The other day a fellow Central New York injury lawyer congratulated me on a recent Court victory I had, which changed the law throughout New York State, and helped him, and other New York personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers, better represent their clients. The case he was referring to was Thompson v Mather, which I have already blogged about. He pointed out to me that this was the second time he had seen me change the law for the better in New York State by winning a key appellate argument for New York personal injury and medical malpractice victims. He remembered that I had, a few years ago, stopped no-fault insurance companies from denying coverage for medical bills when the insured had reached “maximum medical improvement” in a case called Hobby v CNA. The lawyer wanted to know how I was able to effect such big changes in the law with my cases.
My response was simple: I read the statutes. And I read them carefully. And I read them over and over again, word for word, looking for hidden or perhaps even obvious meanings that everyone else has been overlooking. In both cases this lawyer was referring to, all the case law generated by other lawyers had overlooked the fact that the controlling statutes just did not allow insurance companies to do what they had been doing. In Thompson v Mather, the statute, CPLR 3113, when read carefully, just did not allow a non-party witness to bring in a lawyer (usually an insurance company lawyer) to object to questioning at a deposition. It said that deposition questioning was to proceed just like at trial, and at trial non-party witnesses’ lawyers can’t object or talk at all. And in Hobby v CNA, the statute at issue, New York Insurance Law 5102, just did not allow a no-fault insurance carrier to cut off an insured’s medical treatment based on a finding of “maximum medical improvement”. It only allowed them to cut an insured off if the treatment was not “reasonable and necessary”, which is not quite the same thing.
So while other lawyers had, for decades, overlooked these nuances, and just assumed that the common practice of insurance carriers and other lawyers comported with the law, I actually READ THE LAW, and found out that everyone else was wrong!
Moral of the story to other lawyers: If you have a legal issue that hinges on a statute, READ THE STATUTE, not once, not twice, but many times. Read the bill jackets and other legislative history of the statute as well, and really think hard about what it means. You just might change the way things are done, for the better of your New York personal injury and medical malpractice clients!