October 1997

Vol.2 – No.3

Your Small Business Dot Com

The Internet provides a speedy, cost-effective way for businesses and professionals to compete internationally. Whether you are operating from your basement or Madison Avenue, your business can look like a million dollars.

The Internet has leveled the playing field between big and small businesses. A small business can reach as many potential customers as a large business. The Web gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “home based business”.

Hot Sites

GOVCON (www.govcon.com) is a free service for businesses wanting to win and retain lucrative government contracts. The site contains bidding opportunities, regulations and databases.

Piper Resources has a comprehensive collection of state and local government Web sites that include links to branches, departments, agencies, cases, statutes and ordinances.

What’s New in Consumer Law?

Consumer forced to buy car insurance awarded $5 million. Due to divorce and financial difficulties, a woman’s car insurance lapsed. The finance company forced-placed insurance on her account causing her car payments to increase by $60 per month. The Plaintiff claimed that the premiums included illegal kickbacks, commissions and expenses for which she should not have been charged. The Mississippi Circuit Court of Humphries County ruled that, although she could not challenge the insurance premium as being too high or unreasonable, she could challenge the fact that she was not told that the policy was purchased by a wholly owned subsidiary of the finance company.

What’s New in Debtor/Creditor Law?

New York company can be sued in California. A New York company that used e-mail and the telephone to contract with a California manufacturer can be sued in California. The California Court of Appeals ruled that these contacts constituted “personal jurisdiction”. The New York company had agreed to sell licenses of the California company’s software. When it stopped paying, it was sued in California. Although the Defendant claimed that there were no “minimum contacts” sufficient to support jurisdiction because there was no “physical presence” in California, the court found a continuing obligation with a party in California.

What’s New in Divorce/Family Law?

Support is not deductible. A husband cannot deduct regular support payments on his income tax return because there was no written separation agreement. The $18,000 that he paid before the divorce is non-deductible. The tax code provides that a spouse can deduct payments under a “written separation agreement”. The letters sent to the ex-wife by the husband’s attorney which stated he “would propose to pay” $9,000 per month reflected “a proposal or offer to negotiate” and not a set of terms that were agreed upon (U.S. Tax Court) (T.C., Memo 1997-359).

What’s New in Estate Planning Law?

New estate tax law. See your attorney to update your estate plan and redistribute assets to take advantage of the following two major changes in the estate tax law:

The estate tax credit will increase from $600,000 to $1 million in incremental steps between 1998 and 2006.
The first $1.3 million of a family business will be excluded from the taxable estate if the decedent was a U.S. citizen, the business accounts for at least one-half of the estate, the decedent or another family member owned and worked in the business for at least five of the eight years preceding the death, the decedent’s family owned at least 30 percent of the business and the heirs will work in the business for at least ten years.

What’s New in Health Law?

HMOs can be sued. A revolutionary new Texas law, that went into effect last month, allows patients to sue their health insurance plan directly if it fails to use “ordinary care” in deciding whether to pay for a medical procedure. Therefore, an HMO that wrongfully refuses to pay for an extra day in the hospital or an expensive prescription, can be subject to the same liability as a doctor who commits malpractice.

What’s New in Landlord/Tenant Law?

Deceased tenant’s gay partner loses rent-stabilized apartment. The gay partner of a deceased tenant failed to establish that his relationship with the decedent constituted a family relationship entitling him to succeed to the rent-stabilized apartment. The couple lived together from 1976 through 1978 and from 1991 until the tenant’s death in 1993. The partner was financially dependent upon the tenant. However, they never shared finances and the tenant never made provisions for the partner in his will or life insurance policy even when he knew of his impending death. The tenant did not publicly acknowledge his homosexuality. The partner, who served as the tenant’s “personal assistant”, maintained a mailing address at another apartment. When the tenant died of AIDS, the partner sought to succeed to the tenant’s rights as a rent-stabilized tenant. The New York Appellate Division, First Department, noted that the tenant had never acknowledged the partner as a family member and that there were no pictures, letters, notes or mementos evidencing a family relationship. This, in combination with tenant’s failure to make any will or insurance provisions for his partner, convinced the court that the parties’ relationship did not qualify as a family relationship entitling the partner to succession rights. The New York Court of Appeals previously ruled that a homosexual couple qualified as a “family” under the housing regulations because they lived as “a couple” for more than decade in an open, committed relationship, and shared financial resources and responsibilities.

What’s New in Personal Injury Law?

Liability of parking lot owners for crimes. A condo association has a duty “to make reasonable precautions” to protect the safety of people including protection from “physical harm caused by criminal intrusion”. A guest who was attending a party given by a tenant was shot by a gang member in the parking lot. The condo association was aware of drug dealing in the area, but only hired a security guard to patrol after 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. The shooting occurred shortly before the guard went on duty. The security guard has warned the association that it needed a 24-hour patrol. The association had briefly hired a second guard, but fired him due to the expense. (Arizona Supreme Court)

What’s New in Real Estate Law?

Eminent domain award offset by benefits. Part of a developer’s property was taken by the county to build an elevated train line. The county claimed that the developer’s property actually increased in value by several million dollars because of the new train line. The majority of states allow such an offset only if the benefit of the taking is “special” to the landlord. However, the California Supreme Court joined a minority of states, including Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and West Virginia, by ruling that an offset is allowed even though the benefit of the train line affects the general community. As long as the benefits of the train line are “reasonable, certain, immediate and non-speculative”, the county can offset them.

What’s New in Small Business Law?

New rules for job interviews. It is legal to ask “Can you do the job?”. An applicant can be asked whether he or she can do specific tasks that are part of the job. He or she can be asked whether he or she can do them “with or without a reasonable accommodation”. It is legal to ask “how would you do the job?” — but only if: (1) the applicant’s disability is obvious, (2) the applicant has brought his or her disability up, or (3) the employer asks this question of everyone. It is also legal to ask, “Will you need an accommodation to do the job?” or “What kind of accommodation would you need?” — but only if the disability is obvious or the applicant brought it up.

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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