For-Profit Colleges and Consumer Lawsuits

For-Profit colleges have been in the news more often lately. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission filed suit against a for-profit college for misleading students. In addition to FTC actions, students who were misled may have private rights of action on various statutes that protect individuals against unfair trade practices. For instance, Florida’s Consumer Protection Statute broadly states “Unfair methods of competition, unconscionable acts or practices, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.” Section 501.204(1), Florida Statutes. If an individual files suit against a for-profit school and they can prove they were a victim of deceptive acts of practices, they may be entitled to damages, including a return of tuition. If you feel that you may be a victim of unfair or deceptive trade practices, contact an attorney and see what remedies you might have.

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Unfair Hospital Bills in Florida

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Much ado has been made lately about the rising costs of healthcare and for good reason too.  Health Insurance is expensive, even with subsidies.  Even if you have decent health insurance, the hospital copay and deductible can cost a small fortune.  This is WITH health insurance.  Without health insurance, you’re really in trouble.  Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy.  Given the lack of Medicaid expansion in Florida, this can be a big problem.  Anyone who has seen their medical bills will certainly balk at individual items.  Many people complain about single doses of over the counter drugs costing $10-$20.  

These seem like pretty anti-consumer practices, right?  They can be.  In Colomar v. Mercy Hosp, 461 F. Supp.2d 1265 (S. D. Fla. 2006), a Court determined that these kinds of practices can lead to a claim of unfairness, which is prohibited under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUPTA).    Specifically, the Court found that Plaintiff might have a valid claim where she was charged $12,863 where the value of the services received were only $2,098, the hospital charged uninsured patients 450% that of Medicaid patients, and their cost-to-charge ratio was almost 400%, among other factors.  The Court determined that this practice could constitute unconscionability.

If you feel you a hospital has overcharged you for being uninsured, you may have a claim under FDUPTA.  A prevailing Plaintiff can also obtain attorney’s fees from the losing party.  The downside is that a prevailing Defendant, in some circumstances can obtain an award of attorney’s fees from a non-prevailing Plaintiff.  Consult with a consumer law attorney to determine if a FDUPTA claim is right for you.

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3 Ways a Small Business Law Firm Understands Its Small Business Clients

Small businesses comprise a great deal of my client base.  I incorporate their businesses, draft their contracts, and represent them in court.  Our law firm is also a small business.  This gives me a great deal of insight when serving my clients.  The things I learn as my own business grows, I enjoying sharing with my clients – whether it be legal advice or practical advice.  Here are 3 tips that I share with my clients.

  1. As a small business, I learn what type of things to include in contracts.  Dealing with clients and third parties, I know the basic conflicts and communication issues that often arise.  Ultimately, contracts are meant to memorialize relationships in the hopes of avoiding conflict.  As I’ve learned the triggers that lead to conflict in my own practice, I have learned how to approach to drafting contracts for my clients as well.
  2. Incorporating is incredibly important for businesses.  However, incorporating goes beyond simply filing papers with the state.  There are often partnership dynamics,  tax considerations, and other business considerations.  Our own law firm consists of a partnership and we structured our firm with certain tax considerations in mind.  I then have the benefit of imparting this wisdom onto our clients as well when helping clients choose how to incorporate and how to deal with business partners.
  3. I value professionalism in both my professional and personal life.  I like good customer service, punctuality, and a job done right.  I expect nothing less for myself and I understand how important appearing professional is important for my small business clients.  I know that when I draft a contract for my client, it needs to look clean and be easy to read.  I know that when I create the formal documents for an incorporation, it is done in a professional manner.  Even when I represent my small business clients in court, it is important for the opposing counsel or judge to sense that my client is professional as a result of good choice of counsel.

 

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Congratulations to Attorney Danya Shakfeh for Being Selected to Super Lawyers Illinois Rising Star List!

Congratulations to our firm’s Attorney Danya Shakfeh for being selected to Super Lawyer’s Illinois Rising Star List.  This honor is awarded to less than 2.5% of attorneys in the state.

Shakfeh Law is proud to provide the best quality service to our clients.

Full press release below (click to enlarge).

Super Lawyers Rising Star 2015_Danya Shakfeh_Press Release

 

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Prior to the passage of Chapter 586, Florida Statutes, regulation of apiaries was in a state of chaos.  Different counties, municipalities, and other local governments were regulating apiaries in different manners creating a patchwork of prohibition and permissibility across the state.  However, with the passage of Chapter 586, Florida Statutes, the Florida State government preempted all local regulation of apiaries.  The gist of Chapter 586, Florida Statutes, is that any individual may own a well organized apiary if it is registered with the State.  Now, anyone, subject to restrictive covenants such as the ones contained in Home Owner’s Associations, can own a beehive.  Also noteworthy if Florida Administrative Code Chapter 5B-54 which spells out in more detail some of the procedures the state may take to prevent the outbreak of disease and introduction of pests.  In summary, Chapter 586, Florida Statutes, is a slam dunk in the regulation of apiaries because it simplifies the rules.

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Navigating the Law for Your Business Seminar: Corporations and Contracts

Attorney Danya Shakfeh delivers a workshop on the basics of incorporation, business entities, and contracts in Illinois.  This is a great workshop whether you are a new or established business.  Danya goes over why incorporation is important and how you choose your business entity.  Danya also discusses some basic principles, myths and truths about contracts.  In the video are printable handouts in the “About” section below the video that you can use to follow along.

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Beekeeping and Florida Law (Part 1 of 3).

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Florida is one of the top destination states for beekeepers because of its warm climate and abundance of nectar producing flowers.  However, like many other activities, Florida law dictates some of the things you can and can’t do or should and shouldn’t do.  The good news is it’s not that complicated.  Florida Statutes pre-empt local ordinances regarding beekeeping (more to come on that in part 2) so you only have to worry about one level of government for purposes of the State.  I recently obtained a hive so I thought I would share my legal research with everyone (what else do lawyers do when they get new things?)  This series will be divided into three parts:

1) Tort liability of beekeeping,

2) regulation, and

3) a possible hidden legal bonus for anyone who keeps bees.

This part will focus on potential tort liability.  Bees are often feared because they are known to sting.  However, they’re fairly harmless if they’re unprovoked.  Animals kept on private fall into two categories.  The first category is that of wild animals.  Anyone who keeps a wild animal on their private property is strictly liable for the damage that animal does to others.  It doesn’t matter whether the owner acted reasonably in housing the animal or not.  The very fact it did damage makes the owner liable.  The second is domesticated animals.  Aside from exceptions described in Florida’s dog bite statute, liability for domestic animals is based on reasonableness.  This usually looks at factors of how much of a danger the owner SHOULD (which is different from did) have known the animal could cause and the way the owner acted based on that knowledge.  In Ferreira v. D’Asaro, 152 So.2d 736 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1963) , the Court determined that bees are domestic animals.  Therefore, a beekeeper should act reasonable in locating their apiary.  High density residential areas carry higher risks of being an unreasonable place to put a beehive than low density agricultural land.  Reasonableness is a question for a finder of fact (a judge or jury) so determining exactly what that may be is not easy.  However, it’s important to place the beehive somewhere that it’s not likely to injure other people or their pets.  By doing so, as gentle as bees are, this will minimize the potential for a lawsuit if someone is stung.

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The “Loophole” Client

Loophole imageIt probably happens in many industries.  Your client wants a shortcut.  “Can I do this and get away with it?”

In the legal field, it often comes in the form of a contract client.  “My contracts says XYZ, but can I do ABC instead and get away with it… is there a loophole?”  I almost always tell my clients “No.”  You see, in contracts, there are two types of clauses: 1) clauses that have a history of interpretation or written in a conventional manner and 2) clauses that are vague and need new interpretation.   A “loophole” can only fall in the first type of clauses because if you are in the second type (and since most contracts are unique, most clauses will fall in the second type), the only way the clause will be officially interpreted is in court.  So the only way to know if a client can “get away with something” is if they go to court.  And that’s always risky.

Attorneys can interpret contract clauses based on known contract principles, but at the end of the day, if a contract ends up in court,  a judge’s interpretation is the only enforceable interpretation.  So for example, if the client comes with a non-compete clause and wants to know if he can open up a competing business, a lawyer can read the contract and research past cases (known as “precedent”) to determine a likely interpretation, but a lawyer can never say for sure, particularly when the clause is written in an unconventional manner or if precedent is lacking.  I tell my clients they have three options 1) go to court and challenge the clause, 2) do whatever it is what you want to do and see if you’ll get sued, and 3) simply abide by the contract.  I usually recommend option #3.

This is yet another reason why contracts should be reviewed by an attorney BEFORE you sign the contract.  Because in the end, when what’s done is done, violating a contract clause is always risky and can open the door to many more problems.

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Always Leave a Paper Trail in Business Contracting

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At Shakfeh Law, we believe in the old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  One way to prevent needing the cure in contracting is leaving a paper trail in contracting and in the execution of business contracts.

One very telling example of this is where potential business partners contract to form a business and the partnership agreement requires the partners to contribute capital, without specifying what kind of capital.  Even worse is where the partners provide liquid capital to the business without receipts.  Always get a receipt.  There are two potential problems that may easily arrive and could be prevented by leaving a paper trail.

The first problem is that neither partner can prove or disprove that either partner contributed the agreed capital because the agreed capital isn’t specified.  If there is a dispute, there could be a very costly discovery process and risky trial that’s likely to make both parties unhappy.  After all, civil court are just an expensive way of making everyone unhappy.

The second issue is whether the capital was even provided.  If cash or supplies are provided without proof of receipt, then the party receiving the cash or supplies can possess themselves of it and, if brought to court over the matter, the Plaintiff will have trouble proving that it was provided.

As a general rule, having an attorney look over business contracts can save a lot of money and headache.  Either way, always be specific about quantity/price and always have some way of proving that the other party received what you gave them from you.

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Don’t Fall in the Trap: Common Employment Contract Mistakes

stop signWe often assume that big or even medium-sized companies have their act together.  We think these companies hire highly trained professionals to take care of various important matters.  However, after reviewing many employment contracts for employees, I can not say that companies take their legal department as seriously.  I’ve seen medium and large (including public) companies with terrible contracts or sometimes hiring employees with no contract all.  This makes it incredibly important for both employees and employers to have their contracts reviewed by an attorney.

Here are some common mistakes that employers make:

  1. Including clauses that violate employee rights therefore opening up the employer to potential legal liability,
  2. Drafting clauses that are difficult to understand thereby opening up the clause to multiple interpretations,
  3. Not probably describing the duties of the employee,
  4. Not following proper signature protocols (such as not including the title of company representative), and
  5. Not addressing likely scenarios.

Bottom line to employees: don’t assume that an employer knows what they are doing with respect to contracts.  Bottom line to employers: carefully draft your contracts.

 

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