Like 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.
If you are like me, about 50% of your conscious life these days can be summed up in one word: corona-virus. President Trump declared a national emergency yesterday. We are urged to engage in “social distancing”, to avoid crowds, wash our hands thoroughly and frequently, and to refrain from touching our face.
What is Michaels & Smolak doing to keep its staff, clients and others safe? Here’s our current policy, which is still evolving to meet new developments:
If 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.
I was sad to learn of the accidental death of a Seneca Meadows employee last Saturday. Seneca Meadows is a local (Seneca Falls and Waterloo, Seneca County, NY) landfill which (controversially) takes in tons of trash from all over the Northeast. It is a huge operation involving many machines and vehicles. This is not the first fatality there.
The victim, employed by Seneca Meadows, was operating a “tipper machine” when he was struck by a tractor trailer being backed up to unload garbage onto the tipper machine. The driver of the tractor trailer was not employed by Seneca Meadows, but rather by another company, which is good news for the victim’s family.
Why is that good news? Because the family — unlike the families of most on-the-job wrongful death victims — has a good chance of getting fairly compensated. Most victims of on-the-job injuries are not fairly compensated because their only resort is workers’ compensation, which offers only an embarrassingly small sum of money for the loss of a father, husband, and breadwinner.
Look at this kid! Fernando Vanegas, 19 years old. Same age as my son Sebastian, who just went off to college. Full of life, of hopes, of dreams, just like Sebastian. Fernando came to Queens, New York from Ecuador only a year ago to reunite with his parents whom he had not seen in 15 years. As an immigrant with almost no English, the best job he could land was in the construction industry. Dangerous work. He would come home at night and tell his parents how frightening his work was; close calls involving retaining walls almost falling on him. Then, last Thursday, he did not come home. A retaining wall collapsed, burying him and two other workers in a heap of cinder blocks. He died.
He should not have died. The warning signs were all there. The site should have been shut down. Several safety violations had recently been reported, including that the retaining wall was not stable. The City failed to shut down the work.
Fernando was a canary in a coal mine. Now of course the site is shut down. Now of course, at least for a while, the City will err on the side of caution, and shut down similar sites. Shame on his employer, and shame on the City of New York inspectors, for allowing him to die under such conditions, without heeding such obvious warning signs of danger.
Construction is almost the most dangerous job in America, bested only by mining. And like mining, greed often plays a part in accidents. Companies take cost-saving shortcuts at the expense of safety to try to turn a bigger profit.
Case on point.Last Sunday a 12-ton air handling unit snapped loose from a crane and plummeted 30 stories to the street below in Manhattan. Ten people were injured. Obviously they were using a cable of insufficient strength for the job.
As a recent NYT article points out, this is only the most recent dangerous mishap this year in the New York construction industry. In fact, this year is poised to match 2008 – the year two cranes toppled in New York City claiming 19 lives – as the most deadly construction year in New York history.
Can you sue for compensation beyond your workers’ compensation benefits if you are injured on the job in New York? Maybe. Find out how by watching my new video about New York personal injury lawsuits for on-the-job injuries.
Who wouldn’t want to be Spider-man? His outfit is so much cooler than Superman’s. And what about swinging between skyscrapers by spitting that web-gook from your wrists? Isn’t that a more thrilling way of getting around than that all-so-boring Superman extended-arm flight?
Not so fast! Be careful what you wish for. At least that’s what three Spider-man actors are saying.
Let me take you back to December of 2010, when I blogged about Spider-man’s incredible 30-foot plunge to the stage floor in a Broadway performance of the musical, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Light”. His spider-swing-line failed, catapulting him to the stage below in front of a horrified crowd of Spider-man fans. But Spidey — as I like to call him — in true superhero fashion, recovered and returned to the show within months. The show must go on!
If your answer to that question is “yes”, then you’ll like a new rule by the Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) which makes companies’ safety records easily available on a government website.
Why this new rule? The shame factor. OSHA’s thinking is that if companies with a bad safety record know their record will not remain hidden is some dusty notebook in a government basement, but rather see the light of day on the world-wide web, they might think twice about cutting safety corners. In addition, prospective employees will be able to compare, when deciding which job to accept, not only the wages of the employers but also their safety records. As a side benefit, personal injury lawyers like me can build negligence cases against repeat offenders with greater ease.