Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Business Dispute Attorney - Lawsuit to Enforce Personal Guarantee Dismissed

Last week, I won an appeal in Solco Plumbing v. Hart.  This was one of the very rare cases where someone was able to defeat a claim on a personal guarantee.   My client ended a partnership years earlier and sold his share in the business, but his former business partner continued operating under the same name.  When the business later dissolved, a creditor owed hundreds of thousands of dollars attempted to collect against my client based on a personally guarantee he had signed more than a decade earlier.

This could have been an enormous problem.  Personal guarantees are often unconditional and remain valid unless and until explicitly revoked. In this case, however, the guarantee included the phrase "being financially interested in the above customer."  The creditor argued that this was merely a description of his status at the time of signing, but there is a rule of contract interpretation that any ambiguity is interpreted against the drafter (which is applied even more strictly in personal guarantees).  So, I successfully argued, among other things, that this phrase must be interpreted to mean that liability under this particular guarantee automatically ended upon his financial interest ending.

This case highlights the importance of using a qualified attorney for business matters, both litigation and transactional.  A slight change in how their form contract was worded may have led to a more favorable result for the plaintiff on this issue, and handling the transfer of his business interest differently could have avoided the issue entirely and saved my client from years of litigation.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

PERSONAL INJURY

The best personal injury attorneys efficiently and effectively maximize the value of your case.  

The law in many types of personal injury cases is highly developed.  Although each person is unique, the mechanisms of injury in car accidents, slip and falls, and construction accidents are such that there is a body of precedent that has developed around common factual scenarios.  Similarly, the same types of injuries are seen repeatedly.  A good personal injury attorney has the accumen and familiarity with the medical issues involved to understand your injury, and comparisons to comparable cases are what give us a basis to value your claim.  

On a business level, the objective for a personal injury attorney is to obtain compensation for their clients. Most cases settle; some need to be tried; and it is the plaintiff's attorney who pushes the case forward.  

On a personal level, great personal injury attorneys have an enormous range of styles and personalities.  Some can be extremely charismatic, while others are more low-key but command a sense of credibility and trustworthiness.  You need someone you are comfortable with.  

I have been helping personal injury victims obtain compensation for their injuries for my entire legal career.  I clerked with personal injury firms during law school; won several awards for academic achievements in that area of law prior to being admitted to the bar; published multiple articles on construction accident and slip and fall litigation; have a litany of notable appellate decisions; tried numerous federal and state cases; and, most importantly, have helped clients obtain millions of dollars in compensation. 


A DIVORCE LAWYER YOU CAN TRUST

Matrimonial and family law matters are uniquely personal and important. You need an attorney you can trust.  I cannot claim to be the perfect lawyer for every client.  If you want an attorney who will only tell you what you want to hear, or who will aggressively spend your hard-earned money chasing windmills, I may not be the best attorney for you.

Your lawyer has the job of zealously advocating for you, while also exercising independent professional judgment to help you understand your rights (both best and worst case) so that you can make informed decisions. If you want a lawyer that will tell you the truth -- politely and kindly if it is not what you hope to hear, but the truth nonetheless -- and who is a skilled advocate that can effectively try your case to conclusion when a settlement is not the best option for you, then I am an attorney you should consider.   

If you are choosing a doctor, you don't want someone who automatically says everything is fine, and you don't want someone who automatically opts for the most invasive and destructive approach; you want a rational and reasonable person who is skilled at what they do and whose judgment you can rely on.  I am that type of lawyer.  


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Personal Injury - Construction Accidents

I represent injured workers in a wide range of construction accident claims, including injuries related to scaffolding and ladder falls, severed fingers, hoist and crane accidents, falling objects, electric shock, and various other worksite injuries.  If you have been injured or lost a loved one due to a construction accident, give me a call at 631-482-9700, or email me at Skreppein@QHMLaw.com to arrange a free consultation.

Friday, September 19, 2014

BUSINESS ATTORNEY - BAD FAITH BREACH OF CONTRACT

Generally, a contract spells out the rights and obligations of the parties, and the consequence of breach is liability for the foreseeable damage that directly flow from that breach.  There are no emotional distress damages, lost time is generally compensated for through statutory interest calculated as of the date of the breach, and the contract itself frequently defines the value of the loss.  

In addition to what is written (assuming you are dealing with a written agreement), every contract also contains an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, wherein both parties are deemed to agree - even if not expressly in the contract - not to do anything which deprives the other party of the benefit of the agreement. 

The typical and most common example of bad faith (and the easiest to explain) is in the insurance context. One scenario, a litigant is exposed to damages beyond the policy limits (for example, a bad injury in a car accident that goes beyond the typical auto policy limits), but the insurer gambles with its client's money and refuses to settle within the limits, resulting in personal liability to the insured.  Another scenario is baseless denial of claim for business interruption coverage, where the nature of the insurance is to timely compensate for lost income needed to keep the business afloat.  

Under these scenarios, where there is bad faith, the damages party can reach beyond the contract and receive indemnification above the policy limit, or compensation for damage to their business beyond just the lost income during a period of interruption.

I have handled a number of these cases, including a recent jury trial involving a fight over funds held in escrow following a real estate transaction.  Contract disputes, and business litigation matters in general, from my perspective, tend to be intellectually stimulating.  Business litigation is already a large part of my practice, and I would like to see that portion of my practice grow in the future.  If you are looking for an attorney to represent you or your company in a business matter, it would be my pleasure to speak with you to see of I can be of assistance.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

HELP END ALZHEIMER'S

PLEASE DONATE TO ALZHEIMER"S RESEARCH - My grandmother passed away on 7/1/14 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's. There should be a cure for this disease, and funding is needed for continued research.

I will be participating in the Bethpage Walk to aend Alzheimer's, one of many such walks and similar fund raisers across Long Island from the Alzheimer's Disease Resource Center.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

HOW TO ARGUE AN APPEAL


Be cognizant of time limits. To be persuasive, you also need to be concise.  Appellate courts force attorneys to be succinct by imposing time limits.  Different courts have different policies.  In the First Department, time limits are relatively strictly adhered to, with colored lights signifying that you are running out of time.  In the Second Department, they are more prone to being flexible with time limits, but you need to get the hint when the judges are suggesting that you sit down.

Don't make unplanned concessions.  The panel of appellate judges will ask the questions, and will occasionally, essentially, cross-examine one of the litigators with yes or no questions.  Sometimes, a judge is trying to help you strengthen your argument, or is using you to mouth their own argument in your favor.  Other times, the judge is trying to make you see the weaknesses of your case, or to concede a fact or point that supports their preferred outcome.  I try not to say never, but be extraordinarily careful of conceding any factual or legal issue during your argument unless it is something you have first carefully considered.

I watched an argument last week where one side responded to progressively stronger requests that she sit down with statements such as "one last thing," followed by another minute or two of talking.  Her adversary, on the other hand, agreed with nearly every yes or no question that was posed to him, even when the answers  didn't help his client and were not things he necessarily had to agree with.  The two were actually rather skillful and experienced advocates. One was from a District Attorney's office, the other from a legal aid organization.  They both likely knew that they were bending the "rules," but were engaged in passionate and sincere argument (which generally trumps any black-letter rules, so long as it is done respectfully).

Respectfully disagree with a hostile judge.  Dealing with a judge who clearly opposes your case is possibly the most difficult part of arguing an appeal.  Most often, unless there is also a judge who seems to be on your side and they just decided to play good cop/bad cop, this signals that at least that judge (if not the entire panel) will side against you. At that stage, you can still make sure the judges understand and respect your reasoning, potentially change their minds, and address concerns that might limit or guide their decision so as to avoid setting a bad precedent.  Possibly, if your arguments are strong enough, you'll get a dissent.  There are judges -- albeit relatively rarely -- who are more quiet, and won't speak up against a colleague during oral argument even if they agree with you. The merit of an appeal is often decided largely based on the briefs, before the parties ever have an opportunity for argument, but there is always a possibility that a strong argument will sway one or more judges in a different direction (or even slightly different direction, issuing an easily distinguishable decision).

"With all due respect," is a phrase that very strongly signals that you disagree with someone, and should be avoided.  I recently saw it used where a judge kept cutting the lawyer off without finishing his responses, and the judge quickly respond by saying that "the respect is implied."  It often does not help you persuade the judge you are speaking to, or any that agree with him or her, and it's only real purpose is to draw the attention of any other judges on the panel who may be leaning (or teetering) in your favor.  


Don't Make Jury Arguments; Unless, Of Course, It's A Jury Issue.  Generally, appeals involve questions of law, and the judges are already familiar with the record and the issues.  It is not a closing statement, and shouldn't be treated like one.  Be concise, straight-forward, and do not overtly appeal to sympathy or other emotive factors.  Obviously, this rule is very flexible, depending on what issues you are dealing with.  When the panel is reviewing a jury verdict, for example, your argument may sound similar to a dense, evidence-focused, closing statement.  

I watched a rather entertaining argument a couple months ago where a local Brooklyn business purchased an investment property at a foreclosure sale.  The property had been owned by a rich old woman, there had been some confusion with the water bill, and it eventually went up for sale.  The business was a good faith purchaser, and had no knowledge that the woman intended to pay the bill.  The old woman, however, wanted the building back because it had sentimental value and she wanted it to be part of a bequest in her will towards a complex for a medical school.  

The lower court had put a hold on the property until a hearing could be held, and the business appealed.  An overly-cocky lawyer represented the business, and started with a story about how he went to his son's class for career day and explained what lawyers do.  The story had some moral about telling the truth, and the argument was that the other lawyer (not the party) was lying.  Accusing the other side of lying really didn't seem to sit well with the court. The story was more of a jury oriented technique (which may or may not have worked better in a closing argument), and in an appellate context seemed to make the panel more sympathetic to the other side. In fact, since the issue below was whether the court below had the equitable discretion to set aside the foreclosure, focusing on credibility may have been very poor move.  Not helping the Old Lady's side, of course, was a lawyer's argument that he had filed and served documents (which neither the Court nor opposing counsel received), and his refusal to accept even the possibility that he didn't send them.  If someone else would have argued with or for him, they could have more comfortably said that even if the papers hadn't been served, it would have been excusable law office failure.  The attorney for the old lade didn't escape some harsh questioning, but it was unclear after the argument how the panel would rule.

Don't Attack Your Adversary, The Lower Court, Judges, Or Court Personnel.  Another lesson learned from the prior story is that courts do not  like when one lawyer attacks another.  If you think the other lawyer deserves to be chastised, let the court do it.  This is true in all litigation.  Even when arguing that another lawyer's conduct is frivolous, there are ways to do it that avoid ad hominum attacks.  When judges see that you respect the process, they, in turn, are more likely to show you the same respect. 


NEW YORK FIRST AMENDMENT LANDSCAPE CHANGES IN SUMMER 2014




This Summer, the Court of Appeals (New York's highest court) issued two huge First Amendment decisions.  First was People v Golb, 2014 N.Y. LEXIS 1093 (May 13, 2014), which found the aggravated harassment statute unconstitutional. This was important because, read literally, the aggravated harassment statute made it a crime (and a family offense for which an order of protection could be issued) to make a phone call that "annoyed" someone. The courts had read implied requirements into the statute for years, but it was still such an easy standard to meet that it had been the "go to" crime for OP's in custody and visitation cases.  Want your spouse out of the house?  Just claim they yelled at you over the phone (which, let's face it, we've all done), and frequently a temporary OP would get issued.  This horrible practice would get the unwanted husband or wife out of the house and temporarily create a court Order that was illegal to violate, even if it was wrongly issued in the first place.

In Golb, the Court of Appeals fixed the problem, reiterating the long established principal that "any proscription of pure speech must be sharply limited to words which, by their utterance alone, inflict injury or tend naturally to evoke immediate violence."  The case also involves the Dead Sea scrolls, making it an interesting read.  What the Court does not mention, however, is that what helped create the problem - and let it remain for twenty years - was the Court's decision in People v. Shack , 86 N.Y.2d 539 (1995).  In Shack, the court upheld a portion of the aggravated harassment statute, in the context of a mentally ill man who made 185 unwanted phone calls to an estranged relative who was a therapist. The egregious conduct in that case causes an otherwise unduly vague statute to stand for another twenty years.

The second decision, possibly with further reaching implications, is People v Marquan M., 2014 N.Y. LEXIS 1527 (July 1, 2014).  With Golb, the aggravated harassment statute was like NewYork's dirty secret -- everyone knew it was unconstitutional.  Marquan, however, involved Albany's anti-cyberbullying law, which seemed to follow the Courts' prior guidance on what was required to get past First Amendment scrutiny. The law made the following a crime: 
Any act of communicating or causing a communication to be sent by mechanical or electronic means, including posting statements on the internet or through a computer or email network, disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs; disseminating private, personal, false or sexual information, or sending hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal, or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person
The statute is not a model of clarity. The words from "including" through "hate mail" are a non-exhaustive list of examples (ostensibly meaning that it really applies to "any act of communication"), and the list includes a single errant semicolon (probably added solely so that MS Word would stop saying it was a run on sentence).  Disregarding that list, the statute criminalizes:

A. "any act of communicating"
B. "with no legitimate private, personal, or public purpose"
C. "with intent to..."
What makes this decision interesting is the discussion of the no legitimate purpose language.  In the past, in Shack and other cases, this clause has routinely used to save criminal statutes from violating the First Amendment.  It creates a defense (or, more properly, an additional element to be proved), where the statute is not violated if there was a free speech protected purpose in the communication.  A legitimate purpose can be expressing opinion, or disagreement, or your own feelings. 

The trend had previously been in favor of finding statutes constitutional on their face and leaving them on the books, and then letting the lower courts interpret legitimate purpose language in each individual case (thereby leaving many, many, many cases subject to a motion to dismiss for an "as applied" constitutional challenge).  

Now, the Court of Appeals has apparently moved away from this preference for an as-applied approach, explaining that letting the "no legitimate purpose" clause save the statute effectively leaves the lower courts engaging in Constitutional analysis on a case-by-case basis and “begs the central question of what speech is ‘protected’ and what is not.”  

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Injured Kids May Not Be Bound By Waivers

I have had many clients whose children were injured but who thought they could not sue because they had signed a waiver.  Fortunately, those clients thought to check with an attorney.  I can only imagine how many people have been dissuaded from filing a lawsuit, or contacting a lawyer, because they signed a waiver that would never hold up in court.

The truth is, when dealing with children, waivers are generally not enforceable.  A small child does not have the capacity to understand or waive their rights, and their parents cannot waive them on their behalf.  

This does not mean that every case is a winner.  Certain activities, particularly sports, carry with them an assumption of risk.  For example, generally, no one is liable when a teenager is hurt getting tackled in football because it is a risk of the activity, and no one was negligent.  

Other activities, particularly when marketed to young children, are not the same as organized sports among older children.  Facilities engaged in laser tag, ice skating, roller skating, trampoline and bounce parks, go carting, and other activities - even when they have you sign a waiver - owe a duty of reasonable care, including appropriate warnings, supervision, crowd control, and keeping their facilities safe. 

Don't assume that because you signed a waiver your child has no rights if they are injured. Call me for a free consultation, 631-482-9700, or email Skreppein@Qhmlaw.com.

 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

100,000 Page Views!

I've passed 100,000 page views!  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Long Island Attorney

Need an attorney?  Call me for a free consultation.  I am an experienced civil litigator, currently in my eigth year of practice, who regularly obtained favorable results for his clients, has tried numerous cases, and has argued over a dozen appeals (including two before the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit).  

I am an effective and efficient professional, who can negotiate a settlement where appropriate, or try a case and win when necessary.  My clients trust my advice, and my colleagues frequently seek my counsel and opinion.  My writing ability is exceptional, and has led to a lengthy list of favorable lower court  and appellate decisions.  

Currently, my practice areas include:

PERSONAL INJURY;

EMPLOYMENT LITIGATION;

MATRIMONIAL AND FAMILY LAW; and

BUSINESS TRANSACTIONS AND LITIGATION

If you need an attorney, call me at 631-482-9700, or email me at Skreppein@qhmlaw.com.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Municipal Litigation Attorney

Municipal litigation is a growing area of my practice.  I have substantial experience in the area, ranging from administrative hearings, to State court litigation, to Federal trials and appeals.

In addition to numerous run of the mill slip/trip and fall cases and "lights and sirens" motor vehicle cases, I have litigated a number of highly complex multi-million dollar liability cases dealing with the very limited exceptions to governmental immunity for discretionary judgments.  In one case, I had a client who was rendered a parapalegic in a shooting at a Bronx housing project while basic security measures (such as who would fix broken door locks) were tied up in red tape.  I have had two wrongful death cases related to negligent psych evaluations.  One where a mental patient was improperly released from State care and pushed someone onto the subsay tracks, and another where staffing changes led to a police officer having his firearm returned despite despite imminent threats to use it to kill himself.  I also litigated a case, and won a precedent-setting appeal, on the issue of the duty to report and respond to a third-party assault.

With employment, constitutional, and civil rights issues, I have argued a First Amendment case before the Second Circuit Court of Appes, and litigated multiple such cases before the Federal and State trial courts.  I have litigated several due process cases, including successfully bringing an Article 78 to have a volunteer EMS worksr reinstated to service, and litigating a pro bono appeal on the sufficiency of the hearings over red light camera tickets.  

As I'm writing this, I'm sitting in court waiting to be heard on a case where I am representing a town worker named in a sexual harassment suit, whom the Town is not defending due to a conflict.

I would prefer to have a steady practice representing municipalities, but I may also accept good Plaintiff's cases (assuming there's no conflict).  I have seen many attorneys who are eager to bring municipal claims on the idea that there are deep pockets, but I have a very different approach and perspective.  Municipal claims are difficult to win, and can be a waste of time and resources (mine, the client's, and the public's) if brought unnecessarily.  I have seen personal injury cases, for example, where the client recovered less and waited longer due to adding a poorly thought out municipal claim to an otherwise simple case.  I'm very selective about what plaintiffs' cases I take, but it is because I know the difference between a good case and a bad one.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Suffolk County Personal Injury Lawyer

Car accidents and slip and falls frequently occur in heavy snowstorms and the slippery and icy conditions that follow.  Even days after a heavy snowstorm has ended, thawing and refreezing leads to slick ice on walkways.  On roadways, there is an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents due to low visibility and poor road conditions.   

If you have been injured, I may be able to get you money for your injuries.  I have been representing personal injury clients for over seven years, and have helped clients recover millions of dollars.  

I represent clients in Suffolk County, Nassau County, and throughout New York City (particularly Queens and Brooklyn). I live in Smithtown, my office is in Hauppauge.  

Consultations are free, and personal injury cases are on a contingency basis (1/3 fee - no recovery, no fee).  For personal injury clients, I will also make myself available for home or hospital visits.  



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