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Insurance Law

Thursday, January 18, 2018

How Title Insurace Protects Homebuyers

How Title Insurance Protect Homebuyers

Buying a home is the single largest investment that many individuals will make which makes it essential for potential homeowners to protect their interests. In particular, it is crucial to ensure that the seller can transfer free and clear ownership of the property by obtaining title insurance.

In short, title insurance protects both lenders and owners against claims for unknown defects in title to the property such as another individual claiming ownership of the property, unpaid taxes, judgments and liens, improperly recorded documents, encroachments and easements, as well as fraud and forgery.

In a residential real estate transaction, there are two types of policies, a lender's policy and a buyer's policy, and the homebuyer is required to pay for both. The lender's policy, or mortgagee's policy, specifically protects the lender's interest, including the loan amount and legal costs. The buyer's policy protects the owner up to the original sales price of the property, or its full market value, depending on the type of policy the buyer purchases.

In order to obtain title insurance, it is necessary to engage the services of an escrow agent, or an attorney, who will order a title search. This is a comprehensive examination of public records associated with the property such as deeds, taxes, court records - judgments, bankruptcies, wills, trusts, divorce decrees and other documents.

The title company will rely on the results of this search to issue a preliminary report, or a title commitment, which details the potential defects and outlines the conditions that must be met before a policy can be issued. This report gives the seller the opportunity to remedy any liens or other encumbrances before the loan closing, or in the alternative, from the proceeds of the sale.

In sum, title insurance protects lenders and buyers from a wide range of problems such as a fraudulent sale, unpaid taxes or other liens and defects. While the cost of a title insurance premium is typically based on the purchase price of the home, it also depends on the services the title company is offering. Lastly, the rules governing title insurance vary from state to state, so it is important to consult with an experienced real estate attorney.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Insurance Bad Faith

Insurance Bad Faith

If you or a loved one is injured in an accident you may be entitled to compensation which usually means dealing with an insurance company. Although insurers have an advantage because they have teams of attorneys and experts, the law requires insurance companies to treat claimants and policyholders fairly. While there may be legitimate reasons to deny a claim, an insurer that fails to engage in good faith and fair dealing may be held liable for bad faith.

What is bad faith?

Bad faith is a legal term for an insurer denying a claim without a reasonable basis. In first party insurance situations, bad faith arises when an insurance company denies a claim without a valid reason. In third party insurance situations, bad faith occurs when an insurer fails to defend or indemnify the policyholder without a valid reason.

Proving bad faith varies from state to state. In some states, it is necessary to show that the insurer failed to conduct a thorough investigation. Other states have a higher a higher threshold that requires proving the insurance company missed or ignored obvious facts or information in denying a claim. A stricter standard that some states rely on requires demonstrating an insurer intentionally conducted an inadequate investigation.

Generally, it is not necessary to demonstrate that the insurer denied a claim merely to advance its interest at the expense of the claimant. On the other hand, an insurance company that makes a mistake or error in denying a claim cannot be held liable for bad faith. Lastly, an insurer that is shown to follow a pattern or practice of not adhering to state regulations governing claims investigation can be held liable for bad faith.

What can I do if I have been the victim of bad faith?

If you have been the victim of bad faith on the part of an insurance company you have options. By engaging the services of an experienced insurance law attorney, you may be able to recover damages from the insurance company. These damages include the amount the insurance company should have paid out for the initial claim, as well as additional damages arising from the bad faith denial.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Common Lawsuits Brought Against Small Businesses

Common Lawsuits Brought Against Small Businesses 

It is impossible to predict every lawsuit that a small business might possibly face. There is nothing to prevent angry vendors, entitled customers, or disgruntled employees from filing a lawsuit, even if there is no legitimate basis for it. The more a business owner delegates responsibilities to employees, the greater the risk that an employee makes a mistake and exposes the business to a lawsuit. Even the most vigilant, hands on business owner is bound to make a mistake that can lead to a complaint filed against the business.

The most common lawsuits brought against businesses are wrongful termination suits brought by employees or candidates who have suffered a negative employment action. This can be anything from being fired to being demoted or even passed over for an advancement opportunity. If the employee or candidate believes that the action was taken for a reason related to race, gender, religion, identity, or another protected classification, that employee might file a lawsuit. For this reason, it is important to document any sort of negative or positive behaviors at work, so that if an employee does complain of discrimination, the courts can see the employee’s work history and the real reason why he or she may have been passed over for a promotion. Disparaging remarks made about any of these protected classes have no business in a work place as they can create a hostile work environment and lead to lawsuits as well.

Many employers choose to save money by denying their employees overtime pay. This can create many extra costs, as employees will sue for the money they are owed, and the legal fees can be significant. It is a good idea to have contracts establishing the boundaries of a relationship between an employer and an employee to minimize confusion.

It also makes sense to put agreements with vendors and customers in writing. The contracts should include a general description of the work to be performed, a list of any items to be delivered, a project schedule with deadlines, the fee, and the circumstances under which additional fees might be charged, warranties included with the work, how long the contract lasts, how it can be terminated, and how disputes will be resolved.

Personal injury lawsuits against businesses are also common, so it is important to make sure that a place of business is kept in safe condition. Floors should always be dry and warnings should be presented to customers of any dangerous conditions. Drivers should be selected carefully as any accident they cause can be made the responsibility of the business that employs them. Employees who are injured at work are usually precluded from suing their employer and are instead referred to worker’s compensation courts which have their own legal fees. Most states require employers to carry insurance in case of a workplace injury.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tort Reform: What is it ?


What is tort reform and what are some of the criticisms of it?

Tort reform is the name commonly given to a proposed solution to the rising healthcare costs in America.  Some people believe that medical malpractice lawsuits are the main reason why the United States has such high healthcare costs.  The argument is that because doctors are afraid of being sued, they have to conduct more tests than is reasonable.  Essentially, doctors complain that they are forced to be too thorough.  Also, it is believed that hospital bills are high because malpractice insurance premiums are high.
Read more . . .


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Worker's Comp vs. Personal Injury

Worker's Comp vs. Personal Injury


 

The primary difference between a workers' compensation claim and a personal injury claim is that a personal injury claim is based on fault, while a workers' compensation case is not. Any injury that occurs to an employee at his/her workplace is covered by workers' compensation, regardless of any negligence or lack of it.

In order to recover damages against another person in a vehicular accident or slip and fall, on the other hand, one must be able to prove some type of negligence on the part of the other person. In other words, the other party must be in some way to blame for the accident. Examples in the cases mentioned would be reckless or drunk driving or poor property maintenance resulting in a floor surface that is irregular or slippery.

In Workers' Compensation Cases, Fault-Finding Is Not Necessary

With very few exceptions, employees who are injured on the job are entitled to workers' compensation benefits regardless of fault. Employees need not prove any negligence on the part of their employers in order to file for and receive workers' compensation benefits. As a matter of fact, employees are eligible to receive workers' comp benefits even if the employee's own negligence resulted in the injuries.

Differences in Damages in Workers' Comp Cases and Other Personal Injury Cases

If it seems that the nature of workers' compensation, in which you can be reimbursed at times for your own clumsiness, is too good to be true, it is. This is because, while workers' comp will pay you compensation for your medical bills, any necessary vocational rehabilitation, lost earning capability or permanent impairment, it will not pay for your personal suffering.  The cap on workers' comp benefits, therefore, is much lower than the typical personal injury settlement once blame is assigned.

When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you may be entitled to compensation for enduring pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life (hedonic damages), even damage to clothing or jewelry during the accident. In cases in which you can file for workers' comp, however, you have foregone the right to sue your employer or co-workers for negligence and also the right to collect damages for pain and suffering.

Are Any Workers Legally Permitted to Sue Their Employers?

Yes, there are two categories of employees who are allowed to sue their employers when they are injured on the job: crewmembers of ships or boats and interstate railroad workers. Although these two classes of workers are not entitled to workers' comp, they are allowed to sue their employers under the Jones Act, for ship employees, or the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), for interstate railroad workers. It should be noted that workers on commuter trains may not qualify for FELA. Employees who work on ships or railroads should be sure to contact an attorney familiar with pertinent laws before filing for compensation.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Umbrella Insurance: What It Is and Why You Need It

Umbrella Insurance: What It Is and Why You Need It

Lawsuits are everywhere. What happens when you are found to be at fault in an accident, and a significant judgment is entered against you? A child dives head-first into the shallow end of your swimming pool, becomes paralyzed, and needs in-home medical care for the rest of his or her lifetime. Or, you accidentally rear-end a high-income executive, whose injuries prevent him or her from returning to work. Either of these situations could easily result in judgments or settlements that far exceed the limits of your primary home or auto insurance policies. Without additional coverage, your life savings could be wiped out with the stroke of a judge’s pen.

Typical liability insurance coverage is included as part of your home or auto policy to cover an injured person’s medical expenses, rehabilitation or lost wages due to negligence on your part. The liability coverage contained in your policy also cover expenses associated with your legal defense, should you find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Once all of these expenses are added together, the total may exceed the liability limits on the home or auto insurance policy. Once insurance coverage is exhausted, your personal assets could be seized to satisfy the judgment.

However, there is an affordable option that provides you with added liability protection. Umbrella insurance is a type of liability insurance policy that provides coverage above and beyond the standard limits of your primary home, auto or other liability insurance policies. The term “umbrella” refers to the manner in which these insurance policies shield your assets more broadly than the primary insurance coverage, by covering liability claims from all policies “underneath” it, such as your primary home or auto coverage.

With an umbrella insurance policy, you can add an addition $1 million to $5 million – or more – in liability coverage to defend you in negligence actions. The umbrella coverage kicks in when the liability limits on your primary policies has been exhausted. This additional liability insurance is often relatively inexpensive in comparison to the cost of the primary insurance policies and potential for loss if the unthinkable happens.

Generally, umbrella insurance is pure liability coverage over and above your regular policies. It is typically sold in million-dollar increments. These types of policies are also broader than traditional auto or home policies, affording coverage for claims typically excluded by primary insurance policies, such as claims for defamation, false arrest or invasion of privacy.
 


Monday, June 8, 2015

10 Things to Bring to Your First Meeting with Your Attorney

10 Things to Bring to Your First Meeting With Your Attorney

Hiring an attorney is not something most people do every day, so being a little bit unsure of how things are going to go is perfectly normal. To help ease some of the stress and make the process go more smoothly, take time to compile and bring the following list of items with you to your first meeting.

  1. A list of all your contact information. Your lawyer is going to need to know your full legal name and any other names you go by, your address, phone number(s), and email address.

  2. The names and contact information of other people that might get involved with the case - people on the other side, people on your side, witnesses, doctors, police, insurance agents, etc.  If a case has already been filed against you, the name(s) and contact information of the lawyer(s) representing the other side will also be needed.

  3. A typed up or written down account of the circumstances surrounding the situation that is causing you to seek legal help. Try to make your summary of events as detailed as possible. If writing or typing isn’t one of your strengths, try creating an audio recording.

  4. A timeline of events. The best way to do this is to buy a calendar, write all the important events on it, and bring it to the meeting with you.

  5. Any materials (including documents, digital files and photos) you have that relate to your legal matter. If possible, put the documents in an order that makes sense when paired with the summary of events and timeline you put together above.

  6. A list of information (particularly documents) you wish you had or thought you had but can’t seem to find now.

  7. The truth. You don’t have to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth unless you are taking the witness stand in the courtroom, but lying to your attorney will not help your case. 

  8. Bring a good idea of what you hope to get out of the case. Think about what winning looks like to you. It is difficult for your attorney to figure out how best to help you if they don’t know what you want. 

  9. An open mind paired with a good sense of what your gut is telling you. Your lawyer may suggest a solution that you would never have imagined, or let you know that you don’t have a case. Listen to what they tell you, but don’t be afraid to share your thoughts on their suggestions.

  10. A list of any questions you have. The meeting will be far more productive if you leave without nagging questions or lingering doubts.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What is a Surety Bond ?

What is a Surety Bond?

 

A "surety bond" is a legal tool used to guarantee that a promise will be kept.  It ensures that contractual requirements will be met and work will be done according to specifications.  If they are not, the bond will cover some or all of the damages that result.

 

The "surety bond" commits three parties to a binding contract. 

 

First, there is the "principal," the contractor, business or individual purchasing the "surety bond" as a way to assure others that work will be done as agreed.

 

Second, there is the "obligee," the party seeking assurance that the "principal" will fully complete the task.  Obligees are sometimes government agencies putting out bids, or any company or institution trying to be certain that it does not suffer financial loss at the hands of a contractor.

 

Third, there is the "surety," often an insurance company, which backs the bond and makes payment to the obligee in the event that the principal fails to meet its responsibilities.

 

How Does a Surety Bond Work?

 

A contractor  (the principal) usually pays an annual premium to an insurance company (the surety) in exchange for the insurer's commitment to uphold the contractor's promise to the organization or company that hired the contractor (the obligee).  If the contractor misses a deadline or breaches some other term of a contract, the organization it contracted with can ask the insurer to cover any losses that have ensued, up to the amount of the surety bond.  If the company has a valid claim, the insurance company will make payment.  After making good on the bond, whether the maximum amount or a lesser sum, the insurer usually tries to recover the funds from the contractor.

 

When Is a Surety Bond Required?

 

There are a number of circumstances in which an individual or business may need to buy a surety bond. 

 

  • To receive contracts from the government or from some general contractors, a construction firm or other bidder may need to have a surety bond.  Varieties of surety bond can include:  "bid bonds" guaranteeing that a contractor will accept a contract if its bid is successful; "performance bonds" guaranteeing that a contractor will complete a contract according to its terms; "payment bonds," guaranteeing that a contractor will pay subcontractors and suppliers, particularly on federal projects; and "maintenance bonds," guaranteeing that a contractor will provide upkeep and repairs for a certain amount time.

 

  • A surety bond such as a "license bond" or "permit bond" is sometimes a requirement for receiving certain business licenses or permits.

 

  • A business may need a "business service bond" or "fidelity bond" to protect itself or its clients against theft or other crimes by its employees

 

  • "Judicial bonds" may be needed by parties in civil or criminal litigation to guarantee court remedies or penalties.  These can include "bail bonds."

 

  • "Fiduciary bonds" are sometimes needed by individuals working with probate courts.  These ensure that these individuals will care for the assets of others professionally and honestly.

 

If you need advice relating to surety bonds, a business law attorney can help.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Buy-Sell Agreements

Overview: Buy-Sell Agreements and Your Small Business

If you co-own a business, you need a buy-sell agreement. Also called a buyout agreement, this document is essentially the business world’s equivalent of a prenup. An effective buy-sell agreement helps prevent conflict between the company’s owners, while also preserving the company’s closely held status. Any business with more than one owner should address this issue upfront, before problems arise.

With a proper buy-sell agreement, all business owners are protected in the event one of the owners wishes to leave the company. The buy-sell agreement establishes clear procedures that must be followed if an owner retires, sells his or her shares, divorces his or her spouse, becomes disabled, or dies. The agreement will establish the price and terms of a buyout, ensuring the company continues in the absence of the departing owner.

A properly drafted buy-sell agreement takes into consideration exactly what the owners wish to happen if one owner departs, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.  Do the owners want to permit a new, unknown partner, should the departing owner wish to sell to an uninvolved third party? What happens if an owner’s spouse is involved in the business and that owner gets a divorce or passes away? How are interests valued when a triggering event occurs?

In crafting your buy-sell agreement, consider the following issues:

  • Triggering Events - What events trigger the provisions of the agreement?  These normally include death, disability, bankruptcy, divorce and retirement.
     
  • Business Valuation - How will the value of shares being transferred be determined? Owners may determine the value of shares annually, by agreement, appraisal or formula.  The agreement may require that the appraisal be performed by a business valuation expert at the time of the triggering event.  Some agreements may also include a “shotgun provision” in which one party proposes a price, giving the other party the obligation to accept or counter with a new offer.
     
  • Funding - How will the departing owner be paid?  Many business owners will obtain insurance coverage, including life, disability, or business continuation insurance on the life or disability of the other owners.  With respect to life insurance, the agreement may provide that the company redeem the departing owner’s shares (“redemption”).  Alternatively, each of the owners may purchase life insurance on the lives of the other owners to provide the liquidity needed to purchase the departing owner’s shares (“cross purchase agreement”).   The agreement may also authorize the company to use it’s cash reserves to buy-out the departing owners.  
     

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Life Insurance and Medicaid Planning

Life Insurance and Medicaid Planning

Many people purchase a life insurance policy as a way to ensure that their dependents are protected upon their passing. Generally speaking, there are two basic types of life insurance policies: term life and whole life insurance. With a term policy, the holder pays a monthly, or yearly, premium for the policy which will pay out a death benefit to the beneficiaries upon the holder’s death so long as the policy was in effect. A whole life policy is similar to a term, but also has an investment component which builds cash value over time. This cash value can benefit either the policy holder during his or her lifetime or the beneficiaries.

During the Medicaid planning process, many people are surprised to learn that the cash value of life insurance is a countable asset. In most cases, if you have a policy with a cash value, you are able to go to the insurance company and request to withdraw that cash value. Thus, for Medicaid purposes, that cash value will be treated just like a bank account in your name. There may be certain exceptions under your state law where Medicaid will not count the cash value. For example, if the face value (which is normally the death benefit) of the policy is a fairly small amount (such as $10,000 or less) and if your "estate" is named as a beneficiary, or if a "funeral home" is named as a beneficiary, the cash value may not be counted. However, if your estate is the beneficiary then Medicaid likely would have the ability to collect the death proceeds from your estate to reimburse Medicaid for the amounts they have paid out on your behalf while you are living (this is known as estate recovery). Generally, the face value ($10,000 in the example) is an aggregate amount of all life insurance policies you have. It is not a per policy amount.

Each state has different Medicaid laws so it’s absolutely essential that you seek out a good elder law or Medicaid planning attorney in determining whether your life insurance policy is a countable asset.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Thinking about becoming a Restaurateur ?

Opening a new restaurant? Some key legal considerations for restaurateurs

Each year, approximately 30,000 new restaurants are opened in the United States. Most restaurateurs understand the great risk that comes with these ventures; in fact, some sources estimate as many as 18,000 of the 30,000 restaurants opened this year will fail within the first three years in business. Despite the risk, many chefs and hospitality professionals dive right in. If you’re a hopeful restaurateur, legal planning is an absolute necessity to ensure you don’t fall victim to many of the common mistakes that cause these businesses to fail. Consider the following:

Business Entity
All restaurant owners must carefully consider the best corporate structure for their businesses. Generally speaking, there are four types of structures: a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation. In the case of a restaurant, most owners will want to limit liability, and protect personal assets, should there be a lawsuit filed by a customer or employee. An LLC or corporation is often recommended for restaurants since these limit personal liability. A qualified business law attorney can help you identify which structure is best for your new restaurant, and help you prepare and file all required documents.

Zoning
As any successful restaurateur will tell you, a good location is key to a profitable restaurant. In considering the location of your restaurant, you will want to take into account the local zoning laws. Some areas are restricted to residential dwellings while others may be zoned for commercial use. Do you want to have outdoor seating in the summer? That too may be subject to zoning restrictions. Be sure to carefully outline how you plan to use the space and then identify possible locations accordingly.

Leasing a Space
If you don’t have the capital to buy a space for your restaurant, you’ll likely have to rent one. In many cases, costly renovations are required (especially if the space was not previously used for a restaurant). When a significant amount of money is put into the space upfront, it’s absolutely essential that you take steps to protect your tenancy and ensure your business can afford to stay there for an undetermined amount of time. This might mean negotiating a favorable a long-term lease, and including specific clauses pertaining to rent increases. A lawyer with experience in the restaurant industry should be consulted early in the process to ensure your best interests are protected.

Licenses and Permits
Unlike many other types of businesses, restaurants often require a number of licenses and permits from local governing bodies. For instance, you might be required to obtain a license to handle food. If you want to have a bar, you will need a liquor license. Even if you plan to have patron dancing, you may be required to obtain a special permit. An attorney can help you identify exactly what you will need and help you complete all applicable paperwork.

Patron & Employee Safety
To ensure the safety of all patrons, your local governing agency may require your restaurant to undergo regular inspections from the health department. To ensure the well-being of all employees, you should also review all Occupational Safety and Health Administration policies.

Insurance
If you frequent restaurants, you’ve likely witnessed an accident or two - a server spills a hot cup of coffee all over a patron or a bartender slips on some water from the ice machine. With the risk of injury high, it’s absolutely critical that all restaurant owners select an insurance policy which protects the business against lawsuits. In selecting the best policy, speak with an insurance agent and knowledgeable attorney who have restaurant experience to ensure you are protected.

Intellectual Property
You have probably thought long and hard about your restaurant’s name, signature recipes and even your tagline. Since these components are all critical to your branding and long-term success, you should take steps to protect them. An attorney can help you register the name of your restaurant or food creation as a trademark.

Franchises
If you are purchasing a franchise, you will have even more legal considerations including the time consuming review of the disclosure document and the often daunting franchise agreement.

Opening a restaurant has its fair share of challenges, especially when compared with many other types of small businesses. By addressing potential legal pitfalls, restaurateurs can focus on operational aspects of their business and enhance their chance of success. It’s absolutely essential that you consult an attorney with experience in the restaurant industry early on to reduce risk and expense down the road.


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