Smokin’ in the Condo

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Imagine if someone told Don Draper and Roger Sterling of Mad Men that they could no longer smoke in their apartments. They would look at you curiously, smirk and light up a cigarette. But Mad Men, the television show about a Madison Avenue advertising agency is set in 1965 and as the ad for Virginia Slims said, “[we’ve] come a long way, baby.” Almost half of all adults smoked in 1965 but that percentage has dropped to 18% by 2012.

The negative health effects have been documented and the reported adverse health effects caused by second-hand smoke has resulted in smoking bans in restaurants. One of the next areas in which smoking bans have been put in place is in condominium communities. Some of the smoking bans address common elements only but others have imposed a ban on smoking in the condominium unit.

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What happens if a tree falls from my property onto a public highway causing damage?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

“Tree law” fascinates us. I guess part of the reason is because many of us have at least one tree on our property, and during severe storms, we fear what would happen if one of those trees fell on our house, our neighbor’s house, or the street. Once the fear subsides, the next question we ask ourselves is “Who would pay if the tree fell on our neighbor’s property or vice versa and caused damage?” Or our neighbor’s tree may overhang our property or its roots may cause damage to our property, “What can we do then?” These issues are important considerations for property owners and community associations when reviewing their insurance policies.

The Virginia Supreme Court added to the small body of Virginia “tree law” cases. In this case, Cline v. Dunlora South, LLC, a man driving on a public road was struck and injured by a tree  that fell from private property. The man sued the property owner, claiming that the property owner’s “conduct constituted a nuisance because [its] lack of care, inspection, servicing, and/or maintenance of the subject property and tree was a condition that imperiled the safety of the public highway immediately adjacent to the property and tree, creating a danger and hazard to motorists and/or pedestrians.” The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and on appeal the Virginia Supreme Court agreed that the property owner did not have “a duty to protect travelers on an adjoining public roadway from natural conditions on his or her land.” This blog post reviews that decision and what it means for us.

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Small Business Break-Ups – The High Cost of Litigating a Forced Separation

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

A recent Virginia Supreme Court Case, Cattano v. Bragg, illustrates two points we have made time and time again: 1) Make sure your small business is prepared for an eventual “divorce” between the shareholders; and 2) Litigation is very, very expensive.

In this blog post we will review the Supreme Court’s decision and provide some tips for your small business so that you can avoid the calamity that occurred in this case, which included an attorneys’ fee award of over $260,000 for the prevailing party.

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Oral Contracts are enforceable, but . . . .

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Many times, parties enter into informal loan agreements on a simple oral promise to “pay it back.”  Similarly, others will enter into oral agreements to perform residential construction projects, or other types of projects. When things do not go as expected and the promises are of a value worth litigating over (or one of the parties to the promise thinks they are) things can go swiftly downhill.

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Contracts

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Arbitration instead of Court? Be careful what you ask for

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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Caveat Emptor and a Buyer’s Duty to Investigate Real Estate Purchase

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Construction litigation, General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We blogged about a Charlottesville Circuit Court case in which the court analyzed the duty to disclose for a seller of residential real estate.  We wrote another post regarding that case discussing an exception to the rule of caveat emptor. Specifically, if the seller attempted to “divert” the purchaser’s attention away from problem areas, a court could find fraud and rescind the contract.

However, in Virginia, if a prospective home purchaser discovers information alerting him to a potential problem, that person is charged with knowledge he would have found had he diligently pursued the inquiry. That rule was highlighted in an unpublished opinion released by the Virginia Supreme Court. This blog post reviews the facts of that case and the lessons to learn for real estate sellers and buyers.

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Employee Non-Competes: Why Must Prospective Employers Be Wary?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, General Interest, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have written previously about employee “non-competes” (a/k/a covenants not to compete or non-competition agreements). You may have come across them in your own business, either by requiring them of your own employees or seeking to hire someone subject to a non-compete.   However, the area of law surrounding non-competition agreements can be tricky, and a new decision has added to the intrigue.

In DePuy Synthes Sales, Inc. v. Jones, the Eastern District of Virginia denied two motions to dismiss filed by the new employers of employees governed by non-compete agreements. DePuy employed two salespersons pursuant to employment agreements that contained non-compete provisions. They eventually left DePuy and began working for a competitor, Sky Surgical. DePuy sued the employees and Sky Surgical. This blog post examines the tortious interference of employment contract claim made by DePuy against the new employer, Sky Surgical.

employee noncompete agreement

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Can an engineering firm limit its liability by contract?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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Watch out for email scams!

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Email and telephone frauds are proliferating through the attorney community, and have been redirected at other professionals. On the message board for the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, one of my attorney colleagues provided a story from one of his clients: “a consulting engineer who frequently testifies in litigation, was retained by a bonding company in Colorado regarding a dispute with a construction company in Pittsburgh. Luckily he smelled a rat when they announced that a disbursement would be run through his company account.”

 

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Attorney-Client Privilege: What is it and how do you protect it?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

The attorney-client privilege permits confidential communication between an attorney and her client.  The objective is to encourage open communication, which permits an attorney to provide thorough, competent and complete advice.  Generally speaking, only a client can waive the privilege, but as found by the Virginia Supreme Court in Walton v. Mid-Atlantic Spine Specialist, PC, et al., a client’s inadvertent disclosure of a privileged communication may operate as a waiver of the attorney-client privilege.

In this Williamsburg medical malpractice case, a defendant doctor wrote a letter to his attorney calling into question his medical diagnosis he gave to his patient. The doctor kept this letter in a separate notebook. During discovery the defendant medical practice used a third party service to copy document requests. The letter was provided inadvertently to the plaintiff.

Although the defendant claimed that he did not produce the letter or permit anyone else to produce the letter, the Court found that the defendant did not take adequate protection to protect the letter. The Court noted that the notebook in which the letter was found was not marked as confidential or privileged. Furthermore, the Court held that the client did not take prompt action following disclosure.

The Virginia Supreme Court considered five main factors in determining whether the inadvertent disclosure waived the client’s privilege.  The Court looked at:  (1) the reasonableness of the precautions to prevent inadvertent disclosures, (2) the time taken to rectify the error, (3) the scope of discovery, (4) the extent of the disclosure, and (5) whether the party asserting the claim of privilege or protection for the communication has used its unavailability for misleading or otherwise improper or overreaching purposes in the litigation making it unfair to allow the party to invoke confidentiality under the circumstances.

As a start, clients should maintain attorney-client privileged communications in a separate file or notebook and clearly mark the file or notebook and each communication as “CONFIDENTIAL-ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION.”  Then, if an inadvertent disclosure is made, the client should contact her attorney as soon as possible to determine a plan of action to restore the attorney-client privilege.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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