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boating-300x199Summer is fast approaching in New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes area.  And boating is a great way to enjoy the area safely during this coronavirus era. As far as I know, the virus cannot be transmitted through lake water, and as long as you are on your boat with household members, you don’t have to worry about those pesky little masks or that annoying six-foot social distancing rule.  Whether you live in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Albany, Ithaca, or any place in between, boating is a great way to get out and enjoy the treasures of our Central New York way of life!

But please do so safely, and legally.  To help you out, I have prepared a chart comparing New York’s automobile laws to its boating laws.  After that, I will discuss the differences between boating accidents and car accidents that I have discovered after nearly three decades of litigating both boating accident cases and car accident cases throughout New York State.

New York Boating Law Compared

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Since this blog post is about death, I have decided to feature one of the oldest and most famous icons in history:  The grim reaper.  Throughout history, this imaginary figure has personified death.  And what a powerful image!  Wielding his sickle, he “reaps” his harvest of human beings, cutting us all down (eventually) like blades of grass.

Before the modern area, which ushered in antibiotics and modern medicine, the grim reaper was ever-present, cutting down humans of all ages.  You were as likely to be his victim if you were young as old.  Most parents lost a few young children to his insatiable appetite for fresh crops.

In the modern era, we have gotten use to the idea that death (usually) befalls only the old.  The grim reaper today prefers mature crops, and leaves the young, green shoots to grow.

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Above: Central NY Injury Lawyer on bike leg of a triathlon.

Spring has sprung in Central New York, and despite the “shelter-in-place” orders in some cities, in Central New York we are at least allowed to go outside and get some good old-fashioned exercise.  For me, that means biking.

I’ve been out three times so far. With the coronavirus keeping many motorists off the road, it’s very safe out there.  So few vehicles to watch out for.  I’ve even been taking advantage of the light traffic to travel some roads around Geneva, New York, where I live, that I normally avoid because of heavier-than-average traffic or because there are no good shoulders to ride on.

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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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If you are like us, about 90% of your conscious life these days can be summed up in one word: coronavirus.  President Trump has declared a national emergency.  New York State is just about in total lock-down. Our office, just like all other offices, has been ordered physical “closed” by Governor Cuomo.  No staff is there.  Our doors are locked.  But we are not resting idle!  Read on!

Call us!

We are not at the office, but we are answering the phone!  Call us and one of our staff will pick up and put you through to your lawyer!  While our office is closed, we will be happy to “meet” with you by phone, Skype, or FaceTime, at your convenience.

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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:

Staying informed

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Our senior lawyer, Lee Michaels, has been teaching trial practice at the Syracuse College of Law for decades.  Many of Lee’s former students keep in touch with him well into their law careers.  Lee continues to mentor many long after they have graduated.  Recently, Lee got a letter from a student, Steve Kim, who took his class nine years ago.  Here it is, abridged somewhat.  We publish it with the Kim’s permission.  At Michaels & Smolak, we are all proud of our senior trial lawyer’s achievements not only in the courtroom but in the classroom!

Dear Lee,

I was a student in your trial practice class nine-years ago.  I write to you to thank you for teaching the single most impactful class of my entire career. Although I lost most of my law school notes, books, and outlines– I held on closely to my trial practice binder and always made sure I knew where it was.

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This Syracuse car accident lawyer keeps getting too many rear-end collision cases.  This uptick in my rear-end collisions case load has nothing to do with me. The same uptick is experienced by all Syracuse car accident lawyers, and in fact by auto accident attorneys everywhere in the USA.  This has been a trend for at least a decade, ever since smart phones really took off so that everyone and their mother has one.  Not only does everyone have one, but it seems almost every one at some point in time uses their phone while they are driving.  Be honest, have you?  Ever?

If not, you are in the minority. According to a recent study, almost 90 percent of drivers in the USA admit to using their cell phones (at least sometimes) when they are driving.  Scarier still, the average driver is on his phone 3.5 minutes for every hour of driving.

This doesn’t sound like a lot but it totally explains my uptick in rear-end collision cases.  If you look down at your phone for only one second at a speed of 55 miles per hour, your car travels 80 feet during that second.  So guess where the hood of your car ends up if, during that second, the car you were following decides to stop?  That’s why car accident lawyers all around the Syracuse area, and in fact all around the nation, surely have, like me, increased their rear-end collision case portfolio over the last decade.

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Attorney and client walking up the steps of a courthouse

New York personal injury lawyers usually charge on a “contingency fee” basis.  The contingency fee allowed in a personal injury case varies from state to state, but generally it is either 1/3 (33 1/3%) or 40%.  In New York it’s at most 1/3.  It is often less where the lawyer is representing a minor and in medical malpractice cases.  For the purposes of this blog post, let’s assume it is 1/3.  But 1/3 of what exactly?  It depends.  Read on to find out!

But before I explain how it works, let me explain why it even exists.  The contingency fee exists because most people can’t afford the very high hourly-based fees lawyers would charge.  The hourly-based fees might reach over $100,000 in a complicated case.  The contingency fee allows regular folks who have a valid personal injury claim to seek justice.The contingency fee is a gamble for your lawyer.  If he does not win your case, he does not get paid. If he does win, or settles, he gets roughly a third of the money.

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