Sinas Dramis and partners replicate popular People's Law School in Grand Rapids

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  LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE

By Cynthia Price
Legal News

The People’s Law School, held for over 20 years in the Lansing area, has expanded to Grand Rapids this fall.

There is some question on the historical record regarding whether the popular classes, intended for the general public, have been held in this area before, but attorneys from the Sinas Dramis Law Firm say if so, it has been more than 15 years.

Though Sinas Dramis (the full name of which is Sinas, Dramis, Brake, Boughton and McIntyre, PC) has taken a lead role in organizing the series of classes, the People’s Law School is co-sponsored by the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ) and Wayne State University Law School.

Tom Sinas introduced the first Grand Rapids session, held last Wednesday, by saying, “We’re here to tell you what the law is — that’s not to say that that’s what the law should be. This isn’t a legal help clinic, where you can get individual legal advice. These are classes, where you can learn about the current law and how it affects your life.”

Or, as James Hofer, also of Sinas Dramis, said in a 2010 article in the Macomb County Legal News, “People are fascinated by the law and often a bit afraid of it. Our goal is to try to open the curtain a bit so people can understand and appreciate their rights and how the law works.”

If paying rapt attention is any gauge, a group of about 30 local residents derived a lot of that sort of information at the first class, held at Grand Rapids Christian High School, a beautiful and very large facility on Plymouth Avenue south of Burton.

The topic was “Rules of the Road,” and it covered both auto law in Michigan, particularly the ins-and-outs of no-fault, and bicycle law.

Members of the Sinas Dramis Law Firm were particularly well-suited to teach that session. Tom Sinas covered the benefits and deficiencies of Michigan’s no-fault law, including some counterintuitive advice for individuals to get the best coverage. Bryan Waldman, so well-known as a bicycle expert that he goes by the name of Bike Law  Bryan on the “Cambio-Corsa” blog at www.bikelaw.com/cambio-corsa, gave of his expertise on Michigan bicycle law in general and Grand Rapids bike law in particular.

Sinas Dramis, founded in 1951, is a Lansing-based firm which covers the gamut of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as focusing on family law. The firm’s George T. Sinas has written widely on no-fault insurance, including some highly pragmatic publications handed out at the session. Waldman has written “A Legal Handbook for Michigan Cyclists.”

After a brief history of how Michigan came to have a no-fault law — to avoid the court bottlenecks and lengthy resolution times caused when the only way to resolve every serious accident was through a lawsuit — Tom Sinas gave an easy-to-understand overview of Michigan no-fault rights versus the right to pursue a tort liability claim against a party who was at fault in an accident. He used his hands to help the audience keep straight which of the two approaches he was discussing in a set of compare-and-contrast questions he framed.

He and Waldman both warned that the time frame to decide to file a lawsuit, one year, can come up decep-

tively quickly.

Sinas had three recommendations for choosing insurance coverage, which he called “The Three Uns.” People should carry as much uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage as they can afford, which he thought was available at bargain prices. And, less intuitively, people should choose to have “uncoordinated no-fault,” which means that the individual’s health insurance will not have to be considered before no-fault coverage kicks in, a savings of time and confusion.

Toward the end, Sinas also talked briefly about a proposed Michigan bill, HB4612, which “imposes unprecedented limitations on medical benefits and significantly restricts what treatment and services are available to persons injured in motor vehicle accidents,” according to an article written by George Sinas on the CPAN (Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault) website, www.cpan.us. The most egregious restriction says that no money will be paid out for a medical procedure unless it is “reasonably likely to result in meaningful and measurable lasting improvement in the injured person’s functional status,” which George Sinas calls out as “inhumane.”

When his time came, Waldman showed a brief police-car video taken of one of his clients (with the client’s permission), indicating how much Michigan bike law is open to interpretation. It shows a man, who is also an advocate with the League of Michigan Bicyclists, riding his bike in the right lane of Michigan Avenue in Lansing. The policeman issued a ticket, for “interference with normal flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic,” which Waldman helped him fight. They won the case because, as is clear from the video, cars were able to get around the cyclist, but Waldman said he felt it could have gone either way.

A major take-away from Waldman’s talk is that, absent other regulations, bicyclists must ride as far to the right as possible. He also noted that municipalities are free to pass ordinances that differ with state law.

There is still much to come in the People’s Law School. On Oct. 22, Chief Judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court candidate Bill Murphy will offer “A View from the Bench,” and there will also be educational information on the Affordable Care Act; the Oct. 29 session on election law will feature the Dean of Wayne State Law School, Jocelyn Benson, who is also an election law scholar. The Nov. 5 class is on family law and estate planning; and Nov. 12 focuses on criminal law. 

The Lansing People’s Law School, also held in the fall, generally draws participants numbering well over 200, at times over 300, but Tom Sinas was quite pleased with the turnout in Grand Rapids considering this is the first year. There is definitely still room for more and it is possible to attend a single session for a cost of $5, so those interested may register at www.peopleslawschool.org, email jamestuck@

michiganjustice.org, or call Kristi, at MAJ, 517-321-3073.