Monday, September 28, 2009

Congress Passes Unemployment Insurance Extension

As more Americans face weeks and sometimes months of unemployment, the loss of benefits stretches them to the limit and curtails even further their chances of looking for work - an incredibly hard slog during tough economic times.

Last week, Congress announced another 13 week extension of benefits to primarily help the hundreds of thousands in 27 states where unemployment has reached 8.5 percent or threatens to go even higher by year's end.

In addition, other states like Iowa and Pennsylvania with Insured Unemployment Rates (IUR) over 6% will also be eligible.

The bill is basically an extension of Emergency Unemployment Compensation provided in the stimulus bill adopted at the beginning of the year.

States that qualify

The official announcement tags the following states where unemployment is unusually high and therefore eligible for the extra 13 weeks. They include:

Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Some States have also enacted a voluntary program to pay up to 7 additional weeks (20 weeks maximum) of extended benefits. Check out unemployment benefits by state to see if you may be eligible for extended benefits, as well.

Do I have to apply for the extended unemployment benefit?

Filling out another application is not necessary. Your state agency which handles unemployment benefits will be sending out notifications shortly announcing the extension.

The weekly benefit amount of extended benefits will be the same as the individual received for regular unemployment compensation.

In addition, those who are eligible must continue filing their weekly employment reports (in states where that applies) to tap the new extension.

More about the unemployment insurance extension around the Web:

also see in Legal Bytes:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Medical Malpractice Information

It may be a failed face lift, a injury during birth delivery, a botched operation, or other serious medical procedure that results in lasting physical harm or worse to you or a loved one.

If you think your doctor or surgeon is guilty of serious incompetence or outright criminal conduct, consider bringing a law suit against them.

Be forewarned, however, that medical malpractice cases are some of the most complex for lawyers (and harrowing for patients and families) - that puts the onus of proof squarely on complainants in a legal action against a medical professional.

What you must prove in a medical malpractice case

Simply put, it is up to your legal team to prove that your doctor made a mistake in not observing reasonable techniques, or failed to practice within traditional medical bounds.

Next, By providing evidence of how another doctor would have treated you under the same circumstances, a finer point can be put on how the mistake could have been avoided.

Finally, the legal team must show the extent of the damages made or any possible future harm that could result from the doctor's negligence.

Hiring a medical malpractice lawyer

Therefore, it's most important to hire a law firm with extensive experience in medical malpractice cases, and who can provide a complete team effort in presenting your case before a judge and jury.

This includes not only expert knowledge of medical terminology, but the necessary footwork necessary to research your particular case while they secure expert witnesses to testify at your trial.

Of course, medical malpractice suits can be time consuming, as well as an expensive proposition both monetarily and emotionally.

There are many legal firms, however, that will represent clients on a contigency basis - that is, forestall payment until the case is won - if they think your case is eminently winnable.

In contingency cases, if and only when your law firm wins the case will they accept an agreed upon percentage of the money awarded at trial.

More about medical malpractice lawsuits around the Web:

Friday, August 14, 2009

How to Create a Living Will or Advance Directive

Despite all the misconceptions and outright lies surrounding 2009 health legislation (i.e., Medicare payments for end-of-life care counseling), the fact remains that the legal document known as the "advance directive" or "living will" has been promoted by public officials of every political stripe ever since it was first devised in the late 60s.

The good news is that Americans are still free to control their own medical fates without government interference, especially when it comes to extraordinary treatment that may prolong their lives against their wishes.

What is a living will?
If you don't want extraordinary measures taken if you become incapacitated, the living will is one way to spell out your wishes and give you complete control of your end of life care.

Why create a living will?
With medical advances proceeding at a rapid pace into the 21st century, doctors and other health care professionals now have an array of machinery that helps to prolong life artificially. Today, it's up to each individual to decide whether or not they want to avail themselves of such treatment.

The living will is created while an individual is still healthy, and not only directs a medical team on final treatment wishes, but relieves family members of the decision on the best course of action to take concerning end of life care.

Do it yourself - How to create a living will
To create a living will, you need:
  • To be at least 18 years old, and "of sound mind."
  • Two witnesses and notary public signatures to transform the piece of paper into a legally binding document.
Since there is no one single form available from the federal government, you need to know your individual state regulations in regards to rules and requirements covering living wills. If you search for information online, beware of sites that charge for forms you can easily download and print for free.

On most forms all the "legalize" is already included. This usually includes the phrases like "...being of sound mind..." along with a statement that you are not acting under coercion by any interested party. Once that's squared away, a living will document (also called "advance directives" or "medical power of attorney") outlines your specific wishes for medical treatment when you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. These may include instances of severe brain damage, paralysis, persistent vegetative state, incurable disease or terminal illness.

In addition. you can also spell out any specific treatment you wish to forego such as a feeding tube, respirator, dialysis machine, or other extraordinary measures that would prolong life unnecessarily. Along with your living will, you may also want to complete the separate "Do Not Resusitate" order that specifically directs your doctor not to apply emergency CPR.

Witnessing your living will
Once all the necessary documents are completed, visit a local notary public and bring along two other people to witness the document.

Who can serve as witnesses? It depends. In some cases, your doctor or spouse, relatives or legal heirs are barred to act as witnesses for living wills. So be sure to check your individual state regulations before you go.

Finally, give each witness a copy of the document so that in the event it's needed it can be retrieved quickly and given to hospital personnel. Also give extra copies to close family members, and keep one for yourself. In addition, think about carrying an advance directive notification card in your wallet that gives doctors the heads-up along with any necessary contact information in case of emergency.

More about living wills and advance directives around the Web:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Disorderly Conduct Law

Harvard professer Louis Gates made headlines recently when he was arrested for disorderly conduct outside his home in cambridge, Massachusetts.

The resulting fray went national when a friend of Gates (who happened to live in the White House) appeared on a nationwide TV broadcast to say that Cambridge police "acted stupidly" when they led the professor from his home in handcuffs.

Whether you agree or disagree with the former-lawyer and now US President Barack Obama, most legal experts say that disorderly conduct charges depend largely on a judgement call by the cop at the scene. So what were the Cambridge cops thinking?

Examples of disorderly conduct usually include:

Inciting a riot
Public drunkenness
Loitering in public places
Traffic obstruction
Obscene or abusive language
Making unreasonably loud noise or "disturbing the peace"

Given the array of interpretations of loitering, abusive language, or the most nebulous charge of "disturbing the peace" (actually, Gates was taken in by the arresting officer for “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior”) it's hard to say.

Gates, who is black, was arrested outside his own home after identifying himself as the owner.
Granted, the Harvard professor let off steam by yelling at the officer for questioning him.

"Do you know who I am?" asked Gates, possibly touching off a battle in the ongoing class warfare between the Harvard elite and everybody else who lives in Boston.

Perhaps it was racism. Would a white professor have been arrested under the same circusmstances?

Whatever the reason, expressing First Amendment free speech rights by yelling at a police officer does not constitute disorderly conduct in Massachusetts, nor should it in any other state in the Union.

More about disorderly conduct around the Web:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

When Health Insurance Companies Refuse to Pay

Having trouble with your health insurance?

Odds are that you, or somebody you know, have had to fight with a health insurance company recently over medical bills that they refuse to pay.

Like all companies, health insurance firms are for-profit businesses, and every medical claim they fail to honor - despite the high premiums they charge - is yet another chance to put money in their pocket.

So short of hiring a lawyer, what's a patient to do? A lot more than you think, say the experts.

Remember that while individuals may not hold powerful sway over a large company, there's safety in numbers in getting your appeal heard. Here's how to be your own advocate or to enlist help in getting your medical claim paid:
  • If your insurance company refuses to pay a claim on the grounds that a certain procedure is not "medically necessary", read up on evidence related your particular condition. Get letters from your doctors, or gather additional testimony in print or on the Web that support your claim, i.e., with articles from JAMA, or other medical journals to support the effeciveness of your treatment. On your next appeal, pile on the paper.
  • "Sorry, That's A Pre-Existing Condition" - A favorite of insurance claim reviewers, this one is often used as a scatter-shot approach to deny a claim, and any flimsy excuse can be enlisted in trying to enforce it.

    In one recent NY Times article, for example, (
    Getting a Health Policy When You’re Already Sick) a patient was denied treatment of mouth cancer because he was treated for a canker sore six months earlier. The health insurance company later reinstated coverage only after the patient's doctor successfully proved that the two conditions had absolutely nothing to do with each other.
  • Again, you don't have to take no for an answer. Most health insurance companies are betting that you'll get tired of appealing and just give up.

    Luckily for consumers, there's plenty of other assistance available by enlisting the help of your
    state insurance watchdog, or by contacting the Patient Advocate Foundation who do a wonderful job in helping patients push back against health insurance denials.

    Finally, if all else fails, get an attorney involved. There's nothing like a threat from a law firm (or at least a related "cc" to them on all correspondence) to make health insurance companies sit up and take notice.

More about dealing with health insurance companies around the Web:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

How to find a pro bono lawyer

If you're having trouble paying for legal professional advice and representation, there may be no better time than now to seek pro bono services. As the economy continues to tank, layoffs among top law firms finds lawyers in the same boat as everyone else. 

Of course, there's no way to tell if these newly unemployed attorneys will be willing to take on pro bono work as a result of a layoff. But it certainly doesn't hurt to bolster their resumes as they look to join a law firm that's hiring. 

A long-standing pro bono recommendation by the American Bar Association (ABA) states that ethical rules should compel any attorney to contribute to "pro bono" or to "the public good" by logging at least 50 hours a year to pro bono work. Top law firms even in good times will often encourage pro bono work to enhance their firm's standing as good corporate citizens, although the 50-hour per year ideal is a goal rarely met in the real world.

Your local state bar association is a good place to start if you are seeking a lawyer to handle your case without a fee. Statistically, you're in a better position to find a pro bono lawyer in the US if you live in major cities like Chicago, New York, Washington DC, LA or Atlanta where well-heeled law firms are better positioned to take on pro bono cases.

You may also want to check with advocacy groups that fight for kids and families, victims of crime, discrimination, or advocate for immigration and aslyum, etc., which may apply to your particular case.

If you live near a law school that funds a public interest or pro bono program, check to see if there is a community center or law clinic where professional services are offered by students usually under the supervision of a professor.

Finally, don't be afraid to go the old-fashioned route, by asking friends or family members for recommendations. A local clergyman may also be helpful in finding a church member who would be willing to take your case on a pro bono basis. 

More about finding a pro bono lawyer around the Web:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Good Reasons for Legalizing Marijuana?

Set aside for the moment that marijuana possession in small amounts is de facto decriminalized throughout most of America. Will legal sale and distribution of pot inevitably lead to a modern day Sodom and Gommorah?

Federal and state governments are starting to seriously consider whether the issue deserves another look as they search for more creative ways to raise revenue. Rather than spending an estimated $8 billion a year on marijuana law enforcement, shouldn't the government take on the role of regulating and taxing it just like liquor and cigarettes?

This was pointed up most recently by California governor Arnold Schwarzeneger when he broached the subject legalizing marijuana publicly in May. Asked if he favored legalisation, Schwarzenegger told reporters: "Well, I think it's not time for that, but I think it's time for a debate. I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues are worth considering. I think we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalised marijuana and other drugs. What effect did it have on those countries?"

What, indeed? A long list of countries where marijuana has been decriminalized include Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, most of South America and a large swath of Australia.

Meanwhile, in other countries where it is still strictly illegal, (on the books, at least) officials continue to vaguely admit that applicable marijuana laws are hardly ever enforced against casual users. Yet ALL countries where pot use is tolerated still have strict laws against its sale and distribution.

So why the disconnect between users and sellers? Isn't it time we ended the hypocrisy and begin now to regulate and sell pot to help stimulate a billion-dollar farming industry instead of spending billions to fight the illegal drug trade? Police and court resources would be freed up for more serious crimes and drug dealers (including some terrorists) would lose most or all of their business.

Although real concerns about what effects marijuana might have on brain development teens and young adults, positive anecdotal evidence often refutes the traditional "sinful weed from hell" mentality associated with cannibis.

If that's not enough, medical reports published this year showed that alchohol had by far more harmful effects on neurological functions than marijuana. It may be the combined effects of hard research, and the practical considerations of bolstering a failed economy, will force another look at marijuana.

If not, we'll most likely continue down the same road as our forefathers during Prohibition. And we all know how that turned out. In his earliest days in office, FDR helped fix the banks, then legalized booze. How about legalizing marijuana?

More about legalizing marijuana around the Web:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Quotes on Equal Protection & the Rule of Law

It's a little late, but ... Happy Law Day! 

Although the former Bush administration would wish the issue of torture would go away, the facts aren't on their side as the ghosts of history past continue to haunt them. 

ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

THOMAS MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

THOMAS MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you-where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down —and you're just the man to do it — d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.
Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons
  • “The rule of law can be wiped out in one misguided, however well-intentioned, generation.”
    William T. Gossett,  Attorneys & the Practice of Law, 1969
  • "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. "
    James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 51 (1788)
  • "There can be no free society without law administered through an independent judiciary. If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny."
    U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, United States v. United Mine Workers (1947)
  • "The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law."
    Dwight Eisenhower, an address on the first observance of Law Day, May 5, 1958

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Suing an Employer: How & When to Hire a Labor Lawyer

According to the 2008 Fulbright & Jaworski Litigation Trends Survey, 27% of all U.S. companies surveyed had more than 20 lawsuits brought against them, up slightly from the year before. 

And it's a trend that seems to be growing.

The most commmon reasons for lawsuits? They usually involve perceived abuse by employees over hourly wages, promised overtime, meal expenses or break time. 

As the recession worsens, experts are particularly watching how an increase in hiring of part time or seasonal workers will effect the trend.

As ever, the bigger the company (see Walmart) the better the odds of winning or settling out of court. Other typical cases include: 
  • race, sex or age discrimination
  • harassment
  • disability
  • violations of the Family Medical Leave Act
How to hire a labor attorney

When looking for a labor attorney, it’s a always a good idea to shop around, but if you can't afford an initial consultation look for law firms that provide them at no charge.

While your there, ask questions. Make sure they're qualified in mediation, arbitration, and that they are armed with a proven track record in litigating cases. How many cases have they brought to trial? How many have they won? If settlement negotiations later break down, you'll know (and you're employer will, too) that you've hired a labor lawyer who can successfully argue your case in a very public court of law.

More about labor law around the Web:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Online Legal Resources

It was ol'Abe Lincoln who famously taught himself the law of the land by candlelight in a rustic backwoods Kentucky log cabin.

Today, more light is being shed on the law than ever before with rich online resources providing a virtual college education. Some have been around for years and have become fairly well known for their breadth of information, while others come online just waiting to be discovered.

Just up ahead,  a current snapshot of the most complete online information for armchair lawyers, researchers and others who want to know more about the impact the legal system has on our everyday lives.

NOLO - The online bible for free legal information in the dual areas of consumer and business law including copyright law, landlord-tenant law, bankruptcy, foreclosures, family law and immigration, malpractice, small claims court, and lots more with feature articles and opinion, sample forms and contracts.

FindLaw - Browse over a dozen topics or dig deeper into the subtopic areas (under Accidents and Injuries, for example) to explore the finer points of everything from dog bites to mesothelioma. Also see their Dangerous Products category for an A-Z list of poisonous, unhealthful or questionable products or medications. - An online alamanc of interesting, informative and factual information including legal resources by topic, a comprehensive A-Z legal dictionary, a collection of law quotations, and don't miss The Law's Hall of Horror for crime and punishment through the ages.

The Encyclopedia of Everyday Law - A great collection of facts and information on civil rights, disabilities, patient rights, family law, immigration, taxes and related laws and consumer issues.

Virtual Gumshoe - Have fun tracking down vital records, missing persons, cemetaries and obituaries, most wanted lists, voter records, weather history data, historical archives and more nuggets of information freely available online for the curious cyber detective.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How to Avoid Divorce Court - Collaborative Law

First proposed as an innovative solution to the usual "War of the Roses" divorce battles, lawyer Stu Web first proposed the collaborative approach to more amicable, family-friendly divorce proceedings in the 1990's. A decade or more later, collaborative divorce is a solution becoming more and more popular with couples seeking an alternative to very public, and often humiliating,  court cases.

As the name implies, collaborative divorce proceedings naturally became an outgrowth of the skills and talents of any good divorce lawyer, and the roles they often play as legal expert, financial planner, family counselor and friend.

By signing a participation agreement with a specialized collaborative law firm - agreeing to the terms of open and honest communication - couples are given access to not only collaborative law attorneys but other experts in the field of finance, family counseling and child pyschology. 

The agreement that couples sign is unique, in that it demands total cooperation from both sides on pain of breaking the contract, and canceling all negoations. 

In turn, couples are  protected by a proviso forbidding collaborative lawyers from representativing either party in court should traditional divorce proceedings become necessary. In this way,  collaborative law attorneys are incented to work harder to keep the proceedings going forward.

Of course, effective collaboration would likely be a waste of time for childless couples hell bent on a fight over property, or large sums of money. However, for couples who feel the emotional pain is just not worth it, or who want to protect kids from the psychological damage or typically prolonged custody battles, collaboration is often the best resolution for all involved.

More about collaborative law around the Web:

International Academy of Collaborative Professionals - What is collaboative practice? - with related FAQ, glossary of terms and searchable database of collaborative lawyers and mediators.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Toxic Mold - Your Health and The Law

With the rise in million dollar toxic mold lawsuits against home builders and landlords, more people are becoming aware of the dangers of suspected mold that may lurk in their homes or apartments that may eventually end up in their lungs.

Although the US Centers for Disease control and Prevention have yet to establish links between mold and health problems, the medical establishment has at least conceded to possible adverse effects from toxic mold by people with allergies or suppressed immune systems.

Strong anectodal evidence, meanwhile, continues to link common illnesses or symptoms in otherwise healthy people who live in homes where toxic mold is discovered. These include milder cases of wheezing and coughing to more serious cases of asthma, chronic sinusitis, and respiratory infections.

Right now there is no federal law governing the limits of exposure to household mold, although there have been several states that have enacted legislation - California, Indiana, Maryand, New Jersey and Texas among them, as well as local city ordinances such as in New York City and San Francisco that classify toxic mold under department of health violations.

What You Can Do about Toxic Mold

The health solution to toxic mold seems fairly straitforward. Simply get rid of toxic mold by washing all effected surfaces with bleach or other cleaning products. 

However, if the causes of mold - such as leaky pipes, infected wallboard or ventilation systems continues - then renters need to call their landlord for repairs. Renters may try to force  negligent landlords to solve the problem by calling a local city agency or health department. Otherwise, bringing the landlord to court may be their only recourse.

Homeowners who can point to a negligent contractor or defective building materials (or a previous homeowner who did not disclose the problem), may either have recourse to collect from their insurance policy or a full-fleged suing case against those responsible.

Whether your a renter or owner, evidence that you tried to "remediate" or solve the problem yourself needs to be fully documented, by photo evidence as well as hard copies of medical expenses, and bills for cleanup, repairs or replacement of ruined clothing or damaged household items. If a lawsuit is your only recourse, be sure to hire an attorney that specializes in personal injury or experience in toxic mold cases. They can more effectively fight your case in the courts, or successfully negotiate with insurance companies increasingly reluctant to cover costs of toxic mold damages. 

More about toxic mold around the Web:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sexting and Juvenile Law

Meet the new juvenile deliquency issue of the computer age: sexting.

Sexting, or sending out nude photos of oneself or others, is the new fad among teenagers who may send nude photos as a form of high-tech flirting, or merely as a prank to embarass a classmate.


Some cops don't so, as child protection laws now prohibit even kids (some as young as 6th graders) from sending, receiving or storing nude photos electronically. Although legislation was originally enacted to protect minors, kids themselves may not be immune to the law, depending on how strongly local jurisdictions want to enforce it.

Part of the problem, some police officials say, is how quickly these photos can be posted on Internet social sites to lure adult stalkers posing as teens, eventually leading to escalated sexting and possible assault, or worse.

Currently, both teachers and law enforcement are raising the alarm on sexting and are warning parents to take a look at their child's cell phone or Facebook page to see if their kids are baring it all online.

Although kids may think nothing of it, parents need to explain the possible consequences of sending nude pictures - which may result in full legal penalties or possible harassment charges from other teens or their parents.
How to stop it? While authorities realize that parents can't keep kids and teens under lock and key, they suggest the old-fashioned way of making kids tow the line: by reminding them of who pays the bills, and by pulling the plug on their computers and cell phones if sexting ever becomes an issue.

More about sexting and the law around the Web:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Landlord Tenant Law: Evictions

With the economic downturn, searches for legal help regarding eviction law have skyrocketed across the Web.

The most common reason for eviction is, of course, nonpayment of rent, usually by cash-strapped families who can no longer afford to pay.

On the flip side, landlords often are advised to tread lightly when it comes to evicting a tenant. This is not only due to the emotional conflicts involved on both sides, but the legal hassles involved.

Unfortunately, some landlords will simply bypass the courts to take matters - illegally - into their own hands.

The illegal route to eviction

Tenants have rights. Gone are the days when landlords could summarily throw families, furniture and baggage from their homes, but some may still resort to harassment tactics to force tenants from their homes such as:

  • Changing the locks
  • Padlocking the door
  • Removing the door
  • Removing your furniture or other property
  • Turning off utilities

Landlords who try these methods (or anything else to keep you out of your apartment) should be reported to the police immediately since in most localities they will be in violation of the law and subject to criminal proceedings.

The legal route to eviction

To legally evict a tenant, landlords must either hire a lawyer or arrange a court date themselves to hear their case. Next, they must notify the tenant at least several days (5-10 in most jurisdictions) in advance of the hearing date. This is to give the tenant time to prepare a defense.

In court, what's a tenants best defense?: Always remaining calm and explaining your side of the story.

If possible, bring the back rent money to court to have the case dismissed. If you paid the rent, bring a receipt. If you have held back rent because your landlord didn't make necessary repairs, be sure to bring photos and any other proof of your landlord's negligence.

If you cannot pay the rent, or the judge otherwise rules in favor of the landlord, be prepared for an eviction warrant and get ready to move. Depending on individual circumstances, the judge may order removal in 72 hours or issue a "stay" to ease any economic hardship.

Why and how to avoid eviction

While the landlord may not report the eviction, it is still a matter of public record which credit agencies or other landlords can easily discover - with a little digging. If eviction isn't bad enough news, the impact that eviction has on your credit rating is similar to that of bankruptcy, effecting your chances of renting in the future or obtaining anytime soon a bank loan or credit card.

Therefore, if you think you may be any chance of losing an eviction case, it is usually in your best interest (as well as the landlord's) to come to a personal agreement, and avoid a court case altogether.