports that a Syracuse bankruptcy lawyer, Christopher Chadick, was convicted of defrauding many of his clients. He was found guilty of one of the oldest switch-and-bate tricks in the book — taking a customer’s money up front and then failing to deliver the product. In his case, he took retainer fees to file bankruptcy petitions and then didn’t do the work and didn’t return the money, either.

In a separate case, a Baldwinsville lawyer, David Pelland, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for conspiring to commit mail fraud. The facts are someone complicated, so I won’t go into them here. What struck me about this case, though, was that this is Pellard’s second felony conviction — he was convicted in 1994 for concealment of bankruptcy assets. I guess some folks never learn.

As a fellow lawyer, I take these stories to heart. Lawyers — especially personal injury lawyers like myself — already suffer from a negative public image rivaled only by used car salesmen and politicians. (A letter directed to the editor of a local newspaper from an insurance industry professional not long ago referred to us as “bottom feeders”.) More bad publicity for lawyers is not needed.

I’ve got a “fan”! She called yesterday and told me she had subscribed to my Central New York personal injury lawyer blog a few months ago and enjoys reading my posts. She thinks I write nicely, clearly, and my posts help her understand New York personal injury law. She even forwards some of my blog posts to her friends and family. Nice compliment!

But that’s not why she called. She wanted advice. Before subscribing to my blog, she had hired a Syracuse New York personal injury lawyer to represent her for injuries she had suffered in an accident. She had some questions about how this lawyer was handling her case. She wanted to hire me to give her a second opinion. I told her I would not charge her. We then talked for about 10 minutes. I eased her mind about how her lawyer is handling her case. Her lawyer is doing a fine job, and his only shortcoming was perhaps a failure to explain clearly certain aspects of the case to her. She was grateful to me. I made a new friend!

Unfortunately, some New York personal injury lawyers would have seized on this opportunity to “bad-mouth” the client’s lawyer so they could take over the case. That’s not right, and not fair. Her Syracuse personal injury lawyer is a darn good one. And he is doing a darn good job, I am sure. I am not so conceited to think that Michaels Bersani Kalabanka is the only excellent Central or Syracuse New York personal injury law firm. (But, if you ask anyone who knows, you will hear we are among the best!)

Yesterday I blogged about tCentral and Syracuse New York personal injury law firm, has a list of judges they feel favor the insurance companies and corporations over their injured clients. It’s not that they intend to favor them; it’s just in their blood. For whatever reason, they are by nature less sympathetic to injured plaintiffs and more sympathetic to the corporations and insurance companies being sued. Those judges seem to pretty consistently rule in favor of corporate and insurance company defendants, and against the injured plaintiff, at least on close calls.

What if we, at the personal injury law firm of Michaels Bersani Kalabanka, wanted to disqualify those judges from hearing our injured clients’ cases? Under this new rule, all we would have to do is donate $2,500 every two years to the re-election campaigns of each of the perceived “bad” judges on our list. Those judges would then always be precluded from hearing our cases. By default, our cases will be assigned only to judges to whom we haven’t contributed $2,500, that is, the good judges, the ones we like. Ironically, we would get the “good” judges we want for our cases by funding only the “bad” ones’ re-elections.

I am sure this is not what the rule-makers had in mind when they made this rule. But is it too far-fetched to think that some lawyers will make the rule work in their favor by funding the campaigns of judges they don’t want to appear in front of? I think not.

Being a Central and Syracuse New York accident lawyer requires me to subpoena Central New Yorkers to testify many, many times a year. Sometimes I even have to subpoena children. Tomorrow I will take the subpoenaed deposition testimony of several child-witnesses to my child-client’s Seneca County New York personal injury case. I served a subpoena on their parents notifying them that they were required to bring their child to my office to give testimony on the matter. That must have been quite a shock to them!

I certainly don’t relish putting a family through the stress of a subpoena and then a deposition, but sometimes I can’t avoid it. I have a duty to represent my client diligently, and in this case that means finding out what these child-witnesses know, and making a record (called a transcript) of it.

On the other hand, for the kids it’s probably not so bad. (“Cool — I get out of school for the morning!”) The parents, though, are probably kind of worried (“what the hell do they want my kid to testify for — did he do something wrong?”)

I have been a Central and Syracuse New York personal injury lawyer for many years now. So I have been around the block a few times. I am steeped in our civil justice system. And I have news for you: It works just fine. It ain’t broken, so don’t fix it. No “tort reform” needed, thank you.

Here’s an example of how our civil justice system automatically weeds out frivolous lawsuits without the need for tort reform.

The other day I went to visit a farmer whose arm had recently been ripped off by a piece of farm equipment. I went to inspect the machine to see if the manufacturer was to blame. If the design was unreasonably dangerous, and the dangerous machine caused the accident, the farmer would have had a good New York products liability claim to compensate him to the tune of several million dollars.

As a Central and Syracuse New York personal injury lawyer who takes on only legitimate accident claims, I resent, despise, disown, and spit-in-the-general-direction of all frivolous personal injury lawyers and their frivolous lawsuits. They give my bonafide injury lawsuits a bad name. And they give all legitimate personal injury lawyers a bad name.

Yes, I hate frivolous claims, but I also dislike so-called “tort-reformers”. Most of them have self-interest at heart; they work for or represent big insurance companies or businesses who stand to gain by taking away the little guys’ right to hold big business liable in court for their careless safety shortcuts that injury innocent people. To dupe the public into believing our time-tested tort law is a problem, they blow out of proportion the very few “frivolous lawsuits” that are filed, and try to convince the public that all or nearly all, personal injury lawsuits are frivolous.

So, since I despise frivolous lawsuits, and I also dislike tort-reformers, I should doubly despise and dislike frivolous personal injury lawsuits filed by tort reformers, right? What? A tort reformer filing a frivolous accident lawsuit? Yes, you heard me. An editorial in the New York Daily News the other day criticized conservative Republican New York State Senator James Alesi, a self-proclaimed “tort-reformer” (he represents the Monroe County towns of Chili, East Rochester, Henrietta, Irondequoit, Mendon, Penfield, Perinton, Pittsford, Riga, Rush and Wheatland, and portions of the City of Rochester) for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

When you are injured and can’t work and don’t have any income, life gets ugly fast. You can’t pay bills, so bill collectors hound you. You have to say “no” to all those little extras for the kids. You might even end up losing your home to the bank in a foreclosure action.

And when you have a pending lawsuit against the negligent person or company that injured you and caused all these losses, and your New York personal injury lawyer says you should eventually get a nice settlement or money judgment, you want to reach out into the future and grab some of that money now, to pull yourself back up above water.

So when a lawsuit lending company offers you a loan that you only have to pay back when and if your New York personal injury lawsuit settles or you get a monetary judgment, it seems like a life-line.

It’s nice to win. And this Central and Syracuse New York personal injury and wrongful death lawyer recently won an appeal for the widow of a wrongful death victim in a Syracuse wrongful death lawsuit. The case is about a tragic accidental death that got extensive news coverage all over New York State. I have received phone calls from lawyers from other parts of the country about this case. Some have asked me for copies of my arguments (Brief) in the appeal.

What’s the case about? I am not at liberty to discuss the facts of the case in this blog for reasons I will explain below.

But first let me tell you that this was the second time the appellate court reversed the trial court in this case. Each time, the trial court had thrown my case out, and each time the Appellate Court reversed and reinstated it. I am sure the trial judge did the best he could each time. But the case involves difficult, novel New York wrongful death legal issues, and even I did not know how the Appellate Court would resolve them. I feel fortunate to have won, twice now. And guess what. A third trial court decision is coming, and after that, a third appeal. How do I know? Well, I know I will appeal if I lose, and the defendants will do the same if they lose. It is a big case. Both sides are giving it all they’ve got, fighting tooth and nail.

Honest New York personal injury lawyers like myself abhor dishonest personal injury claimants. They give our honest clients, and us, a bad name. Many people already assume, wrongly, that personal injury claimants exaggerate or completely fake their injuries. One true story about a fraudulent personal injury claim gives the whole profession a black eye.

I have represented hundreds of Central New York and Syracuse personal injury claimants over the years, and I can count on one hand those who were faking (and with my long experience representing personal injury victims, I can tell!). When I discover the deceit, I quickly sever the relationship. Even if I did not discover the deceit, the personal injury claim process would eventually, in almost all cases, reveal it. An insurance carrier’s thorough investigation, or the harsh light of a deposition, usually brings the lie into focus.

In my experience, most personal injury fakers are also stupid. And dishonesty mixed with stupidity can easily backfire. Here’s a good example:

Insurance companies love to snoop. They want to dig up all the dirt they can on you. They think that if they know everything about you, they will eventually unearth something they can use to torpedo your case.

For example, both federal and New York State law give you a right to medical privacy. Just because you are injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, and you sue them, doesn’t mean you give up that right. But many insurance companies act as if this gives them a right to find out everything about your medical history. Whether my client is the victim of New York medical malpractice, a slip-and-fall case, a car accident, or other type of New York personal injury case, the insurance company lawyer will almost invariably ask me for “unrestricted” medical authorization, which, when signed by my client, will give the insurance company lawyer the right to access any and all medical records regarding any and all treatment my client may have gotten from any medical provider from the beginning of the world to the end of the world!

But New York personal injury and medical malpractice law doesn’t give them a right to such broad authorizations. They can’t snoop! They have a right only to the medical records that are relevant to the parts of the body you are claiming were injured. For example, if you are suing for a broken arm, they have a right to see all medical records, both pre-and post-accident, for treatment for that arm. They can’t find out about your C-section, or your hemorrhoids, or about that depression you were treated for years ago!

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