Fall 1999

Vol.4 – No.2

Bar Associations Recommend Legalsurvival.com

Friedman & Ranzenhofer, P.C.’s Legalsurvival.com web site and newsletter have been recommended by both the American Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association. “…Friedman & Ranzenhofer, P.C. maintains ‘Legal Survival’, a very active web site…where the law is presented in easy-to-understand lay terms for consumers and small business owners (New York State Bar News)” “…very interesting free…electronic newsletters…include…the Legal Survival newsletter, from attorney Robert Friedman, author of several law books and a columnist for the Buffalo News, dealing with developments in such areas as consumer protection, debtor/creditor relations, divorce, estate planning, health, landlord/tenant, personal injury, real estate, and small business. Mr. Friedman’s site even includes instructions on how to seek permission to private label the newsletter or reprint its contents…” (The American Law Institute — American Bar Assocation Committee on Continuing Professional Education).

Landlord Seminars

“How to Survive Legally as a Landlord” will be presented by attorney/author Robert Friedman from 6:00 to 9:30 p.m. on the following three dates: (1) Thursday, February 3, 2000 at Clarence Community Education (telephone: (716)626-8080), (2) Tuesday, March 7, 2000 at Williamsville Community Education (telephone: (716)851-1800) and (3) Thursday, April 6, 2000 at Erie Community College, South Campus (4041 Southwestern Boulevard, Orchard Park, New York 14127, telephone (716)851-1800). Mr. Friedman will discuss evictions, leases, Small Claims Court, discrimination laws, civil liability, insurance, security deposits, elderly tenants, drugs, debt collection, and lead paint regulations. There is a registration and book fee. To register, call the telephone number at the location where you wish to attend.

Verdicts and Settlements at a Glance

During the Summer of 1999, Friedman & Ranzenhofer, P.C., Attorneys, were actively fighting for their accident/injury clients’ rights. This past summer alone, Friedman & Ranzenhofer, P.C. recovered more than $1 million for injured clients, including $800,000 from Colonial Penn Insurance Company for a woman injured in an automobile accident in Clarence; $100,000 from New York Central Mutual Insurance Company for an Akron teenager who broke her ankle in an automobile crash; $15,000 from Prudential Insurance Company for a four-year old North Tonawanda girl who burned her hand, $14,000 from Allstate Insurance Company for an Akron girl bitten by a dog; $50,000 from CGU Insurance Company for a Batavia boy bitten by a dog; $6,000 from State Farm Insurance Company for a woman who fell on a sidewalk; $7,500 from Travelers Insurance Company for a Cheektowaga woman bitten by a dog; $25,000 from Hartford Insurance Group for an Akron man who injured his hand in a motor vehicle crash; $18,000 from Progressive Insurance Company for a Buffalo woman involved in a car accident; and $42,000 from Cosco, Inc. for a Tonawanda woman who broke three ribs when a step stool collapsed.

What’s New in Consumer Law?

$581 million awarded for satellite dish credit scam. A poor, rural family who claimed they were intentionally duped by a shady financing scheme, were awarded $581 million even though they had no financial losses or injuries, except for emotional distress. They claimed that the satellite dish seller and third party financing company were trying to take advantage of their lack of understanding of how revolving credit drives up the stated price of a product. Interest on the loans would have driven up the cost of a $1,200 satellite dish by several hundred dollars. The Plaintiffs claimed that the salesman lied to them by saying that the dish would be fully paid after 36 fixed monthly payments. In fact, it would actually take 52 months to pay off the loan if minimum monthly payments of $34 were made (Alabama Circuit Court, Hale County). Another finance company was hit with a $167.5 million verdict in Mississippi for misleading customers about the financial terms for purchasing satellite dishes.

What’s New in Debtor/Creditor Law?

How to avoid foreclosure. Homeowners can avoid foreclosure if the loan documents violate the Federal Truth in Lending Act, which requires lenders to make certain disclosures to borrowers about the true costs of a loan. Violations of the Act may give the borrower the right to: (1) rescind the loan; (2) recover or offset amounts already paid, including interest, finance charges and closing costs; and (3) collect statutory damages of $1,000 plus attorneys fees. The Act and regulations require lenders to disclose to borrowers the true costs of credit so they can comparison shop for the best loan. Required disclosures include the annual percentage rate, finance charges, total payments, the amount financed and the payment schedule. The Act also provides home mortgage borrowers with a three day “cooling off” period to decide whether or not they want to rescind the loan, where there is a refinancing, second mortgage, home equity loan, and home improvement credit sale. If the lender does not make these disclosures, the borrower’s right to rescind is extended for three years. A lender violates the requirement of disclosing the right to rescind if: (a) it does not give each borrower two copies of the document that explains the right to rescind; (b) it uses the wrong Federal Reserve form disclosing the right to rescind, i.e. using the new loan form instead of the refinancing form; and (c) if there is a $35 or more understatement in the finance charge.

What’s New in Divorce/Family Law?

Stepfather does not have to pay child support. In a divorce proceeding, the wife sought child support from her husband who was the child’s stepfather. The court denied the request, ruling that the stepfather did not have all the obligations of a biological father. The court noted that pursuant to the Family Court Act, it had broad discretion to determine when it is appropriate to impose a support obligation on a stepparent. Stepparents are only responsible if the support from the biological parent was insufficient to keep the child off public assistance. In this case, the child was “clearly in no danger of becoming a public charge”. (New York Supreme Court, Richmond County)

What’s New in Estate Planning/Elder Law?

Long term care. Most retirees and their families cannot afford the average $4,770 per month for long term care services. Medicare will provide benefits for up to 100 days in a skilled nursing facility if certain conditions are met. The first 20 days of care are usually fully covered. Medicare requires a co-payment of nearly $100 per day for the next 80 days of care. If a New York State Partnership for Long Term Care policy is purchased, the patient will be able to obtain Medicaid coverage after the policy benefits are exhausted. Medicaid coverage will then be based on the patient’s income alone, without consideration of assets. This allows the patient to keep all of his or her assets. For more information concerning the Partnership, call 1-888-697-7582 or visit their Web site at http://www.nyspltc.org. The New York State Insurance Department offers a book, Long-Term Care Services Currently Being Sold in New York State: Summary of Benefit and Premium Rates, which can be obtained by calling 1-800-342-3736 or visiting their Web site at http://www.ins.state.ny.us.

What’s New in Health Law?

HMO sued for releasing patient too soon. An HMO, which discharged a patient with Crohn’s disease from the hospital too soon and her intestine ruptured, can be sued for breach of contract. The HMO allowed nurses to determine whether continued hospitalization was “medically necessary”. The patient filed a class action, claiming that by not having a doctor decide whether a longer hospital stay was required, the HMO had breached its obligations under the plan. (New York County Supreme Court)

What’s New in Landlord/Tenant Law?

Landlord liable for injury on adjoining property. The owner of an apartment building may be liable where a child was injured while playing on a car that was parked on county-owned land next to its apartment building because: (a) it told its building manager to have a tenant move his car behind the building; (b) the manager told the tenant to move the car to the county land, thinking it belonged to the landlord; (c) the car had a broken antenna with a sharp, jagged edge; and (d) the landlord permitted a trash bin, a children’s fort and a basketball hoop to be placed near the car. Even though the landlord didn’t own the land in which the car was parked, the court held that a landowner may be liable for an injury on adjacent property if he could be considered a “possessor” of the property. “Ownership of or a legal right to control land is not necessary to be a possessor of land for purposes of establishing premises liability…rather…we must look to the intent of the person in occupation of the land and the amount of control that the person exercises over it.” The court cited similar rulings from the U.S. District Court of Nevada and from state courts in California and Texas. (Missouri Court of Appeals)

What’s New in Municipal Law?

Town may refuse to grant building permit for assisted living residence. A developer planned to build a 72-unit assisted living facility for the aged with staff offering residents assistance with meals and daily activities, but not skilled nursing care. The proposed site is zoned partly for commercial use and partly for residential use. After the Board of Zoning Appeals rejected the builder’s bid for a special use permit, it filed a federal suit for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act. The builder alleged discriminatory conduct including the failure to reasonably accommodate the needs of the disabled prospective residents. It sought a preliminary injunction ordering the town to allow construction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that because the developers failed to show that people without disabilities could get what they were seeking—permits for residences in that same commercial zone—no injunction was warranted. “If a building permit would not be granted even for comparable ‘traditional’ residences (that is, residences where persons without disabilities can live) in the relevant area, a municipality is not required to make accommodations that would facilitate a building permit for housing designed for the disabled.”

What’s New in Personal Injury Law?

New pain syndromes. A person who has a strain or minor-impact accident can develop fibromyalgia or myofascial pain syndrome weeks or months later. These two debilitating pain syndromes involve muscle and joint pain, which is triggered by an accident or repetitive stress. Myofascia is the translucent lining that covers the muscle tissue and adheres in layers to form tendons and ligaments. Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS) results from kinks in the myofascia, causing muscular pain and damage in the neurotransmitters. A person who suffers from MPS complains of regional pain, has pain or numbness if a “trigger point” is pressed, has a “knot” in a muscle that an examiner can feel, feels tenderness along a “knotted” muscle and experiences restricted range of motion or muscle weakness. Fibromyalgia is pain in at least 11 of 18 “tender points” when subject to light pressure and complaints of widespread pain for at least three months in most areas of the body, including both left and right sides and above and below the waist. A Seattle woman who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia after a minor car accident, settled with the insurance company for over $200,000.

What’s New in Real Estate Law?

Conservation easements. A conservation easement is a private land use restriction entered into voluntarily for the purpose of preserving open space, important environmental resources and significant historic, scenic or architectural conditions. Forty-four states, including New York, have conversation easement statutes. Landowners use the easements to protect valuable lands and resources. A landowner may convey a conservation easement, usually by donation to a governmental entity (for example, as a deposit into a land bank) or to one of more than 1,200 active non-profit land trusts across the country. There are 80 land trusts in New York. There are many benefits to using conservation easements. For governments, it can be a cost-effective way of promoting desired preservation and protection of resources. For individual landowners, it can result in estate tax benefits, income tax deductions and property tax assessment benefits.

What’s New in Small Business Law?

Corporate formalities checklist. Corporations must maintain proper formalities to safeguard limited liability and proper tax treatment. A corporation needs to be treated as a separate entity in order for the shareholders to avoid potential business liabilities and tax problems. Many of the important “arm’s length” indicia that are evaluated by courts and the IRS include the 14 items discussed in this three-part series. Items one through five were discussed in the Spring 1999 issue and items six through ten were discussed in the Summer 1999 issue.

Injured Victims’ Rights

The Friedman & Ranzenhofer, P.C. Ten Point Pledge to Accident/Injury Clients is:

  • To communicate with you in plain language that is easy to understand.
  • To promptly return your telephone calls.
  • To quickly and thoroughly investigate and analyze your case. Friedman & Ranzenhofer, P.C. does not accept every accident case.
  • To have your case personally handled by an attorney.
  • To keep you informed of the progress of your case at all times.
  • To show you the personal care, concern and attention which has been the hallmark of our law firm since 1955.
  • To not handle your case in an “assembly line” fashion.
  • To accommodate the needs of you and your family during the handling of your case.
  • To vigorously protect your legal rights.
  • To never release your name to the media after your case has been completed, except with your written permission.

Attorney Michael H. Ranzenhofer limits his practice to automobile accident, slip and fall, dog bite and defective product cases. He is a member of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the Western New York Trial Lawyers Association, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and the Erie County Bar Association Negligence Committee.

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