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.

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.

In just two days America will be reveling in “Black Monday” (like Black Friday but for online purchases).  In the old days of Christmases past, when parents and others actually went to something called a “store” to choose toys for their tots, a parent could often spot for herself a lurking danger.  For example, he or she could see if small parts might be removable and thus pose a choking hazard.  But now, with more and more people doing “Cyber shopping” , some of a toy’s more obvious safety flaws are less obvious.

Never fear!  Safe shopping can be done online, with a little help from our friend “WATCH“.  For more than 40 years this not-for-profit group (acronym for “World Against Toys Causing Harm”) has published an annual “top-WATCH-OUT list” of potentially dangerous toys.

Here’s an example (from this year’s list):  a toy called “Pull-Along Pony” marketed for children over one-year old but has a pull chord  19 inches long (strangulation hazard).  More examples:  A fidget spinner with small, removable parts (choking hazard).  A Spider-Man drone with rotating blades just the right size to enter an eye socket.

Meet the new big bad guy in town:  The prescription drug industry. Let’s just call them “Big Pharma”.  They are stepping into the shoes of the previous big bad guy:  Big Tobacco. In fact, Big Pharma has used the Big Tobacco playbook to rake in billions of dollars in profits off the backs of addicted “customers” they hooked on their products through cunning advertising and lobbying schemes.

The product in question?  Opioids.  Opioids are the new Tobacco, only worse.  Opioids include prescription painkillers like oxycodone, synthetics like fentanyl, and opium derivatives like heroin.  Using Big Tobacco’s old tricks, plus some new ones of their own, opioid manufacturers have created a nationwide epidemic of opioid addiction.

But let’s go back a bit.  Once upon a time doctors were reluctant to treat chronic pain with opioids.  Opioid prescriptions were for last-stage cancer pain management and short-term pain control, for example, for patients suffering temporary post-operative pain. Prescribing such addictive medicine for chronic, long-term pain was just not done.  The risk of creating addicts was simply unacceptable.

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We blogged a few weeks ago about Lee Michaels, the firm’s founding member, getting tapped for a big award from his alma matter, Syracuse University College of Law.  Well, the ceremony took place on the evening of October 20 in the beautiful Dineen Hall.  Above are a few of our favorite pictures.  The top left shows Lee being bestowed with the award. Lee was one of only five award recipients. The top photo on the right shows three of the other recipients standing with Lee.  Starting from left to right in the photo above, are:  Laura H. Harshbarger, a labor and employment lawyer at the law firm of Bond Schoeneck & King; Frank W. Ryan, US Chair of DLA Piper’s Intellectual Property and Technology practice; the Honorable Jonathan M. Feldman (a United States Magistrate judge),  and our Lee Michaels.   The other recipient was the Honorable Theodore A. McKee, a judge sitting on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (who was not present for the ceremony and thus does not appear in the photo).

The final photo shows Lee lined up with some friends for a photo op at the party that followed. From left to right are: Anas Saleh, Justin St. Louis, Annie Millar, and  Tom DeBernardis, all former students Lee taught; Marnin Michaels (lee’s nephew and also an SU Law alum), Mike Bersani (CNY Injury Law blogger and Lee’s partner).

A good time was had by all!  The food (drink!) and company were great.  It was an amazing way to celebrate some high achieving SU Law grads.  Congrats once again to our own Lee Michaels!

What 3 things do Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein all have in common?  Answer: They are (1) rich (2) powerful (3) sex offenders.  Some might want to add Donald Trump or Bill Clinton to the list, but let’s stay clear of politics.

The truth is that many powerful men are sexual predators.  But so too are many not-powerful men.  In fact, poor men may be even more prone to committing sexual assaults.  That’s because, in the words of Janice Joplin, “when you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose”.  The guys at the top of society’s pyramid have a lot to lose.  It’s a long fall to the bottom.  The guy who is already down low has nowhere to fall.

Then again, maybe sexual assaults have nothing to do with money.  When I went to college in the 70’s many feminists embraced this adage:  “All men are pigs”.  I think this a very unfair statement.   I mean unfair to pigs.  As far as I know, pigs don’t rape and harass their mates.

It was party time at Syracuse University last weekend.  (Wait – isn’t every weekend party time at SU?)  Anyway, a female student – one of many — was out imbibing, frolicking, and doing whatever young party-goers do these days, until 3:00 a.m.  Then she needed a ride to her dorm.  She hit an app on her smart phone to hail an Uber.  An Uber driver showed up.  She asked the male driver to take her to her dorm.

The driver had other ideas.  Instead, he took her to an empty parking lot.  He grabbed her and began to force his hand up her skirt. Fortunately, she escaped before the driver could “have his way” with her.

Assume the worst.  Assume the student had been the victim of a full-fledged sexual assault.  Could she successfully sue Uber?

LeeMichaels1Lee Michaels is the senior attorney here at Michaels & Smolak.  He was personally responsible for hiring and grooming the rest of us.  To the other lawyers at our firm, he has been a mentor, teacher, friend, and role model.  It’s good to know that others appreciate Lee, too.

Syracuse University’s College of Law is going to bestow upon him a great honor this October 20.  You can read all about it on the Syracuse University College of Law website. Lee’s list of achievements  is too long to include here, but you can check it out on that website.  Suffice it to say Lee was a top law student at Syracuse, then because a top personal injury lawyer in the Syracuse area, and a top teacher of trial practice at the Syracuse College of Law, and has been a terrific community leader in many capacities.

As I said before, Lee has been a great mentor, teacher and friend to all of us here at Michaels & Smolak.  We are not alone.  One of Lee’s former students (Lee has been teaching Trial Practice as an adjunct at the law school for almost three decades) had this to say about Lee on the College of Law website:

A week or so ago, at Yankee Stadium, a foul ball flew off Todd Frazier’s bat at 110 miles per hour and clocked a toddler in the face.  She was seated in the stands behind the third-base dugout with her grandpa.  It hit her face so hard that players and fans alike grasped.  The game stopped.  It was a horrible scene. This video shows only the reaction of the players, not the impact itself:

When I saw this video, my first thought, like everyone else’s, was, “oh my god, I hope she’ll be all right, that poor girl!”.  My second thought was less emotional and more lawyerly: “can the Stadium be held liable”?  But then, before I had even finished that second thought, my third thought overtook it: “No, it can’t be held liable”.

For the tenth straight year I am traveling around the great State of New York this fall to deliver my annual update on New York personal injury law to my fellow New York personal injury lawyers.  As always, my topic is governmental liability for personal injuries and wrongful death.  In other words, I am explaining to other New York injury lawyers how to hold the New York State and its counties, school districts, villages, towns, and other “public corporations”, liable for carelessly causing injuries and death. I have already knocked off Albany and Syracuse, and will be hitting Buffalo and Rochester in the weeks ahead.

I am deeply honored that the New York State Trial Lawyers Academy keeps inviting me back year after year to impart whatever wisdom I have on this topic to my brethren of the Bar.

Although my lecture tour is only once a year, I field calls from other lawyers on this topic all year long.  That’s because New York lawyers who have read my articles or have attended my lectures consider me a “expert” in this area.  They want to “pick my brain” to help them with cases they have against New York governmental entities.

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