Righting a Wrong

THE LAW FIRM of Martin, Harding and Mazzotti specializes in personal injuries, representing those who have been hurt in a wide variety of circumstances. They take cases involving motor vehicle collisions, medical malpractice, defective products, and many others. Founded in the Albany area over 20 years ago, the firm has grown and now has offices across New York State and two locations in Vermont, employing 150.

The local office, at 173 Margaret Street in downtown Plattsburgh, is staffed by an attorney, Benjamin S. Barry, and a paralegal, Konnor L. Baker. Both Barry and Baker are from families with long histories in the city. Barry is a fourth generation Plattsburgher who grew up on Brinkerhoff Street, while Baker hails from Adirondack Lane.

Barry took pre-med courses in college and graduated from Potsdam State with a Bachelor of Science degree. He has a strong interest in medicine and bioethics, which are the evolving societal rules dealing with biological and medical advances. Examples are stem cell research, genetically modified organisms and euthanasia.

In 2011, he earned a Juris Doctor degree from the law school at the University of Buffalo. He is admitted to the bar in New York and also in Massachusetts where he began his career as a criminal defense attorney on the island of Nantucket. Five years ago he was offered a position with Martin, Harding and Mazzotti (MHM) and returned to his hometown.

The firm’s first Plattsburgh location was in Booth Plaza near the Route 3 exit off I-87, Barry was its sole occupant. Business flourished and it was clear more room and another staff member were needed, so the practice moved to Margaret Street and Barry hired Baker to be his paralegal. An advantage of the downtown location is the proximity of the courthouse and the center city.

Half of the personal injury cases handled in the Plattsburgh office are due to motor vehicle accidents. Barry explained that the number of tourists in the area who are unfamiliar with local roads is a factor. Forty percent of the cases are slip and falls, while the remaining 10 percent involve medical malpractice.

Slip and falls are cases involving slipping or tripping on another person’s premises and suffering an injury. An icy walkway in front of a store that causes you to fall and break an arm would be an example.

Medical malpractice is when a doctor, nurse or any other medical provider deviates from normal standards of care and causes an injury. Negligence or incompetence and failure to provide informed consent are two main areas of malpractice. Informed consent claims are based on the patient’s not being adequately told of the possible hazards or risks of a procedure before consenting to it.

MHM handles an array of injury cases, including brain injury from accidents and physical or mental abuse of children and teens. Cases of institutional childhood sex abuse not only address current day but also sexual abuse that may have occurred years ago. Familiar examples include cases involving college coaches, scout leaders and the clergy. A recently passed New York law, the Child Victims Act, extends the time claims may be made by victims.

MHM also takes cases involving nursing homes and the problems they may pose, such as neglectful care or allowing patients to wander away from the facility. Wrongful death, in which a person dies due to the negligence or incompetence of another person, can be extremely complex. Juries are asked to figure out the deceased’s value to his/ her family and need to consider items like character and abilities, pain and suffering that occurred before death, economic value and the value of the deceased as a parent if there are children.

Burn injuries are a specialty of the firm due to the particularly unpleasant and long-term physical damage and mental trauma they may cause. Explosions, vehicle accidents and building fires are potential sources of burn injuries. While dog bites may be fairly commonplace and not particularly serious, on occasion the injuries caused by a dog may be severe. The owner of the dog may or may not have been aware of his animal’s potential to be dangerous, but it’s not a matter to be taken lightly.

Sports injuries are another area MHM concentrates on. When playing sports, people accept that there may be a chance of injury. Skinned knees or a twisted ankle can be tolerated, but when a coach or trainer fails to supervise or prepare the participants adequately and serious injury occurs, it may be wise to consult an attorney. As an aside, MHM has found that while injuries from playing football are generally more severe, it is the game of basketball that produces the largest quantity of injuries.

Job related injuries and claims for Social Security disability or Workers Compensation are other areas MHM covers. Injuries that reduce or eliminate a person’s ability to earn an income have a voluminous set of rules covering them. Navigating these rules can be very difficult without advice. In an odd sort of twist, railroad workers have their own set of rules regarding accidents, because they are not covered by Workers Compensation laws.

Mass tort claims deal with defective products like medical devices and drugs, as well as products like talcum powder, Roundup herbicide and Takata air bags. A tort is a wrong that causes injury or harm to another. For example, punching someone in the nose is a tort as well as a criminal act. A tort can damage your reputation by libel or slander. Torts involving many people and widely used products are handled in MHM’s Albany office by specialists.

MHM takes pro bono cases as well, representing indigent individuals who may suffer from mental illness or addictions in diversion courts that are set up to keep them out of prison. MHM also believes in making significant contributions to its communities. They have a bicycle helmet program for children that has provided thousands of helmets over the years. “It’s important for us as a firm to give back,” said Barry.

MHM’s caseload is expanding in the North Country because the firm advertises on television and uses billboards. Barry thinks that word of mouth is also a big reason business is growing, especially since he and Baker are well known in the area.

Barry makes sure that every request for his help is answered within 24 hours, and will meet with clients at any time. He and Baker both enjoy the sense that their knowledge and skills can ease the burdens of someone who’s been wrongly injured, and can help lift the weight of not knowing what to do when trouble strikes.