Can an engineering firm limit its liability by contract?

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

 

Maybe not, in certain circumstances. A Fairfax County judge has determined that an engineering firm cannot limit its liability by contract in a case involving a 2008 fee contract. The typical fee agreement for an engineering firm includes some form of “limitation of liability” in which the firm seeks to limit its liability “to the amount of fees paid” to the firm, whether the claim is for breach of contract or warranty, or for negligence. In the case of Dewberry & Davis, Inc. v. C3NS, Inc., the engineering services firm, Dewberry, filed a fee claim against C3NS. C3NS filed a counterclaim for breach of contract. Dewberry had a limitation of liability clause in its fee agreement. It sought summary judgment to prevent C3NS from claiming that the limitation of liability paragraph was void. The Court sided with C3NS.

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ADA, FHA, and HOAs And Service Animals: Florida Association Sued for housing discrimination

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

A short while ago we wrote a blog piece on the issues relating to community associations regulating service animals. In that blog we noted that the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”)  “permits individuals with disabilities to keep an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation when there are limitations imposed by the homeowner or condominium association on animals and pets.”  In Broward County, Florida, that county’s Civil Rights Division filed suit against a condominium association for violating the FHA by refusing to consider a person’s request for an “emotional servant animal,” a chihuahua.

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Update for Limited Liability Companies: What happens to Membership Interest when a Member Dies?

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, John Tarley | No Comments

We blogged about the Virginia Supreme Court case of Ott v. Monroe. In that case, the Court ruled that when a father, in his will, assigned his majority interest in a limited liability company to his daughter, he only assigned a profit interest, not a control interest. Consequently, his daughter did not have the authority to “run” the company, absent the consent of the remaining LLC members.

In its 2013 session, the General Assembly modified the relevant LLC statutes in an attempt to overturn the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision. This blog post examines the new statute, and how it may impact your limited liability company.

Business Deal
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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

A Virginia Circuit Court case highlights the expense and time commitment required when a homeowner sues a common interest community (referred to as “HOA” in this article). Furthermore, this case illustrates that HOAs can rarely predict or control when they may be dragged into a lawsuit.

In this case, Hornstein v. Federal Hill Homeowners Association, a homeowner had her house for sale with a pending sales contract. Pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 55-509.5, the HOA provided a disclosure packet that revealed that the homeowner’s fence was not located on her property. In fact, the homeowner’s own survey confirmed that fact. The pending sales contract fell through.

The homeowner sued the HOA in Fairfax Circuit Court for slander of title and tortious interference with contract, including a claim for “bodily injury,” and “mental anguish.” The HOA prevailed in the case, leading to the homeowner’s petition for appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. [UPDATED: The Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear the case, meaning that the Circuit Court’s decision stands].

Another battle has been waged regarding whether the HOA’s insurance carrier had a duty to defend the HOA in the underlying litigation. When the HOA’s insurance carrier denied coverage and representation, the HOA sued the insurance carrier. The case was removed to the federal court. The 4th Circuit District Court agreed with the insurance carrier. The HOA appealed and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and held that the insurance carrier had a duty to defend. The insurance carrier has appealed for a rehearing. [UPDATED: the insurance carrier lost its appeal and was ordered to pay the HOA $217,308.86 for the attorneys’ fees the HOA incurred].

For a brief review, the HOA provided the disclosure packet in February 2006. After the homeowner’s pending sale fell through, she sued the HOA in August 2007. As we near August 2010, the underlying case may be close to resolution, but litigation with the insurance company may be far from resolving. Based upon the amount of litigation, we can assume that the HOA’s attorneys’ fees have reached six figures. Obviously, payment for these attorneys’ fees is then passed onto the homeowners (unless the case shifts payment of the attorneys’ fees to the losing party, but even then, courts rarely award the full 100% of the incurred fees).

Many lessons can be drawn from this experience. Most importantly, HOAs need to review their insurance policies to make sure they are covered fully for worst case scenarios. Our experience has shown that “anybody can sue anybody for anything at any time.” Although the plaintiff may not win (and did not win in this case), the ensuing litigation will take abundant resources. We can help you review your documents and insurance policies with the necessary professionals to protect your HOA, and homeowner interests.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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Emails from work computer can waive rights to privileged communications

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation | No Comments

We have written on the issues that arise when employees use their work computer for personal business. In that blog article, we referred to a California case in which an appellate court ruled that an employee’s emails to her attorney were not protected by the attorney-client privilege because the company had a written policy that informed employees that computers were not to be used for personal matters, that emails could be monitored to ensure that employees complied with the policy, and that employees should not expect any privacy in the use of their computers.

In local news, former Delegate Phil Hamilton raised a “marital privilege” objection to the use at trial of emails he sent to his wife. Certain communications to and from a spouse can be protected from disclosure. There were complicating factors to this case’s analysis.

 

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The Rule of Caveat Emptor in the Sale of Real Estate vs. a Seller’s Duty to Disclose

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Construction litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Simply stated, caveat emptor means “let the buyer take care,” or even more plainly stated: “Buyer beware.” In real estate matters, buyers are warned that they are to “exercise ordinary care in inspecting the condition of property.” Therefore, buyers are generally urged to obtain a home inspection and take such other care prior to closing on their real estate purchase. Otherwise, the buyers may not have any relief if they find adverse conditions after taking possession.

A case arising out of Charlottesville highlights the obligations of the buyers and the sellers in the purchase of a home. In that case, the seller of the home was also a licensed real estate agent, which added another complication regarding the duty to disclose. This blog posts analyzes that court decision, which offers warnings to buyers and sellers of real estate, as well as to licensed real estate agents.

 

 

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Get your fence off my property!

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Clients sometimes come to us with disputes regarding real estate litigation matters involving boundary line and easement encroachments. We provide legal advice and counsel, trying to balance your real estate rights with neighborly harmony, always looking to avoid a lawsuit when possible.

Easements provide a broad range of legal rights and obligations. In a fairly recent Virginia Supreme Court case, Snead v. C&S Properties Holding Company, a landowner blocked access to a validly recorded easement. The easement holder filed a lawsuit, asking the court to order the obstruction removed. The Virginia Supreme Court ordered the fence removed, concluding that “a significant portion of the easement would be rendered unusable for ingress and egress if injunctive relief were denied.”

Common Interest Communities

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Arbitration instead of Court? Be careful what you ask for

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Over the past 15 years or so, “arbitration” provisions have appeared with increasing frequency in a wide variety of contracts. For example, declarations of covenants and restrictions recorded for homeowners associations, construction contracts, employment contracts, and commercial leases all may contain arbitration clauses. Arbitration may be a good idea, but you should know what “arbitration” means before you agree to be bound by such a provision.

Many people confuse the terms “mediation” and “arbitration.” Mediation refers to a process whereby a third-party helps facilitate a negotiated settlement between two or more parties. A mediator does not make decisions, does not take evidence, and does not conduct hearings. Parties simply negotiate and the mediator helps foster those negotiations.

Conversely, arbitrations are conducted like regular trials, with a judge-like arbitrator (or arbitrators) making a final decision based upon the evidence presented, and hopefully the law of your jurisdiction. Appeals of an arbitrator’s decision are virtually nonexistent.

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Virginia Supreme Court upholds arbitration award granted to homeowners who sued their HOA

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It is relatively routine for developers or “declarants” to include arbitration provisions into the declaration of restrictive covenants recorded to establish a common interest community. Generally, arbitration clauses are preferred by developers for a variety of reasons including avoiding a jury and having a say in the choice of the fact-finder. However, those decisions made by the developers have long lasting effects upon homeowner boards following transition, because it is difficult for a board to effect a change in the documents.

 

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Has your business been paid with a check endorsed as “Payment in Full?”

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Law, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Many of us have been paid by a check that includes the written endorsement of “payment in full.” By this endorsement, the maker (writer of the check) intends to settle any dispute once the payee (recipient of the check) deposits the check. The payee worries that by depositing the check, he is waiving any right to demand full payment for the service or supply provided. This blog post addresses Virginia law and each party’s rights with respect to the endorsement of “payment in full.”

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