Articles Posted in General Advice

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Our Atlanta community is hurting after the tragic death of George Floyd, and countless others who came before him. We are all shaken by grief and frustration, here in Atlanta and all throughout Georgia and the rest of the country. Personally, these recent events have caused me to reflect across the many parts of my life which have shaped my views and formed who I am.  As a lawyer, as a former military policeman, as a U.S. citizen, and as a husband and parent, I am motivated to tackle this situation head on. I have always know that there is a history of suffering and injustice that has hurt people of color. While minorities may not have a monopoly on this, they have certainly had more than their share. However, I now realize that this affects all of us. It is clear to me, that so many of us are hurting emotionally  because of what happened in Minnesota and Brunswick. While these incidents are certainly not indicative of all police (or police departments), these wrongful deaths have highlighted the unfair treatment that African-Americans and other minorities have endured and continue to endure today. I say this as a former Military Policeman who was in the trenches and had to deal with very similar circumstances as that in Minnesota.

As a lawyer, I like to think that I fight for justice every day. This fight now extends beyond the office and into rooting out inequality in our justice system and in society in general . I am happy to report that, among its many goals, our State Bar of Georgia has stated that it exists “to improve the administration of justice, working daily to protect the public and support its lawyers.”  As an attorney, I feel like I am in the trenches, much like the trenches I was in while in the Military Police Corps. But this time,  I am in the trenches fighting to give everyone an equal playing field in life and justice for all. Powerful words, but heartfelt one nonetheless. We have to strive for this. Is it attainable? I don’t know but I certainly hope so. I know first hand what it’s like to be fighting against all odds and I don’t wish that upon anyone, regardless of race or any other factor. As the state bar says, “we commit to engaging, listening and learning from the experiences and perspectives of all those willing to share them. We will act upon what we learn to deliver on the promise of equal justice for all people. These conversations are uncomfortable, but silence is unacceptable.”

This all comes on the heals of the COVID-19 crisis. Frankly it is draining, but it is here and these situations must be addressed because these back-to-back crises have raised issues that we, as a society need to address. Even though I am tired, I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. I think we all have an obligation to take a fresh look at our society and (1) identify what is wrong with it; and (2) come up with a solution. One that will create a better future for everyone.  We can do more. We owe it to everyone to make this work. I challenge each of you to join me.

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The Supreme Court of Georgia has promulgated rules and revised deadlines to deal with the stay at home and shelter in place demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. These essentially amount to an extension of all court filing and response deadlines. Much of the regular business of the state’s court system has been shut down since March 14, when Chief Justice Harold Melton declared a state of judicial emergency because of the pandemic. That order has since been extended to June 12, meaning no trials have been held or grand juries convened in the past 10 weeks. This has created a huge backlog of cases that would all hit at a time when the courts will be forced to furlough and lay off staff to meet the state’s requirement to cut spending. This two-edged whammy will result in trial delays for those injured in Georgia and who have sought redress from the courts.

Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, the chairman of the Senate judicial budget subcommittee, started Monday’s hearing at the capitol with court officials by reminding them of the state of the economy. He said not every agency may wind up having to cut 14%, but that every agency, from the Supreme Court to the Department of Education, had to suggest spending cuts. “The governor’s office is not exempt from this 14% reduction proposal, nor is the legislative branch, nor is any executive branch agency, and the judicial branch is not either,” Ligon said.

The Honorable Sara Doyle, the presiding judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals, set the tone by telling lawmakers that to meet the proposed cuts the court would have to let go 17 or 18 staff members and furlough others for 22 days in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. “The end result is an appellate court that can’t fully function or won’t fully function,” she said. “Now more than ever, this country and this state need fully functioning courts at all levels and not one working with half the necessary staff on a shortened work year,” she said. “While the cuts being requested are a terrible burden on my court’s ability to function and to those who will lose their livelihood, the impact on the state and the people who live and do business here is much more profound if its court system is crippled.”

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There are 20 veteran suicides every day. I have witnessed and written about the Georgia VA building a fence in the parking lot to stop veterans from committing suicide in the parking lot of the Decatur, Georgia VA office. Yes, that’s right, instead of addressing why the veterans were literally throwing themselves off a cliff to suicide, the VA in its infinite wisdom builds a fence so high that the veterans (most of whom are disabled) cannot reach the top of the fence to kill themselves.

According to the President, veteran suicide is a tragedy of staggering proportions,” as he unveiled a new program in hopes of stemming these tragic suicides. The initiative is dubbed the “President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide.” Hopefully, it will make and impact.

The VA itself identified veteran suicide as its highest clinical priority last year and released a 10-year strategy to address the crisis. From 2008 through 2016, more than 6,000 veterans took their lives each year – totaling more than 54,000 deaths. This is an astonishing figure and one that needed to be addressed. But the big issue is not just throwing money at this problem, but getting to the bottom if it and understanding exactly what is causing veterans to take their lives at a rate of up to 2.5 times that of the rest of the population. As a veteran myself, my personal view is that a lot of this problem can be attributed to the culture in the VA that is demoralizing and degrading. If anyone has tried to receive care and treatment at a VA facility, you may know what I am talking about. Instead of treating our veterans with dignity and respect, the VA treats our veterans with disdain and disgust. I have seen this first-hand and it is not acceptable. To make matters worse, this convoluted attitude is passed down from the highest levels at the VA right down to the orderlies that work in the facilities.

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Many people are covered by Long Term Disability Insurance (LTD) to protect against the resulting loss of income if they are injured and not able to work. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of denials by the long-term disability insurance companies in response to claims being filed on behalf of the injured insured.

Most employer-proved long-term disability policies are subject to ERISA federal law which stands for the set of federal rules officially known as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Many people are familiar with this set of government rules and regulations, as they govern 401K and most other retirement accounts. Due ERISA oversight, if your long-term disability claim is denied, you should hire an attorney who handles these types of claims so that you ensure that the record is preserved in such a fashion that the ERISA requirements are complied with from the minute that your claim is denied. This will ensure that the ERISA appeal process goes smoothly and that all of the evidence that you ultimately wish to rely upon to overturn the initial denial is preserved for the ERISA appeal process and that all ERISA deadlines are complied with.

While the language of each plan is different and my contain other deadlines, most ERISA governed group plans require you to appeal the initial denial within 180 days. This 180 day period is strictly construed, and if you miss this deadline, you right to sue the insurance company will be lost forever. Once again, each plan is different, so it is advisable to hire a long-term disability attorney immediately to review your plan and protect all of your legal rights to receive your payment on your long-term disability insurance claim.

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You were involved in a car wreck or other incident that has left you injured. You are wondering whether you should hire a Georgia Personal Injury Lawyer or handle the negotiations with the insurance company yourself. Short answer: Hire an attorney, you will be better off in the long run and you will realize a larger recovery in your pocket than trying to negotiate a settlement on your own. Doubt this advice? Then you do so at your own peril. Studies show that insurance companies and insurance adjusters treat claims that are being handled by lawyers more fairly and do not try some of the tricks that they might be willing to pull on those who are not represented. This, in almost all cases, puts more money in your pocket.

If you have ever dealt with insurance adjusters directly, you know some of the “questionable” tactics that they employ. They frequently will drag out claims for as long as they can, and then eventually deny the claim shortly before the statute of limitations for the claim runs. To be sure, if you are not represented by a lawyer, you are more likely to be taken advantage of by an insurance company (or at least they will try to do this). They will often ask you to sign a bunch of documents, medical releases, employment releases, sign recorded statements, etc. with no real intent of settling your claims. The real goal is to stonewall you for as long as possible before denying the claim.

In addition, dishonest insurance adjusters will frequently ask injured potential clients many questions that are not relevant to the claims such as whether you have health insurance that will cover the medical bills (this is in violation of the collateral source rule in Georgia), whether you have spoken with an attorney about the case, or whether you have been injured before. This is especially true of third-party adjusters who are hired by insurance companies to adjust claims on an ad-hoc basis. These adjusters are especially aggressive as their goal is to settle your case for pennies on the dollar so that they can get more business in the future from that particular insurance company. Instead of trying to fairly resolve the claim, their goal is to delay your case for as long as possible, and then offer you as little as possible in order to make them look good to the home office insurance company. A good lawyer will not stand for this.

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A law firm recently attempted to obtain court audio tapes. After the firm requested the audio recordings, the Court told the requesting attorney and her law partner husband, that they could come to court and listen to them, but they could not record them. This prompted the firm to file a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court demanding that the Court turn over copies of the audio tapes. But a judge dismissed the case, prompting the appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

On Tuesday, Justice Nels Peterson, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, said the firm should have used a court procedure known as Rule 21, which grants the public access to court records in criminal and civil cases. The firm also could have appealed Emerson’s order; it should not have filed suit, Justice Peterson wrote.

The Supreme Court did not squarely answer the most pressing issue in the case: whether the public has a right to inspect and copy a stenographer’s audio recording. As to that issue, Peterson gave somewhat mixed signals.

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Life in prison

Yes, he was a convicted felon and yes he had committed numerous crimes throughout Atlanta, however, the College Park citizen who represented himself in Cobb County this week was in for a rude awakening. According to the AJC and the Cobb County District Attorney’s office, the convicted felon who represented himself at the trial received the maximum sentence of life without parole plus 75 years after he was found guilty of carjacking two Cobb County car salesmen while on test drives in 2015.

Many people feel that they can go it alone, and not hire an attorney when they’re involved in a number of different types of legal disputes. However, many types of claims and many types of law are more complicated than they appear to a lay person. The old adage: “he who represents himself has a fool for a client” may not be appropriate for every single situation, but many times it really is true.

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A light post this time. I noticed that lawyers run the gamut as to what disclaimers they attach to emails and other communications. Today, I’ll focus on email disclaimers and I will share some I have noticed recently. Of course, first I will end this section with my disclaimer.

NOTICE:  This message is from a law firm, Katz Wright Fleming & Dodson LLC (KWFDM). This message is intended only for the use of the individual to which it is addressed and may contain information that is privileged, confidential and exempt from disclosure under applicable law.  If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify this office immediately by telephone, delete the e-mail from your computer and do not copy or disclose it to anyone else.  Return the original message to the address listed via U.S. Postal Service.  If you are not an existing client of KWFDM  do not construe anything in this e-mail to make you a client.  Do not disclose anything to KWFDM in reply that you expect to be held in confidence until you have retained the services of KWFDM   If you are a client, co-counsel or retained expert of KWFDM  you should maintain the contents of this email in confidence in order to preserve the attorney-client or work product privilege that may be available to protect confidentiality.  This email is covered by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510 – 2521 and is legally privileged

Now, from another lawyer in my firm.

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Lawsuits have been filed in the Atlanta area and elsewhere against several home warranty companies claiming that the companies unlawfully reject claims. Such companies offer extended warranties with maintenance agreements to keep household appliances and other mechanical devices working.

Retailers, such as Best Buy, Home Depot, Sears, and Wal-Mart offer customers the option of purchasing an extended warranty to insure coverage on their purchases after the usual one-year manufacturers warranty expires. However, the retailer doesn’t handle the extended warranty. The retailer only offers it at the time that the product is bought. Third party administrators (TPA) provide the services that are outlined in the extended warranty.

Home warranty or maintenance agreements usually cover such items as central air conditioners, dishwashers, garbage disposals, heating systems, ovens, refrigerators, and washers and dryers. However, additional coverage can be bought on pools, spas, and other mechanical devices.

The maintenance agreements cover damages caused by normal wear and tear. They do not cover pre–existing problems, misuse, or owner neglect. They simply extend beyond the manufacturers warranty. They do not overlap that warranty. Such warranties are provided by 2-10 Home Buyers Warranty, American Home Shield, Cross Century Home Services, Fidelity National Home Warranty, and Old Republic Home Protection.
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Finding a competent attorney in Atlanta is a lot more difficult than turning on your television and choosing one from the countless commercials on morning television. When searching for an attorney, don’t expect to find one simply by reading an advertisement or looking one up in the Yellow Pages. And don’t assume that the best lawyers are the most popular. Selecting an attorney is not a popularity contest. Nevertheless, there are sound ways of choosing one that best suits your specific needs.

Always verify a malpractice attorney’s credentials to ensure that he/she has a good reputation. The Better Business Bureau can inform you of any complaints filed against an attorney and if and when the complaint was resolved. Ask for the names of previous clients from the lawyer you’re considering hiring. They will give you good insight as to what the attorney in question is really like. Then again, the most reliable recommendations are usually from your family members and friends.

Prior to your first meeting with a prospective attorney, make a note of important facts pertaining to your case to share with him or her. Include the names, addresses and phone numbers of every person linked to the case. Moreover, bring all papers associated with the case. Some lawyers may want to review these papers before meeting with you. And make sure to inquire about cases that the attorney has handled that are comparable to yours.

Find an attorney that you can trust. For that reason, be patient in trying to get to know as many different lawyers as you can. Ideally, you’d like the personality of the attorney you choose to be well–suited with your own personality. And though you may never attain the perfect client – attorney relationship, his/her ease of access, proficiency, and ability to understand you are most important.

Lawyer referral services are another source of information. Some lawyer referral services carefully screen attorneys and only list the ones that have particular qualifications and experience. However, before choosing a lawyer referral service it is important to know what they’re qualifications are for an attorney to be included and how carefully they screen their lawyers.

You also can seek help through the Atlanta Bar Association. Tell them why you are looking for an attorney. They can help you find a lawyer that concentrates in your area of need. For example, you wouldn’t want an immigration lawyer to handle your personal injury case. It doesn’t matter how skillful they are in one area, it won’t qualify them in another area. Lawyers specialize in certain areas for a reason. Therefore, choose the one with the most experience and training in the area that you need.
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