Woman's and Man's hands with money isolated over white
I am sure you can guess why many of our severely injured personal injury victims tend to fall behind in their bills. Hint: They can’t work! And while their debts piles up, their personal injury claim may not settle or get to trial for many months to come. Solution? They can just get a loan from us, their lawyers, right? Wrong! As lawyers we are prohibited from lending our own clients money — it’s considered a conflict of interest. Our hands are tied! So what do we do?

We do everything in our power to keep them afloat, except lend them our money. And we have many tools to get the job done: We can help them apply for New York State disability insurance and social security disability. We can help them get loans from family or friends by making a legal promise to those lenders to pay them off first – even before we pay our client – from any settlement or judgment we obtain. If our clients need more economic help still, we can refer them to a commercial claim lender who will provide cash in exchange for a “lien” against the personal injury case. The “lien” entitles the lender to be paid first from the personal injury settlement or judgment, plus interest.

And if all else fails, there’s bankruptcy. But we do everything we can to keep our clients from filing for bankruptcy. That’s a last resort. Why? After all, bankruptcy wipes clean most or all the client’s debts, giving our client a “fresh start”. What’s wrong with that?

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.

boatingEveryone knows that driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a serious crime that can land you in jail. But few people know about boating while intoxicated (BWI) laws.

When we think of boating, we think of relaxing or even partying on the water, often with a cool beer in hand. We would never even consider doing the same while driving a car!

But the popular image of boozing while boating as “acceptable” behavior does not match the current state of the law in New York State. In 2006, Albany finally woke up to the statistical fact that boating while intoxicated is just as dangerous as driving a car while intoxicated. It thus passed a law ratcheting up the criminal penalties for boating while intoxicated to match those for driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated. And the BWI blood count limit is 08%, same as for driving a car. (The legal limit for minors is .02%).

lavernLavern Wilkinson was a thirty something year-old single mom with mild chest pain. Being of a cautious nature, she thought to get the chest pain looked into. This eventually brought her to Kings County Hospital in New York City for chest x-ray. The results, she was told, were just perfect. Go home. Nothing to worry about.

Two years later, with more significant symptoms, and with the aid of another x-ray, she was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. It had spread to other organs. She was terminal. Her doctors then looked back at that old x-ray and saw a nodule in its early stage. It was plainly visible. At that stage, it could have been easily removed surgically. She could have been cured.

Now, though, it was too late. But it was not too late – she hoped – for a lawsuit. After all, she was a poor single mother with an autistic 15 year-old daughter who was about to become motherless. Her daughter would need the compensation Lavern was entitled to. Her case, she figured, was a slam dunk.

medinaI love traveling to far flung places, and when I do I like to penetrate deep into the places’ streets and culture. Speaking several languages (English, Spanish and French) helps me delve into the culture and mindset.  But there are some things I never really “get” when I am abroad.

Take my recent trip to Morocco.  Lovely country. Stunning landscape.  Beautiful labyrinthine old walled cities (“Medinas”), home to mile after mile of colorful scent-laden souks and open market stands displaying gorgeous hand-crafted silverware, carpets, foods, spices, exotic dresses, handmade crafts, and zillions of other cool stuff. Gorgeous!

But as a humble Central New York injury lawyer, there was something more compelling that drew my attention — indeed my extreme caution:  Motorcycles.  They drove through the narrow crowded streets brushing by people and stalls as if they were slalom ski gates.  I was afraid that if my wife or I took just one small step left or right while admiring the goods in the stalls, a motorcycle from behind would bowl us down.  And, according to my Marrakesh taxi driver, that’s not an infrequent occurrence.  Marrakesh’s Medina produces on average 10 motorcycle-on-pedestrian collisions a day!

craneBack in 2008 a crane collapse in New York City made headline news. The huge tower crane had plummeted from an impressive height in a densely populated area of the city, causing unprecedented human and property destruction.  The case was of special interest to me as a Central New York construction accident lawyer.  We don’t usually have cranes that big up here, but the dangers and risks of construction work are similar.

When something like that happens, you know someone was careless or negligent. A crane does not collapse without a reason. Someone failed to build it right, or to maintain it, or to use it properly. The only real question is who.

Usually in a case like this, several possible culprits point fingers at each other (the manufacturer, the maintenance service company, the operator, etc.). This case was no exception. The owner of the crane pointed toward the crane operator for hoisting a load that “was too heavy”. The operator – who was one of the injured plaintiffs — blamed the crane owner for repairing the crane with a defective bearing he knew or should have known would eventually fail.


I blogged about this case before when the judge granted the monkeys a hearing.  But I find it fascinating and wanted to post an update.

In a case watched closely by animal rights activists, a State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan recently denied a petition by a not-for-profit animal rights group seeking to free a pair of chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, being held at a state university on Long Island.

The petition sought a writ of habeas corpus (a time-honored process of challenging imprisonment as unlawful) for the chimps. The group argued that the animals are so genetically superior to other animals and so similar to humans (they share 99% of DNA with humans) that they should be deemed “human” at least to the extent that they should not be locked up without good cause. Expert affidavits were submitted attesting to the monkeys’ language prowess, intelligence, and personalities.  Among other human-like traits, chimps have a keen sense of self-awareness (they recognize themselves in a mirror).

lady justiceThey say that justice is blind, but anyone who believes that is truly blind. Examples of inherent bias in our judicial system abound. For example, blacks get the death penalty and heavy sentences far more often than whites for the same crimes. Poor people – who can’t afford a “dream team” of lawyers and instead rely on assigned counsel — have far less success in court than their wealthier “lawyered up” counterparts.

And unfairness does not plague just our criminal justice system. Our civil justice system is also contaminated with it. Although statistics are not available locally, it is common belief among the local bar in Central New York that if you are black, poor, excessively overweight or just plain ugly, you are likely to get a smaller money award in your New York personal injury or medical malpractice case than if you are white, well-off, thin and good-looking. That’s why most competent personal injury trial lawyers will talk to a jury – in the jury selection process – about these prejudices, and try to weed out of the jurors who are more likely affected by them.

Like it or not, judges and juries are just regular people with regular prejudices. But courts – and your lawyer – nevertheless have a duty to try to combat them – to even out the scales of justice. A recent case illustrates this.

carcrash-thumb-300x199I have blogged about the new driver-less automated cars before, and how they will dramatically reduce car crashes and fatalities. This future is not far off. The first true self-driving vehicles are expected before the end of the decade. A fleet surpassing 50% of all vehicles on the road could be here within 20 years.

We will be much better off with them for sure! But what I never really considered – until I read a recent article – was the profound effect driver-less cars will have on our economy. That’s what I’ll consider in this blog post.

To recap about driver-less cars, human driven cars will soon be going the way of the horse and buggy. An automated self-driving fleet of vehicles will almost certainly replace the current human-driven one within the next 25 years. The new fleet will have many advantages over the present one, but one of the most notable is that they will hardly ever crash. A study by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) predicts that a self-driving fleet could eliminate 93 percent of crashes attributed to human error. This means, among other things, that we will be able to drink ourselves senseless without worrying about criminal penalties of “driving” drunk.

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