Syracuse University Magazine

Aviva Abramovsky

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Risky Business

These are exciting times in the field of insurance law, according to Professor Aviva Abramovsky of the College of Law. Perhaps a bit too exciting. As chair of the Insurance Law Section of the American Association of Law Schools (AALS), Abramovsky occupies a leadership position in an area of legal scholarship that has been thrust into the media spotlight by such ongoing news stories as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the debate over health care legislation, automobile safety recalls, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, and regulation of the financial industry. "The field of insurance law is much broader in scope than most people recognize," Abramovsky says. "It covers all the familiar types of personal insurance, but in a larger sense it's the study of the ways in which contracts can shift risk from one party to another."

Abramovsky, who led a session on the AIG financial debacle at the 2010 AALS convention, is not surprised to find insurance so much on the public mind these days. "The principal product sold by the insurance industry is peace of mind through risk reduction," she says. "Yet we're experiencing a period of fundamental change in the very industry that is supposed to offer us stability." With the passage of a Congressional health care bill, she points out, we have federal regulation of insurance, a power previously reserved to the states. At the same time, we are seeing a blurring of lines between private insurance and public forms of insurance, such as Social Security and Medicare, leading many to worry that the insurance companies they depend on are becoming more like a public utility or an agent of the government. "The result of all this is tremendous anxiety, and anxiety about insurance creates anxiety throughout the entire financial and commercial structure," she says.

A member of the law faculty since 2004, Abramovsky offers courses on commercial transactions and professional responsibility as well as insurance law. No stranger to Central New York, she did her undergraduate work at Cornell, majoring in industrial labor relations. After completing law school at the University of Pennsylvania, she spent three years in private practice with Anderson, Kill & Olick P.C. in New York City and a year teaching at Florida State University in Tallahassee. For the past three years, Abramovsky has served as co-director of SU's Law in London summer program, an educational experience whose virtues she doesn't mind touting. "During its 30-year history, the London program has established relationships with barristers, solicitors, and other legal professionals who provide internships that allow our students to work with the top legal minds in the U.K.," she says.  Of all her activities at SU, Abramovsky places highest personal value on her participation on the College of Law committees chosen by the American Bar Association to evaluate Supreme Court nominees Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor.  "The opportunity to serve in that capacity has been the greatest honor in my life," she says. "The Syracuse law faculty is doing many incredibly meaningful things. It's such a pleasure to teach here." —David Marc

Photo by Steve Sartori