Can an engineering firm limit its liability by contract?

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 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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Attorney-Client Privilege: What is it and how do you protect it?

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 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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Oral Contracts are enforceable, but . . . .

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 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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When might a Virginia business be liable for unemployment compensation?

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition | No Comments

In the Greater Williamsburg area, many small businesses face seasonal layoffs when the summer tourism season ends. For small businesses, these layoffs lead to questions regarding unemployment compensation. In this blog post, we will discuss the issue of when an employer can be liable for the unemployment compensation for a terminated employee.

 

Generally speaking, an employee terminated by you may be otherwise eligible for unemployment benefits, chargeable to your company if:

The basic qualifications for unemployment compensation are:

Once you have been determined to be the “employer” liable for unemployment compensation, you are responsible for all the benefits payable to that former employee. Unless extended benefits have been approved, the maximum benefit is 26 times the weekly benefits payable to the employee.

The weekly benefits are found in a table at Virginia Code § 60.1-602. This table is regularly updated, it tells you how much a person would receive per week in unemployment, based upon the amount they made when employed. For example, if a person made $6,300 in the prior twelve weeks when employed, he would receive $125 per week in unemployment, and a total of $3,250, if he were employed for the entire 26-week period.

The possibility of being liable for unemployment compensation worries many small business owners. Discuss the issue with your business attorney so that you can plan properly for your employment needs.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

 

jt photo 150x150 Using a company computer to email your attorney may be a bad idea

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Can your business enforce an employee noncompete agreement?

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 pm | In Business Planning, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson | No Comments

The analysis of the enforceability of noncompete agreements begins with the question “How did the covenant not to compete arise?”  Employee covenants not to compete generally arise in one of two ways:  1) solely as a result of employment; and 2) arising as ancillary to another agreement, such as an agreement to purchase the prospective employee’s business.

 

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 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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Requests to Inspect and Copy Community Association or Company Records: Should it be this complicated?

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

A Virginia Beach jury found a condominium association liable for failing to permit unit owners an opportunity to inspect and copy association records. Not only must the condo board allow inspection and copying, they must pay for an audit of the association records and pay $50,000 for the unit owners’ attorneys’ fees.

These questions arise frequently. This blog post reviews the various Virginia statutes that address the right to inspect and copy records for companies, HOAs and condominium associations.

HOA Filing Information

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What happens when your business partner wants to leave? Do’s and Don’ts

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | 2 Comments

It’s a simple fact of business life that you and your company’s fellow shareholders or members will not always see eye-to-eye. Furthermore, our personal lives change and that effects the level of willingness in which some participate in a business venture.

As in any relationship, businesses also reach that awkward stage in which a shareholder or member wants to leave his current business venture and start something new. We have discussed starting your business and provided guidelines for setting forth the rules for governing your business. This article addresses some of the difficulties that arise during the “break-up period.” For the purposes of this article, we will use the terms “shareholder” and “member” interchangeably, as well as the terms “director” and “managing member.”

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Emails from work computer can waive rights to privileged communications

October 30, 2014 on 1:26 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.

 

Email

 

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General Partnerships, The Way To Go . . . Financially Under

October 30, 2014 on 1:25 pm | In Business Planning, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson | No Comments

 

Though the majority of businesses in the United States are sole proprietorships, those of you who read an earlier post know that I recommend, for a myriad of good reasons, that an entity of some kind be placed between a person doing business and the rest of the world. Find an experienced business attorney to help establish your business entity.

In this post, I address briefly the general partnership form of business entity, the only form I consider more dangerous to the financial health of an individual than the sole proprietorship.  Why, you ask?  Because with the sole proprietorship, the sole proprietor is personally liable for the acts of the sole proprietor, the business and the business employees.  In the general partnership, the partners are personally liable for the acts of the business, the employees and each other.  What partners do can be fairly unpredictable, like contracting to purchase or lease things that cannot possibly be paid for out of the profits of the business, or like contracting to do that which cannot possibly be done profitably.

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