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You Never Know When You Might Need a Personal Injury Lawyer

Some Tips From New York Personal Injury Veterans

David J. Hernandez  

David J. Hernandez, a very successful personal injury lawyer with dozens of multi-million-dollar verdicts and settlements to his name, is used to hearing people complain about trial lawyers. As Hernandez and other lawyers know, these critics often change their tune when they or their loved ones are injured.

Take the case of a friend of Hernandez’s — a businessman who frequently griped to Hernandez about “frivolous” lawsuits and the need for tort reform — that is, until the man’s wife fell on a broken sidewalk as they were taking a walk through a park and was seriously injured. She was rushed to the emergency room and hospitalized for some time, undergoing several surgeries to implant hardware into her legs and an arm. Despite very good medical care, she will be in pain for the rest of her life, Hernandez says. The couple, in their 50s, had worked hard all their lives and were close to retirement, which they planned to spend traveling. Because of her injuries, however, their plans are on indefinite hold — and may be impossible.

“So all of a sudden, he calls me asking, ‘What do I do?’” recalls Hernandez, a past president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association who is consistently named as one of the top trial lawyers in the state. “I heard it in his voice, the conflict of this guy, who’s into tort reform yet was changing his mind after witnessing his wife’s mishap and the daily pain she was enduring. This accident has radically changed her life,” adds Hernandez, of David J. Hernandez & Associates, which has offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and his friend ultimately decided that a lawsuit was, in fact, the right way to go.

Dino Mastropietro of Brooklyn’s Lozner & Mastropietro had a similar experience. A long-time family friend who was a truck driver repeatedly complained to Mastropietro that excessive lawsuits driven by “greedy attorneys” drive up the costs of goods and services, and are a burden on society. But one day at work, an employee operating a lift without safety guards in place accidentally crushed and severed the truck driver’s fingers, and surgeries to repair the damage were unsuccessful. The employee and the company denied culpability and blamed the accident on the trucker. After many years of aggressive litigation, Mastropietro won at trial when a jury found the defendants completely responsible. His negotiations with the disability benefits company enabled the truck driver to keep his entire recovery, and he had a financial advisor help the trucker set up payments so he and his family would be cared for many years. “Needless to say, the trucker has changed his mind about personal injury lawsuits and continues to thank me for the support and counsel I have given him and his family,” says Mastropietro.

This scenario is common, trial lawyers say. In the abstract, they may view personal injury lawsuits negatively. Their opinion can sharply reverse after they are harmed by an accident or dangerous product, whether they’re afflicted by an asbestos-related illnesses, a slip-and-fall accident, medical malpractice, an auto accident, or another type of tort. Then they want assistance, and turn to lawyers who are experts in the field. “The purpose of personal injury litigation is to make someone whole, as best as possible, for the losses he or she has incurred,” says Hernandez.

In addition to helping an individual victim get compensation, there’s a second, critically important aim of personal injury litigation: to make the world safer, lawyers say. And litigation has had this result in a variety of cases, from toxic torts to product liability, from medical malpractice to construction cases: Personal injury lawyers act as watchdogs on industries to make sure they aren’t negligent in their products or procedures.

Take the issue of medical malpractice. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed in the U.S. dropped by about 25 percent, says Ted Oshman of New York’s Oshman & Mirisola, who has been highly successful in litigating med-mal and other personal injury cases. And in the past 15 to 20 years, there has been a significant drop in the number of automobile product liability cases filed, he adds. The reason, according to Oshman— both the medical profession and the automobile manufacturing industry have responded to the huge verdicts against them by focusing on safety.

“There is no question the financial implications of medical malpractice lawsuits has caused hospital and doctors to be more careful,” he says, by instituting better record-keeping, weeding out incompetent practitioners, and teaching courses to medical students on best practices to avoid unnecessary injuries or deaths to patients. The same is true with the auto industry, he says: there are fewer product liability cases filed today compared to the 1980s and early 1990s because manufacturers responded to huge verdicts by making cars safer. “Any lawyer who’s done defective auto cases will tell you that,” says Oshman.