Monthly Archive for October, 2009

Data Proves Victims of Assault Likely to Know Their Attacker

We often hear that victims of violent crime are more likely to know their attackers than to be the victim of a random act of violence. LegalMatch case data, covering intake reports from all 50 states over the past 12 months, appears to bear this out.

According to our case data, the most common responses prospective clients gave when asked about the identity of their attacker was “someone I know” or “a family member”.

rihanna chris brown assault victimThis runs contrary to the image that many members of the public have with respect to violent crime; a crazed stranger jumps out of the bushes, assaults their victim, and runs off. While random acts of violence certainly occur, they are comparatively rare, and it seems that many people spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about them, given how unlikely they are to occur to a given person.

This is not to say that people shouldn’t take common-sense precautions to reduce the risk of violent crime committed by strangers. These include minimizing time spent alone, outside, at night. Other measures, such as traveling in groups, and sticking to well-lit areas, are also advisable. It might also be helpful, if you are comfortable doing so, to carry some kind of non-lethal defensive weapon, such as pepper spray (but be sure to check your local laws on this).

However, what might be overlooked are conditions that could lead to the more likely scenario: violent crime committed by acquaintances or family members of the victim. The ways to minimize these risks are not nearly as simple as the ones discussed above.

There aren’t many clear-cut ways to avoid violent crime by acquaintances, unless you want to become a hermit. Since that isn’t an option for most people, the situation is complicated.

Not being in a position to give relationship advice, this should be taken with a grain of salt, but it seems that things such as relationship counseling and getting out of abusive relationships (easier said than done) would be helpful in reducing such incidents. Eliminating violent crime altogether is not possible, but any reduction is a good thing.

Competing With Non-Compete Clauses

It’s a weird thing when you start studying the law.  Once your friends and family find out, they seem to come to you for every single law-related problem that comes up in their lives.

I suppose it’s true for every field of study or vocation.  Doctors probably have their cousins asking them to look at moles and pus-filled gashes.  Astrology professors probably have their aunts pestering them to find Orion’s Belt.  Taxi drivers probably can’t get their siblings to stop using them as a substitute for Google Maps.  The list goes on and on.  And the best part about all of this is that all the people who ask you these questions don’t care whether their question is within your field of specialty.  Resulting in situations like this:

“Hey Phil, what street do I take to get to the Eifel Tower?”

“I don’t know, my taxi only operates in New York.”

Okay, so maybe it’s not as drastic as that, but you get my point.

Anyway, regardless of the absurdity or irrelevance of the question, you always end up answering it to the best of your ability because, hey, what can you do?  They’re your friends and family and you like them (for the most part), which brings me to the point of today’s post.

I was talking to a friend the other day.  Let’s call him Norman because I don’t him to get pissed off at me using his suffering for my work.  Norman is a really nice honest guy.  He’s the type of person to go through his whole life never trying to cause a scene, which is good in some ways, but bad in a lot of others because maintaining that kind of lifestyle often leads to his inability to defend himself.

handshake with fingers crossed behind backAnyway, about a couple years ago Norman opened up a small convenience store.  His store was located within a mini-mall in his hometown.  It was a good fit for him because on top of being really nice, Norman is also really laid back and doesn’t like doing strenuous and stressful work.  Before renting out his location, Norman was able to secure the right to be the only purveyor and seller of food in the mini-mall.  The agreement was promised in Norman’s contract with the mini-malls owner.

But last month, Norman neighbor, a Laundromat, put out a soda vending machine in front of his store.  Norman saw this as a violation of the non-compete clause he had in his contract, but when he went to the mini-mall’s owner to tell his neighbor to take the soda machine down, the owner refused.  He claimed that soda is a drink and therefore didn’t count as a type of food so it was perfectly in line with Norman’s contract.  Norman then came to me to see what his chances were to get the soda machine put away.

This situation happens a lot.  Just taking a look at the number of unfair competition cases LegalMatch gets every year is good evidence of the popularity of these types of disputes.  My advice to Norman was the same that anyone knowledgeable in the law would give: it depends.

Basically in most jurisdictions, for non compete clauses to be invalid they have to be overly broad as to be considered unreasonable.  In Norman’s situation, it would seem like his non-compete clause was pretty clear since it outlined a specific limitation that could be reasonably followed (that he’d be the only food store).  And that in my opinion I’d think that he’d have a fairly easy time convincing a judge that drinks can be considered food because it’s something that’s consumed.

But like everything in the law, nothing can be certain.  Because even when all the cards seemed stacked in one direction, a good lawyer can easily make them fall in the other.

Estate Planning Procrastination Rampant

If you could make sure that all your money, property, and other important belongings were given to exactly the right people, wouldn’t you do it?  The question seems like a no-brainer but the reality is that the majority of Americans do not do this!

A 2008 study found that 58% of Americans do not have a will.  I find this number to be shocking.  I know that death and dying is an unwelcome topic, however dying without a will is a really bad idea.  This holds true whether you are worth millions or a lot less.  Wills, trusts, and other estate planning tools give you the power to decide how to distribute your estate.

When an individual dies without a will (or when they have an incomplete will), their estate goes through intestacy, which basically means the state decides how your estate will be distributed.  This is especially risky if you have step or adopted children as some state’s do not allow an adopted or stepchild to inherit in intestacy, or those non-biological children inherit less.

A recent article I read outlines the top 9 excuses for people gave for not making any type of estate plan:

(1)I don’t see a need for an estate plan

(2)I don’t plan on dying

(3)I don’t plan on dying – at least not soon

(4)I don’t want to pay for it

(5)I don’t want to spend the time

(6)I don’t want to talk about my family

(7)I don’t want to talk about my money

(8)I don’t want to ruin my kids

(9)I don’t trust my kids

As you can see, some of these excuses are just avoiding the inevitable.  One of the beauties of estate planning is that you have the ability to change the majority of your plan as situations change.  Without an estate plan, you are putting your finances and property at the mercy of a judge who has no idea what you and your family are like.

Last Will and TestamentA recent LegalMatch study found that the majority of people interested in preparing for their future were more interested in overall estate planning than drafting a single will or trust.  These findings make sense in that those individuals that are thinking about wills and estate planning are really trying to maximize the benefits and thus are creating more complicated schemes than just a will or trust; and those individuals who are not are in the majority and doing nothing to plan.   In addition to the ability to specifically provide for your family and loved ones, there are tremendous tax benefits to creating a will and/or trust.

It is not necessarily that I think everyone needs to embrace their own death.  Rather, I am advocating for embracing the lives you will leave on your death.  Estate planning is such a powerful tool and for all the time that people spend worrying about money and their families in their lives they should take a little time and worry about them after they die too.

LegalMatch Site Data Shows High Interest in Wrongful Terminations

wrongful terminationAccording to our internal traffic statistics, it appears that one of the most popular law library articles on our website is about wrongful terminations.

Does this mean that your employer is going around firing employees left and right, just for fun? Probably not…unless you work for this guy.

More likely, the current state of the economy (in case you haven’t heard, it’s not doing too hot right now) has led to many people losing their jobs, with no sign that the bloodletting of employment is going to abate anytime soon. When someone loses their job, especially if it’s for economic, and not performance-related reasons, they are understandably upset.

However, the vast majority of terminations are perfectly lawful. In virtually every state in the U.S., employment is “at-will,” meaning that the relationship is completely voluntary, and dependent on the mutual consent of both parties. This means that employees can quit their jobs at any time, and that employers can fire them at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all.

There are exceptions, however. For example, under federal law, and the laws of almost every state, it is unlawful to fire or refuse to hire a person because of their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or disability (if it can be reasonably accommodated). Also, if the employee is working under an employment contract, they can only be terminated pursuant to the terms of the agreement.

Whether your termination is ultimately found to be lawful or not, it is not a bad idea to speak with an attorney if you suspect that improper motives colored your employer’s decision. It’s better to talk with an attorney for a few minutes and have them tell you that you don’t have a case, then to sit on your rights, and let a valid claim for wrongful termination slip through your fingers.

Many people seem to recognize this, and are using LegalMatch to help.

CNN Falsely Attributes Racist Quote to Rush Limbaugh

rush limbaughRush Limbaugh is in the news again and this time it’s not because he said something horribly insensitive, stupid, narrow-minded, and/or racist.  It’s because someone else made up an insensitive, stupid, narrow-minded, and/or racist quote and attributed it to him.

Specifically, that someone was CNN’s Rick Sanchez, who claimed on air that Limbaugh said:

“I mean, let’s face it, we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back; I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.”

Ouch.  Harsh words, whether Limbaugh said it or not.  Check out the video here (the bogus Limbaugh quote comes up about 1 minute and 14 seconds in).

Limbaugh was understandably steamed at the fraudulent attribution.  No one wants to be called a racist, unless of course they actually are one, then they’re probably okay with it.

So now the inevitable question being asked by political pundits around the country, “Will Rush Limbaugh sue for slander?”

The answer (in my opinion anyway): probably not.  Rush will probably just want some sort of apology from Sanchez and CNN, which he already received via Twitter, though he’d probably would want more of a formal one.  If anything, he’ll just use it to further push his far-right republican conservative agenda.  “More evidence of liberal bias, using me as a target to demonize…blah blah,” is probably how it will go down.

Though if he did sue, he probably wouldn’t have too tough of a time convincing a jury to award him money.  Since he’s (arguably) a celebrity, he’d be considered a public figure and would have to satisfy the higher actual malice standard set out in The New York Times Co. v. Sullivan in order to prevail on a defamation lawsuit against CNN and Sanchez.  Basically he’d have to prove that the CNN and/or Sanchez knowingly or recklessly made false defamatory statements about him.  And in light of the fact that the CNN Twitter post admitted to this, it would at least appear that Rush has a good case.  Though CNN could probably throw up some defense by publicly admitting and correcting their mistake, in my opinion it looks like Limbaugh would have a strong case.

Celebrities have it tougher when it comes to proving libel and defamation – it’s one of the few times where all us little people have an edge.  All we have to do, essentially, is prove the false statement damaged our reputation.  Though it may seem like defamation wouldn’t be a huge problem for non-public figures, LegalMatch does receive its fair share of defamation lawsuits.  So don’t be afraid to press your rights.  Unless you’re Rush Limbaugh, in which case you should probably reevaluate your life and try to figure out why people would so naturally believe you’d make such an outlandish racist statement.