Can an engineering firm limit its liability by contract?

October 30, 2014 on 12:58 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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Can I “hire” an unpaid intern for my business?

October 30, 2014 on 12:58 pm | In Business Planning, Employment law, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | 2 Comments

I teach as an adjunct faculty member at the William & Mary Law School. I find this part-time teaching gig very stimulating intellectually because the law students at W&M are extremely intelligent, diligent, and driven. This past week a new class of first-year law students arrived with great expectations about their futures. The reality of the job market, though, is that the legal profession has not been immune from the effects of this difficult economy.

Some of my second-year law students have also arrived back into Williamsburg, and I have been surprised at the number of students who report they worked as an “unpaid intern.” Although this practice is permissible in certain situations, these working arrangements with private law firms probably violates federal labor laws, and it is particularly distressing that it occurs in the practice of law. This blog post provides some guidance for your small business when deciding whether to “hire” an unpaid intern.

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

October 30, 2014 on 12:58 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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The Same Employer But a Different Result in this Virginia Supreme Court Case Regarding the Enforceability of Noncompete Agreements

October 30, 2014 on 12:57 pm | In Business Planning, Employment law, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Over the course of the past 20 years, the Virginia Supreme Court has tweaked the law governing non-compete agreements. In its latest case, the Court came full circle by invalidating a noncompete agreement that used the same language the Court had upheld 20 years earlier in a case involving the same company.

As we have written before, trial courts will enforce noncompete agreements when the agreements (1) are narrowly drawn to protect the employer’s legitimate business interest, (2) are not unduly burdensome on the employee’s ability to earn a living, and (3) are not against public policy. Importantly, the employer has the burden to prove each of these elements. When evaluating whether the employer has met that burden, trials courts should consider the “function, geographic scope, and duration” elements of the noncompete restrictions.  These elements are “considered together” rather than “as three separate and distinct issues.”

Further, if the noncompete agreement is too broad or otherwise unenforceable, a Virginia court will not rewrite, or “blue pencil” the agreement to make it enforceable. Therefore, it is important that you work with your business attorney to draft an enforceable non-compete agreement.

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Mediation and Arbitration – There is a big difference

October 30, 2014 on 12:57 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

In conversations with clients, it seems that people misuse the terms “mediation” and “arbitration” more than most other legal terms. Although I do not have any empirical data, my educated guess is that many businesses and construction contractors (who did not depend upon advice given by an experienced business attorney) insert “arbitration” clauses into their contracts thinking that they mean “mediation.” Some transactions involving the sale of real estate include an arbitration clause. Countless times, clients involved in a potential lawsuit point to the “arbitration” clause, and are disheartened when I explain to them the arbitration process. Many thought they were avoiding the potential high costs of litigation. These terms are NOT interchangeable and in this blog post I will explain the basic differences between them.

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Requests to Inspect and Copy Community Association or Company Records: Should it be this complicated?

October 30, 2014 on 12:57 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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When is it unlawful for a business to terminate an employee?

October 30, 2014 on 12:57 pm | In Business Planning, Jason Howell, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

The short answer is, rarely. Virginia is an at-will employment state. This means that an employer can discharge an employee for any reason or for no reason at all, just not for an unlawful reason. An employer who terminates an employee for an unlawful reason may be liable to the employee. The question answer in this blog post is: when is a reason unlawful?

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Preserve your friendships when borrowing or lending with friends or family – Document your transactions

October 30, 2014 on 12:57 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, General Interest | No Comments

Many small businesses rely upon loans from friends and family for startup funds, for business expansions, or to support existing operations. Many times, these loans are made upon an oral agreement. As we have written previously, although oral agreements can be enforceable, without a writing, the terms of the agreements can be difficult to prove. In this blog post, we will describe other problems with informal lending transactions between family and friends.

contract, borrow money

In a study entitled “Lenders’ Blind Trust and Borrowers’ Blind Spots: A Descriptive Investigation of Personal Loans,” researchers outlined many of the difficulties of maintaining a lender-borrower relationship  between friends and family. In many “informal” lending relationships, the borrowers and the lenders remember the transactions differently. This “self-serving bias” can lead to problems. For example, borrowers may believe that the “loan” was a “gift,” or although agreeing that the transaction was a “loan,” may believe they paid off the loan. On the other hand, the lenders may feel angry when the “loan” is not repaid, especially when the borrower never raises the issue of repayment.

The study documented these differences between borrowers and lenders:

 Many borrowers thought the idea for the loan originated with the lender, not themselves, although the lenders thought otherwise;

 Borrowers reported far fewer delinquent loans than lenders;

 Borrowers were fairly confident they would eventually repay the loan, but lenders thought even one missed payment probably meant the loan would never be paid off;

 Delinquent borrowers “are much more likely to report feeling guilty, and also strangely, relieved and happy. Lenders associated with delinquent loans, in contrast, are much more likely to report feeling angry.”

Even though banks are flush with cash to lend, you may not qualify for a loan, or the bank’s terms may be too onerous. Consequently, family and friends are natural sources of funds for startup funds or for operating capital. However, as the proverb says,”Before borrowing money from a friend, decide which you need most.” Therefore, if you must borrow from friends or family, it is a small price to pay to perserve your personal relationships to have your business attorney draft the appropriate loan documents, including a promissory note, so that everybody knows the expectations of the transaction. Taking this step at a relatively small price can save your friendships.

Tarley Robinson, PLC,  Williamsburg, VA

Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

 

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Does your Business use Employee Noncompete Agreements?

October 30, 2014 on 12:56 pm | In Business Planning, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

The legal issues related to employee “non-competes” (also known as covenants not to compete or non-competition agreements) are often not well understood by employees subject to them, the companies insisting upon them, or the companies intending to hire persons subject to them.  That may well be especially true in the Commonwealth of Virginia where one frequently hears, “That agreement is so broad it will never be enforced and Virginia doesn’t ‘blue pencil’ these agreements, so no problema.”

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

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Getting rid of an LLC member in your business can be difficult without an effective operating agreement

October 30, 2014 on 12:56 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It may seem hard to believe, but there’s a chance you and your fellow members in your limited liability company may not always get along. In fact, the relationship may get to the point where the majority of the members in the LLC wants to expel a member. As Lee Corso says frequently on ESPN Gameday, “Not so fast, my friend.”

 

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