Martin Colin, P.C. is pleased to share with you a recent interview discussing our personal injury law practice. The interview was conducted by Voicu Mihnea Simandan and featured on his eponymous website Simandan.
William Martin is a 49 year old lawyer and the owner of Martin & Colin, a law firm located in White Plains, New York, which is located just outside New York City. In this interview he highlights some of the services his company provides.
Voicu Mihnea Simandan: Helping and giving assistance to other people is in you blood. How did it all start?
William Martin: After attending a university, I received my legal training at Fordham University School of Law. The school’s motto is: “In the Service of Others.” And I have always found that great personal satisfaction results when you apply your talent and ability to assist other people during a very stressful, challenging period in their lives.
Voicu Mihnea Simandan: For people outside the US, Americans seem to sue each other quite often. Why is that?
William Martin: Americans have a believe that their system of justice is an appropriate and adequate forum for resolving a great many disputes between members of a community. When your neighbor spills garbage and it somehow flows onto your property and kills your animal or your plants or contaminates your drinking water; or when your neighbor drinks too much at the marriage of his daughter and on his way home drives his car and hits your parked motorbike, how do you get compensation from your neighbor from his mistake? I would imagine that in most countries there is a legal system that determines whether and how much your neighbor must compensate your for his mistake. The American legal system is very imperfect and sometimes unjust, but it works better than any other system that I have studied.
Voicu Mihnea Simandan: Among other services, Martin & Colin also handles auto accidents. What kind of legal help do you provide?
William Martin: For at least the past 50 years, most tasks of our daily lives involve the use of an automobile. That is how we get to work, how we get to the food market, how we get to the retail store, how we get to parties and other social events and sometimes how we get to school. When so much of our daily life involves driving cars, it is inevitable that we will occasionally have car accidents. The accidents could involve two cars such as in a head-on collision, a rear-end collision or a right-angle collision, also known as a T-bone collision. Or, the accident could be a single-car accident, and these occur most often when you are a passenger in a car driven by some else who has a collision with a fixed object while driving that vehicle. We assist people who have suffered bodily injuries as a result of car accidents.
Voicu Mihnea Simandan: What about accidents due to negligence of another person or a firm?
William Martin: Accident cases can be complicated by several issues, therefore they must be handled by experienced injury attorneys. Some of the issues that can arise: an insurance company may refuse to pay you fair and just compensation for your injuries because the insurance company is not satisfied that your injuries resulted from this particular accident; rather, the insurance company may claim that your injuries result from other aspects of your life – you eat too much and are overweight, you play too hard and have old sports injuries, you complain too much and are really exaggerating your injury. A careful, experienced injury lawyer will be able to overcome these objections of the insurance company and convince them that your injuries are proximately related to the negligence and the accident.
Voicu Mihnea Simandan: Do you cover personal injury cases?
William Martin: We represent individuals who have suffered personal injuries or bodily injuries as a result of the carelessness, negligence or misconduct of another person. Some examples of people who have recovered money to compensate them for their injuries include: a child who was ejected from his vehicle and sustained a fractured skull during a one-car roll-over accident. The car’s driver swerved from one lane to the other, turned the wheel too suddenly, lost control of the vehicle and it veered off the highway and overturned on the shoulder of the highway. Another example is a woman was walking across the street, in the crosswalk, when she was hit by a car turning the corner. The pedestrian was knocked to the ground, causing her head to split open and injuring her shoulder requiring surgery.
Voicu Mihnea Simandan: Can you tell us of any recent case in which you have helped the plaintiffs?
William Martin: Sure. Recently, we had two separate instances where young women, one in her late teens and the other in her mid-twenties, came to our office more than a year after they had been in car accidents. During that year, they had been haunted by nagging knee injuries that never got better. When the insurance company refused to pay for additional physical therapy, each of these young women contacted our office. In each case, a surgery was eventually required to repair the injured knee. Also in each case, the insurance company refused to pay for the surgery and refused to offer money to compensate the young woman for her pain and suffering. We took on both of these cases, and in each case was able to obtain substantial compensation for the injured party. However, obtaining money in each of these cases was much more difficult because the injured person waited almost one full year after the accident to hire an attorney. If there is one lasting message I hope you take away from this article that message is too consult with an attorney sooner, rather than later. It will be good investment of your time and effort because it will increase the likelihood that the lawyer can help you obtain money compensation.
Voicu Mihnea Simandan: What can people do to avoid being involved in an accident in the first place?
William Martin: Shakespeare said, among other things: ‘too err is human’. So, no matter how careful we are, being human means that mistakes are inevitable and accidents are going to happen. However, although we cannot prevent all accidents, there is one action we can take today that will help us should we find ourselves in a car accident in the future. In most states, your own personal automobile insurance permits you to purchase additional or ‘supplemental’ insurance to cover yourself and your immediate family, should someone uninsured, or underinsured, cause you to sustain bodily injuries as a result of their carelessness or negligence while operating an automobile. This additional insurance coverage will cost you a few extra dollars each year. However, this small sum can provide substantial financial protection for you and your family. I urge everyone to discuss increasing this uninsured / underinsured auto insurance with their insurance company for the protection of yourself and your own family.
Voicu Mihnea Simandan: Do you also work together with insurance companies?
William Martin: No. I spend most of my time fighting with insurance companies.
Voicu Mihnea Simandan: For a law firm, how important is it to build a close relationship with a client?
William Martin: Too many law firms are operated like factories. But remember, the law-firm-as-a-factory model enriches the law firm owner, it does NOT benefit you. I urge you not to surrender your lawsuit or legal claim to one of these ‘factory’ firms. We are not a factory. We are a team. Whereas they have a top down command structure, we work together, in collaboration with each other. Your case will benefit from our brainstorming, mindshare approach. We believe that their approach maximizes law firm profit; whereas our approach maximizes the financial gain for the injured client. Please consider our firm when searching for talented lawyers.
Voicu Mihnea Simandan: What about your fees?
William Martin: We are very fair when charging clients for our efforts. For personal injury and negligence cases, we perform all work on contingency. Meaning, I do not charge you directly for my efforts. Rather, I receive an agreed-upon percentage of any money recovered on your behalf.
Andrews sought to overturn an arbitration decided against her in this personal injury action. She was injured when the Rockland County T.R.I.P.S. bus she was riding rounded a corner and she was thrown from her seat. The arbitrator concluded he did not need to decide if the driver was negligent as Andrews was not wearing a seatbelt, ruling she would not have fallen had she been wearing it, thus was barred from recovering regardless if respondent was negligent. The court concluded that while the award offered “barely colorable justification for the outcome reached,” it was fatally flawed as the arbitrator failed to determine the percentage of culpability on Andrews’ part for failing to wear her seatbelt, and the driver’s part, if any. It noted the arbitrator appeared to have concluded the accident was solely Andrews’ fault, but stated it was incumbent on the arbitrator to decide the percentage of liability attaching to each party. The court ruled it could not speculate as to the arbitrator’s intent. It granted the petition to set aside the award and remanded the case to be heard by a different arbitrator.
Entire Decision: as published by ALM Properties, Inc.
In the Matter of the Application of Paula Andrews, Petitioner, For a Judgment Pursuant to CPLR art. 75 v. County of Rockland, Respondent, 033948/12Supreme Court, Rockland County033948/12 New York Law Journal 12-18-2012Cite as: Matter of Andrews v. County of Rockland, 033948/12, NYLJ 1202581502644, at *1 (Sup., Ro, Decided November 2, 2012)Justice Linda Jamieson
Decided: November 2, 2012
Attorneys for Petitioner: Martin & Colin, P.C., White Plains, NY.
Attorneys for Respondent: Saretsky Katz et al., New York, NY.
The following papers numbered 1 to 5 were read on this motion:
Notice of Petition, Petition and Exhibits1
Memorandum of Law2
Affirmation and Exhibits in Opposition13
Memorandum of Law in Opposition4
Reply Memorandum of Law5
DECISION AND ORDER
Petitioner, a Rockland County resident who was injured while riding on a Rockland County “T.R.I.P.S.” bus, brings this petition seeking to overturn an arbitration decision rendered
against her on April 17, 2012 by a JAMS arbitrator, Allen Hurkin-Torres. The parties had a full eight hours of hearings, including testimony from petitioner and her son, two bus drivers from respondent and experts from both sides.
In his decision, the arbitrator held that “a lengthy decision here is unwarranted since the facts and general principles of law governing liability are largely uncontroverted.” The award goes on to recite the undisputed facts2 — that on the day of the accident, plaintiff had a cane that she used as a result of a previous injury; that she sat in the front of the bus; and that when the bus rounded a corner, she was thrown from her seat to the floor, where she was again seriously injured.
The decision then analyzes the law concerning injuries suffered on a bus, stating that “the movement must be unnecessarily sudden, unusual or violent” — in other words, liability only attaches when a bus driver was negligent, as opposed to the “usual movements of a bus, which include bouncing.…” The arbitrator found that he need not decide whether the driver was negligent (“there is no need to make a determination as to whether the movement of the bus in this case was sufficiently sudden, unusual or violent”), however, because
petitioner was not wearing her seatbelt at the time that the bus rounded that corner. The arbitrator found that “under no scenario would petitioner have fallen to the floor had she been wearing her seatbelt. This being so, it is uncontroverted that she would have suffered no injury. Accordingly, petitioner is barred from recovering irrespective of whether respondent was negligent.”
The basis for the petition is that petitioner believes that the arbitrator “acted with manifest disregard of the law when he did not decide the facts of the case.” In doing so, petitioner argues, he “exceeded his power or so imperfectly executed it that a final and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made,” as set forth in CPLR §7511(b)(1)(iii). She further claims that the award “violates a strong public policy, is irrational or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator’s power” because the arbitrator “did not find any facts” (emphasis omitted), and that he “concluded that he did not have to determine what the facts were in this case because a high-low agreement was in place.”
It is well-settled that “In circumstances when the parties agree to submit their dispute to an arbitrator, courts generally play a limited role. Courts are bound by an arbitrator’s factual findings, interpretation of the contract and judgment concerning remedies. A court cannot examine the merits of an arbitration
award and substitute its judgment for that of the arbitrator simply because it believes its interpretation would be the better one. Indeed, even in circumstances where an arbitrator makes errors of law or fact, courts will not assume the role of overseers to conform the award to their sense of justice.” In the Matter of New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benev. Ass’n. Inc. v. State of NY, 94 N.Y.2d 321, 704 N.Y.S.2d 910(1999). See also In the Matter of the Arbitration between Albany Police Supervisor’s Ass’n v. City of Albany, 95 A.D.3d 1491, 944 N.Y.S.2d 675 (3d Dept. 2012).
Since the Court must give deference to the arbitrator’s decision, and “cannot examine the merits of an arbitration award, even if the arbitrator misapplied or misinterpreted the law or facts,” Shenendehowa Cent. School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Civil Service Employees Ass’n, Inc., 90 A.D.3d 1114, 934 N.Y.S.2d 540 (3d Dept. 2011), the Court may find that an “award is irrational only if there is no proof whatever to justify the award.” Susan D. Settenbrino, P.C. v. Barroga-Hayes, 89 A.D.3d 1094, 933 N.Y.S.2d 409 (2d Dept. 2011). As the Second Department held in Susan D. Settebrino, P.C., “An arbitration award must be upheld when the arbitrator offers even a barely colorable justification for the outcome reached.”
Here, the Court finds that while the award did offer a “barely colorable justification for the outcome reached,” the
award is fatally flawed because the arbitrator failed to determine the percentage of culpability on petitioner’s part for her failure to wear her seatbelt, and on the driver’s part — if any. The arbitrator concluded that it did not matter whether the bus driver had rounded the corner too fast, or otherwise had driven improperly, because had petitioner been wearing her seatbelt in this accident, she would not have fallen to the floor.3 In other words, what the arbitrator appears to have concluded is that petitioner’s failure to wear her seatbelt was the sole cause of the accident. Putting aside the unlikelihood that this was actually the case, the Court finds that it was incumbent upon the arbitrator to determine the percentage of liability attaching to each party. The Court should not have to assume or guess at the arbitrator’s assessment of the parties’ liability. As the First Department held in Hamilton Partners Limited v. Singer, 290 A.D.2d 316, 736 N.Y.S.2d 219 (1st Dept. 2002), a court has authority
to remand the matter to the arbitration panel when the panel’s award does not dispose of a particular issue raised by the parties or indicate the panel’s intention with respect to it, or when the award is ambiguous and not sufficiently explicit, since a court may not impose its own interpretation of the award. Here, the award is not only ambiguous as to the intent of the panel, but also fails to address
and dispose of the issues raised by the parties or to make any specific findings of fact or credibility. Given the diametrically opposed positions of the parties, the award, which apparently denied both sets of claims on the merits, cannot be harmonized or interpreted without speculation as to the panel’s intent.
This is exactly what happened here. The Court cannot speculate as to the arbitrator’s intent. Accordingly, the Court grants the petition, and sets aside the arbitrator’s award. The case shall be re-heard by a different arbitrator — unless the parties wish to attempt to settle it between themselves.
The foregoing constitutes the decision and order of the Court.
1. This Court’s Part Rules — and, indeed, the Rules of every Court in this County — require the submission of Working Copies in an e-filed case. The Court did not receive Working Copies from respondent. Counsel is warned that the Court will not overlook this omission again.
2. Petitioner argues repeatedly that there were many disputed facts. A review of the papers shows that this is true. However, the few facts set forth in the award are all entirely undisputed.
3. The Court does not agree with petitioner’s argument on p. 33 of its moving Memorandum of Law that the arbitrator’s conclusion was so broad as to encompass any accident that might have happened, including the driver driving off a cliff. Plainly, a seatbelt would not prevent injuries in that scenario.