Prom Season – Keeping Our Kids Safe. Understanding The Law.

We are currently in the midst of prom season. It is an exciting time for both teens and their parents, and is a dream come true for many girls as it means new shoes, a new dress, and a day of beauty at the hair and nail salon.

It also a step closer to adulthood as high school graduation follows soon afterward, and then after summer break most students are off to work or college. I look back fondly at my own prom so many years ago. My high school, Stella Maris, held our senior prom at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. My friends and I engaged in all the usual pre-prom activities, including hair and makeup. We converged on one of our friend’s homes where we had a half glass of champagne and some hors d’oeuvres Dozens of pictures were taken and then we all piled into the black stretch limo that took us into Manhattan. We thought we were so sophisticated in our fancy dresses and our big 80s hair. I remember the limo driver actually stopping at a liquor store to buy us alcohol for the car ride to the prom. The drinking age at the time was 19, and even though most of us were 17 or 18, it was quite common – even expected – that we would drink before and after the Prom. Things have not changed all that much. While liquor has continued to be banned from the Prom, many of the after parties still involve alcohol or binge drinking. 

The idea of our own children engaging in such behavior is frightening for many parents while tolerated by others as a rite of passage. However, it should never be tolerated. According to NYC.gov, underage drinking is associated with risky behaviors like unsafe sexual activity, drinking and driving, and experiencing or engaging in violent behavior such as physical fights. Each year, alcohol-related injuries (homicide, suicide and unintentional injury) cause 5,000 deaths among people under age 21 in the United States. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for 15-20 year olds. Underage drivers represent about 5 percent of licensed drivers but are involved in 14 percent of fatal crashes. In 2011, there were nearly 7,000 alcohol-related emergency department visits among New Yorkers under age 21.

It is generally expected that there will be an after-party immediately following the prom. Today’s teens may stay in a hotel with a group of other seniors or even go to a destination like the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore. Many will attend parties at the home of their fellow students. If you are going to host one of these parties at your home, you should be aware of the possible consequences. New York State has zero tolerance for underage drinking when it comes to driving. Additionally, it is illegal to purchase alcohol if you are under 21 years of age. 

However, if as a parent or guardian you choose to give your child liquor, this is not considered illegal.  This does not mean you are allowed to serve alcohol to any other teens in your home. There are criminal penalties for serving alcohol to those under 21 and you could be held civilly liable if they hurt themselves or someone else. There is no defense, even if the other parents gave you permission for their child to drink or even if you did not buy the alcohol yourself. If the drinking occurs on your property, you will be responsible. 

Teens can enjoy themselves without alcohol; yet, many teens will still figure out a way to drink alcohol on the night of their prom. We should not be an accessory or an accomplice to this behavior.  Let’s help our kids make it to adulthood.    

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Give Injured People In New York The Time Necessary To File Medical Malpractice Claims

Lavern Wilkinson’s family was barred from seeking justice for her death due to the statue of limitations. (DEBBIE EGAN-CHIN/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Almost two years ago, many of us were shocked and saddened when we heard Comedian Joan Rivers was critically injured during a medical procedure and was subsequently removed from life support. I had been lucky enough to see her perform live; she was so full of energy and had such an incredible presence. Although Ms. Rivers was 81 years old, she was actively performing at the time of her death and had a number of appearances scheduled. 

I just read that her family reached a settlement in their malpractice claim against the clinic that performed the procedure, ultimately leading to her death. It appears the clinic engaged in procedures not authorized by the comedian, and they were performed by physicians not licensed to perform them in the clinic setting. Most disturbing was that the medical personnel failed to properly identify her deteriorating condition during the procedure, which caused damage to her brain and heart when her oxygen levels decreased. The settlement is rumored to be in the tens of millions.

While Joan Rivers’ death was tragic, her family was able to secure their financial future as the current law in New York allows for a two-and-a-half-year statute of limitations from the date the medical malpractice occurred to file suit against private, nonprofit hospitals or doctors. That window, however, is just 15 months when suing a municipal hospital. In Joan Rivers’ case, it seemed obvious from the very beginning that her death occurred as a result of medical error and a lawsuit was commenced.

There are many others who have been prevented from seeking justice and monetary benefits as a result of medical malpractice because it was not discovered until after statute of limitations passed. One example of this was Lavern Wilkinson, a single mom with a severely handicapped daughter, who died in March 2013 from a curable form of lung cancer. Wilkinson had gone to the emergency room at Kings County Hospital in 2010 with a terrible cough. The staff performed an x-ray showing a suspicious mass, but the single mom was never notified of this and was sent home. When she returned to the hospital two years later, it was discovered that the cancer had spread and her condition was terminal. When she tried to sue the hospital to ensure financial security for her disabled child, she was advised that the current statute of limitations barred her from seeking damages against the hospital. Tragically, Lavern died in March 2013. Unfortunately, Lavern is not alone in this miscarriage of justice. There are so many more horrible examples of people who did not find out about the errors committed by medical personnel within the two-and-a-half-year years they have to file. New York is one of only six states that adhere to this archaic rule; 44 others allow for some sort of statute based upon the date of discovery of the malpractice.

There is currently a law pending in the New York State Legislature that would address this travesty. This bill would provide that the two-and-a-half-year statute of limitations begins when the patient knows or should have known an alleged negligent act caused injury. This bill was introduced more than a year ago and is still pending. It is known as Lavern’s Law – named after Lavern Wilkinson. Lavern’s death should not be in vain. Ask your State Legislator to support this law and give victims of medical malpractice the justice they deserve.

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

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A Legal Victory, and Workers’ Memorial Day: We Can Never Forget

During the past couple of months I have been focused on the proposed New York State Budget.  Governor Andrew Cuomo had recommended some provisions that would have negatively impacted workers.  As a result of community involvement, and coalitions between medical, labor and legal organizations, the final budget did not contain any additional, harmful provisions to the injured worker. 

As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 25 years, I was able to take a moment to be grateful for the outcome. Unfortunately though, despite this victory workplace injuries and deaths continue to make headlines. Just last week, a worker was electrocuted while working on an elevator in a New York housing complex. He was just 54 years old. The victim was an elevator mechanic’s helper who was working alone in the elevator machine room while his colleague worked in the lobby. Michael Halpin, organizer for Local 1, the International Union of Elevator Constructors, commented in The Gothamist that many people working on elevators are often untrained and that New York State is one of the few states that does not require elevator mechanics to be educated, trained, and licensed. 

While we don’t know the exact cause of the fatality, it is clear that something went tragically wrong. This type of accidental workplace death is far more common than you think, as anyone working in the construction industry is at risk for electrocution or being hurt by an electric current. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a report showing that in 2014 there were 4,679 deaths with 4,251 involving private workers. One in five worker deaths were in the construction field as a result of falls, but the second leading cause of death was electrocution.

Electricians and their apprentices account for nearly 20 percent of all electrocutions, but all types of skilled construction workers are electrocuted every year, including carpenters, welders, heavy machinery operators, plumbers, and bricklayers. Many construction sites are dangerously close to overhead lines and workers use cranes, bucket trucks, bulldozers, scaffolds, and ladders that may come into contact with electrical wires. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) noted in its 20-year review of electrical injuries that the three major causes of fatal electrocutions were contact with overhead lines, contact with wiring transformers or other electrical components, or contact with electric current of machine, tools, appliances or light fixtures. Electric injuries include burns, nerve damage, heart attacks, and neurological damage.  

While construction workers are the most likely to be injured by electricity, many workers are unaware of the potential hazards present in their work environment. A healthcare worker can be electrocuted by a faulty plug on a heart monitor, an office worker typing on a keyboard could be electrocuted by a frayed extension cord, or a utility worker could accidentally touch a live underground wire. The ESFI notes in the review that there has been substantial electrical safety improvement – and that’s a good sign. However, it does nothing to stem the grief felt by the family of the elevator mechanic who recently died on the job.

On April 28, we commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day, an annual event to mourn for the dead and fight for the living. We can never forget those who go to work but never return home. “No one should have to sacrifice their life for their livelihood, because a nation built on the dignity of work must provide safe working conditions for its people.”  Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez 

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy  Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

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Congratulations to 6 Pasternack Tilker Attorneys Recognized As 2016 Super Lawyers

We are proud to congratulate each of Chris Latham, Victor Pasternack, Edgar Romano, Robert Saminsky, Catherine Stanton, and Jordan Ziegler for being named to New York Super Lawyers list as one of the top attorneys in New York for 2016. No more than 5 percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by Super Lawyers. 

This is the 11th consecutive year Ziegler has been selected, the 10th consecutive selection for Stanton, the 8th for Pasternack and Saminsky, the 7th for Romano, and the first for Latham. 

We are honored that so many of our attorneys have a multi-year recurring presence on this prestigious list. Super Lawyers is a research-driven, peer-influenced rating service of lawyers who have attained a high degree of professional achievement. The annual selection process is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations, and peer evaluations by practice area. The first Super Lawyers list was published in 1991. 

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A Win For Workers – Albany’s Proposed Benefit Reduction Is Dropped

Last week Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he reached an agreement with legislative leaders on his 2016-2017 budget, touting the final version as a victory for working and middle class families. Some of the beneficial provisions for working class families include an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, a new family medical leave act granting workers up to 12 weeks to care for family members, an increase in state aid to schools, an allocation of funds to improve infrastructure of our roads and rail systems that will create thousands of additional union jobs, and the reduction in the personal income tax that will save working people billions of dollars in the next 10 years. All of these initiatives will create opportunities for working and middle class families, and many in the labor movement are thrilled.

As many of you know, I have been highlighting during the last couple of months the controversial proposals regarding Workers’ Compensation benefits in the original budget. The Business Council was looking for a reduction in the overall cost of business and was proposing changes to the current system that would negatively impact injured workers, as they are an easy target. Many injured workers don’t have the financial ability or the time to fight back, particularly when they are concerned with recovery and paying bills. 

As the Governor has been courting business interests for most of his tenure, it seemed almost inevitable that the attacks on injured workers would continue and the negative proposals would be enacted. During the last couple of months, members of labor, the medical community, and representatives of injured workers united in their opposition to these proposals. There were online petitions, requests to contact elected officials, and meetings with members of the State Senate and Assembly by dozens of advocates with the goal to educate and explain the negative ramifications of those specific sections on the Workers’ Compensation law. This coalition, along with members of the public, made their voices heard and we are relieved to report that those sections of the budget that would have hurt injured workers were removed from the final version. We truly thank our elected officials for seeing the proposals for what they were and for understanding that the final agenda for big business was at too high of a cost for working and middle class people.

This is a major victory for injured workers and their families, and one that we do not take lightly.  The battle was rough and the stakes were high, but we cannot let down our guard yet. The Business Council’s mission to attack the limited benefits available to those injured on the job will continue.  The Business Council and the insurance industry together have been very successful in making sure the focus of Workers’ Compensation reform stays on the costs of the system rather than on what will be provided to the injured worker. They will continue their rallying cry that the current Workers’ Comp system is what leads to the high cost of doing business in New York.   

The system is not perfect. It is in need of reform but the reform should be to benefit injured workers. They are the ones who have lost the most. Their medical benefits have been reduced, their doctors’ opinions have been undermined, the amount of time they can receive indemnity benefits has been slashed, and they are forced to navigate through a system that is bloated with bureaucracy, convoluted, and almost impossible for the average person to understand. That is the area that really needs reform. Workers’ Compensation is for assisting the injured worker and that’s where the focus should stay.

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy  Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

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Stand Together With Your Working Neighbors As They Strike At Verizon

Join nearly 40,000 CWA and IBEW members, including 15,000 New Yorkers, as they strike for good jobs and a fair contract at Verizon. Over 10 months of negotiations, Verizon has been unwilling to make a fair agreement. Despite making $39 billion in profits over the last three years, the company is still insisting on devastating givebacks.

Help by signing this peitition to Lowell McAdam, CEO of Verizon, telling him to negotiate a fair contract for workers. And join a picket line near you. Picket locations will be posted at the website StandUpToVerizon.com

For more detailed information, see this article from the New York State AFL-CIO.

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Senior Partner Catherine Stanton Named One Of Super Lawyers 2016 Top Women Attorneys in New York Metro

Congratulations to Senior Partner Catherine Stanton, who has been named one of Super Lawyers Top Women Attorneys in New York Metro 2016. Ms. Stanton is the only Workers’ Compensation lawyer on this year’s list.

Ms. Stanton is a senior partner at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP and head of our workers’ compensation department. She has been named as a Super Lawyer the area of workers’ compensation by Super Lawyers magazine each year 2007-2014. Starting in March 2015, Ms. Stanton earned a spot on the New York Super Lawyers Women’s Edition list. The is the second year in a row that she has received this honor.

Ms. Stanton graduated magna cum laude from St. John’s University in 1986 and the Marshall Wythe School of Law, at the College of William and Mary, in 1989. She began working with the firm as an attorney in 1990 and became a partner in 1998. Ms. Stanton served as President of WILG, Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group from 2012-2013 which is a national non-profit membership organization dedicated to representing the interests of millions of workers and their families who, each year, suffer the consequences of workplace injuries and illnesses. Ms. Stanton is the current Chair of the Workers’ Compensation Section for the American Association for Justice, a national organization that supports plaintiff trial lawyers.

Locally, Ms. Stanton was recently installed as a director for the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. She is a past president of the Society of New York Workers Compensation’ Bar Association which is a bipartisan organization compromised of attorneys representing all parties to a workers’ compensation claim to work toward common goals. She is currently the Vice President of the Brehon Law Society of Nassau County which is focused on monitoring and eradication of violations of human rights and civil liberties principally but not exclusively in the north of Ireland.

She also has received the highest rating through AVVO, and was named a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation in March 2015, an honor that is given to attorneys who have distinguished themselves in their practice in the field of workers’ compensation.

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On The Ground In Albany: Lobbying To Preserve Your Benefits

The New York State Capitol

For the last five years, lawyers practicing in the field of Workers’ Compensation have used their voices to educate our State Senators and Assembly members on issues impacting injured workers. In keeping with this strategy, last week I attended Lobby Day in Albany with 70 other colleagues, including 11 members from my law firm, and we met with more than 50 of our state leaders. There was an added sense of urgency this time as Governor Cuomo has proposed a number of changes in the budget that would adversely affect those who get injured on the job.

In past few weeks, I have written about these budget proposals as part of the continuing attacks on injured workers and the less-than-adequate benefits they currently receive. The proposed budget amendment would grossly and negatively impact the ability of an injured worker to get a full and fair settlement. The law currently directs the insurance carrier to deposit the present value of a settlement into a fund to ensure that this money is available in the future or in the alternative, to settle the claim with the injured worker. Many insurance carriers opt to pay the money to the injured worker instead of depositing it into a fund. Without the worry of this deposit, there is less of an incentive for the insurance company to settle a claim that could lead to lengthy and time-consuming litigation with the injured worker receiving minimal or no benefits until the law judge makes a decision.

One of the proposed measures would give the Workers’ Compensation Board the power to qualify doctors and to bar them from the system. This is unacceptable. Doctors should be regulated by other doctors instead of by bureaucrats.

Even more egregious are the attacks and restrictions on due process. Injured workers should be entitled to a fair and impartial hearing. The budget proposals would remove the right of injured workers to have their cases heard by the same judge. The ability to direct policy and decisions would open the door to potential abuse. Additionally, if injured workers wish to appeal a detrimental decision, the appeal would be decided by one individual as opposed to the current three-panel of commissioners. Current law provides for the appointment of commissioners by the governor with approval by the legislature, which provides for some checks and balances. The Workers’ Compensation Board would instead be given unchecked power to control the outcome of every decision.

The Business Counsel was in favor of many of these changes as it felt they would help decrease costs and increase profit margin. However, an analysis by the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board (NYCIRB) of the expected financial impacts of the governor’s proposed reforms found no solid evidence that these changes would result in any meaningful cost savings. At this juncture, one has to wonder why these proposed changes are still being pursued by the governor. Anyone who has been injured on the job, or knows someone who has been injured, knows that it has become more and more difficult to navigate the process to obtain benefits. We do need reform, but it should be done to improve the lives of those injured at work. These proposals are certainly not in workers’ best interest. If you agree and want to know what you can do, please click here to sign the petition to stop the further erosion of workers’ compensation. We need to insure that those vulnerable members of our families, community, and state are not abandoned by their government for wrongly perceived cost- cutting measures.

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy  Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

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