Author Archives: Seth L. Laver

Avoiding the Courtroom through a Mediation Clause

Litigation costs are higher today than ever. A recent Duke University survey revealed that litigation costs continue to rise and are consuming an increasing percentage of US corporate revenue. Since 2000, litigation costs have increased 73% and that increase is not due to higher hourly rates but rather more lawsuits. What is the takeaway for you Mr./Ms. Professional? Stay out of the courtroom! You’re reading Professional Liability Matters so you have adopted some risk management savvy but inevitably you are likely to confront some dispute despite your best efforts. Accordingly, your engagement letter and particularly a well-tailored mediation/arbitration clause may be the perfect safety net.

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Firing Problem Employees: A How-To Guide

“They come into work disheveled and drunk. They swear while talking to customers. They have sex with a co-worker in the stockroom. Or worse yet, they steal money from the company or threaten to hurt the boss. Some employees turn out to be bad news for a company and need to be fired, but how can a company show misbehaving workers the door while protecting itself from wrongful termination or discrimination suits?” Our friends at Law360 provide great insight on the difficult and risky task of terminating an employee, here.

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LinkedIn Escapes Cyber-Liability Exposure

In June 2012, the popular social networking website LinkedIn was hacked resulting in approximately 6.4 million passwords stolen from the website. Within hours of the incident, the passwords were posted on the internet and were used to direct traffic to fraudulent websites. The massive security breach also resulted in a class action lawsuit against "the world's largest professional network" in the Northern District of California. The plaintiff class alleged that LinkedIn failed to adequately and properly secure the personal information stored on its website. This is the classic example of cyber-liability exposure.

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What’s the Going Rate to Buy a Witness? About $10,000 an Hour…

Parties are free to pay fact witnesses exorbitant fees, according to New York’s highest court, so long as the jury is alerted to the potential for bias. In a recent decision before the New York Appellate Division, an orthopedic surgeon received $10,000 to testify against a woman he treated after she allegedly fell while walking her dog in Peekskill, New York. Notably, the surgeon did not provide expert advice, rather he received the hefty sum to merely recount for the jury his conversations with the plaintiff during his examination. This raises some concerns regarding ethical treatment of witnesses.

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Rutgers: Don’t Look at Me…My Lawyer Made Me Do It

As is so often the case, with mounting pressure and criticism comes finger-pointing. In the midst of a well-publicized scandal, Rutgers University is now suggesting that poor advice from its outside counsel led to a series of infamous decisions regarding its former basketball coach. According to reports, as Rutgers' athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned Friday amid the scandal over men’s basketball coach Mike Rice’s unorthodox practices, he blamed the school administration for following a “process” that allowed Rice to stay on-board. With its back against the wall, Rutgers laid part of the blame on the Roseland, New Jersey law firm that allegedly balked at recommending Rice’s termination.

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Serious Sanctions Imposed for Deleting a Facebook Account

A New Jersey federal judge recently ruled that a plaintiff's deletion of his Facebook account amounted to the sanctionable destruction of evidence. This decision has major implications on social media discovery in all litigation. Some experts believe that this result proves that “social media access is fair game in litigation and that workers who try to conceal their online lives will pay a high price.”

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When Professional Misconduct = Unfair Trade Practices

The California Court of Appeals recently concluded that professional malpractice and ethical violations may give rise to liability for unfair trade practices. In the underlying dispute, attorney Martin Guajardo, the sole shareholder in his own law firm, sold his practice because he faced disciplinary action brought by the state bar. Although Attorney Guajardo ultimately resigned from the bar, he continued to practice law following the sale of his firm. The People of the State of California filed a complaint against Guajardo, and the new firm, alleging unlawful, unfair, and deceptive business practices based upon Guajardo’s unauthorized practice of law. On appeal, the court concluded that Guajardo’s ethical violations also supported a claim under the state’s unfair trade practices act.

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A Disclaimer of Disclaimers – Limits on Limitation of Liability

Many classes of professionals utilize engagement letters with limitation of liability language. For example, accountants, real estate agents and home inspectors often include in their engagements a hold harmless or other clause with the goal of limiting potential damages. Such a clause will establish the extent of exposure, if any, that the professional can be held liable for should problems arise with the engagement. The question of whether the clause is enforceable is state specific and somewhat unpredictable.

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Malpractice Advice from Dr. Oz

Dr. Oz, a well known TV personality, was recently named in a New York lawsuit arising from on-air advice he provided to his viewers. The doctor allegedly informed his audience about a “heated rice” remedy for insomnia. Dr. Oz called it "my night sleep special" on the April 17, 2012, episode of his NBC show titled "Dr. Oz's 24-Hour Ultimate Energy Boost Plan." Unfortunately for 76-year-old Frank Dietl, that Boost Plan left him bedridden for weeks with severe burns on his feet. According to the lawsuit, Dr. Oz failed to provide proper warnings and instructions about the home remedy. The plaintiff seeks unspecified damages from Dr. Oz, NBC Studios, Sony Pictures Television and Harpo Productions.

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Attorney Sanctioned for Frivolous Claim

You are what you eat – but for lawyers, you are what you sign, file, verify or plead. An attorney in Pittsburgh just learned this lesson the hard way and is now $20,000 lighter in the wallet. The failure to properly investigate his client’s “frivolous” gun malfunction claim has landed Attorney Jason Schiffman with the hefty sanction after the judge disagreed with the attorney’s plea that he had reasonably relied on his client.

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