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According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. is under investigation by the Commodities Future Trading Commission over their practice of steering their clients into investing in a hedge fund that the bank owns.  From 2007 to 2012, the percentage of dollars invested by the bank’s clients in the bank-owned hedge fund went from 26% to 71%, which raised a red flag for regulators.  The possibility of lack of proper disclosures and complaints from customers that they were pressured into putting money into the fund that has not had good returns has also sparked the interest of regulators.

Banks and other financial firms are allowed to sell their products to their existing customers.  Indeed many people prefer to have all their investments handled in one place.  This is a perfect legal and legitimate practice.  However, advisors are not allowed to put the interests of the bank and their own interests over the interests of their customers.  Financial firms are required to make certain disclosures about the products and are only supposed to recommend products in the clients’ best interest.

There is a large and evolving area of the law dedicated to making sure people’s hard-earned money is being put to their best use instead of the best use of the advisor or financial institution.  While most financial advisors are honest people making an honest living, there are some who skirt the ethical rules about what is in the best interest of their clients.  Our firm has handled numerous cases over the years involving life insurance churning.  “Churning” is when an investment advisor takes a person out of one policy that has built up cash value and puts them in another policy.  The reason they sometimes do this is because the broker makes more commission selling a new product to a customer.  The problem is that it ends up costing the customer substantial amounts of hard-earned money. Continue reading

The use of social media seems to be growing exponentially.  Facebook, twitter and other sites have become ubiquitous in the lives of most Americans.  Certain sites have a more specifically defined focus.  The use of social media in any context, however, contains risk.  The recent scandal concerning the hacking of the Ashley Madison web site is one example.  Every citizen has a right to privacy.  The advent of social media, however, has resulted in the law related to the right to privacy being in a state of flux.

The right to privacy can be defined as the right of an individual to be free from unwanted publicity, from having their private affairs publicized, or the unwanted and wrongful intrusion into a person’s private activities in such a manner as to cause outrage, mental suffering, shame or humiliation.  Acts which might arise to a violation of the right to privacy can include an intrusion upon someone’s physical solitude, publicizing a person’s private business or affairs in a way that violates ordinary decency, putting a person in a false light or the taking of some aspect of a person’s personality.  A violation of the right to privacy is actionable at law, meaning that it will support a civil lawsuit.

There is a distinction between a violation of the right to privacy and defamation of character.  Defamation occurs when someone publishes false information about another person which causes shame, contumely or disgrace.  A violation of the right to privacy can occur even is what is being published is true.  Under the law, the word “publish” simply means to state or disseminate the information.  An example of this would be for someone to post something on the internet about someone else’s private business which would cause that person to be hurt, embarrassed or humiliated.

Car seats designed for babies and young children help protect our precious cargo from serious injuries in the unfortunate event of an automobile accident.  In some cases, however, manufacturing defects of car seats can cause those products to fail, often prompting massive recalls.  Some of the most common car seat defects include the following:

– weak shells

– defective handles

NHTSA, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, fined Fiat Chrysler a record $105 Million Dollars last week.  Under the order, Fiat Chrysler is required to buy back as many as 500,000 vehicles with defective suspensions that can cause drivers to lose control. Also, owners of more than one million Jeeps with rear-mounted gas tanks that are prone to fires will be given an opportunity to trade in their vehicles at rates above market value.

The Jeep gas tanks are very reminscient of the Ford Pinto gas tank placement – in the rear center of the vehicle.  This can cause a post collision fire to start after a rear end collision that compromises the gas tank.

This is a 2003 Jeep after a rear end collision that resulted in the death of a young woman who was 8 months pregnant.

Earlier this week, Trinity Industries Inc. was ordered to pay $663 million in damages for failing to tell the government about design changes to highway guardrails that critics say made the systems more dangerous.  This was after a jury in Marshall, Texas, decided last October that Trinity defrauded the government by failing to tell regulators about changes to its ET-Plus guardrails, which are designed to fold up when hit by a car, reducing the chance of death or injury to car occupants.  Instead of folding up, critics claim that Trinity’s modified ET-Plus end terminal—which is a steel mechanism mounted onto the end of a guardrail to absorb the impact of a crash—was impaling cars instead of slowing them down safely.

Between 2002 and 2005, Trinity changed the design of its ET-Plus guardrail system without notifying federal and state safety regulators as required by law.  Trinity changed the rectangular piece at the “head” of the guardrail, called an end terminal. Trinity reduced the dimensions of a metal part called a “feeder chute” that helps the end terminal cushion the impact from a crash so the guardrail bends away from the colliding vehicle. As a result, the guardrail can malfunction and jam upon impact, causing it to slice into vehicles.

The likelihood of an increased risk of injury or death because of the defective guardrail design has been confirmed by University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Engineering. In September, it released a study performed that examined eight years of severe injury and death data for crashes that occurred in Missouri and Ohio.  The UAB study found that the ET-Plus design was 1.36 times more likely to produce a severe injury and 2.86 times more likely to produce a fatality than the ET-2000 design, also manufactured by Trinity.

The term “heir property” is not a legal term of art.  It is a phrase commonly used to describe the situation where, through inheritance, two or more people own a tract of land as tenants in common.  The doctrine of tenancy in common can be conceptually difficult.  Suppose a father has fifty acres and dies with five children,  leaving no will and no surviving spouse.  The five children are tenants in common with respect to the fifty acres.  They each own an undivided one-fifth interest.  They do not own ten acres each.  They own an undivided interest in the entire fifty acres as tenants in common.

The fifty acres in the above example is what is commonly known as heir property.  This can present both a legal problem and a practical problem.   Using the same example, suppose the five children die, each leaving three children of their own.  Now the grandchildren each own an undivided one-fifteenth undivided interest.  These fifteen co-owners may be spread out all over the country.  They may not have contact with each other.  If the land is not sold or otherwise disposed of, with each successive generation the problem multiplies.  I have seen situations where there are hundreds of co-owners of a piece of land, and they don’t even know the identities of all of their co-owners.

At this stage the land essentially becomes worthless, because, technically, all of the co-owners have the right to possession, but that is impractical.  This is not an unusual situation.  In the decades that I have practiced law I have counseled with over a hundred families who faced this situation.

Everyone dreads the first few mornings after the spring time change because of the loss of an hour of sleep. We all know sleep is important to our overall health. Data from a recent study on daylight savings time shows that even a little change in sleep can have deadly consequences for drivers.

A paper presented at the American Economic Association tracked fatal car crashes from 2002 to 2011 and found vehicle fatalies increased 6 percent over the 6 days following the “spring forward” time change. The data did not show a significant change in crashes after the “fall back” time change.

This and other evidence led researchers to conclude that it was the loss of one hour of sleep and the disurption to sleep patterns caused by losing an hour of sleep that led to the increase in fatal crashes. This added up to more than 300 additional traffic deaths over the ten year period studied.

You cannot drive down the interstate anymore without seeing a billboard for a lawyer’s office. Lawyer advertising is not new, but it has come a long way in recent years from just being on the back of the phone book.

There is an ongoing debate in the legal community about whether legal advertising is positive or negative for the profession. The one underlying question that rarely gets asked is: Why is there so much lawyer advertising? The obvious answer is simple enough: it works. The next question then has to be: Why does lawyer advertising work?

The answer to this question may surprise people. Many people simply do not know a lawyer. This can be easy to forget if you go to church with a lawyer or have a cousin who is a lawyer. Much of the population simply does not know a lawyer to call when they need one, and so they call the lawyers that advertise.

A view of the Alabama legal landscape can shed some light on this. There are roughly 17,000 Alabama licensed attorneys. This seems like a lot. However, there are only about 900 lawyer members of the Alabama Association for Justice, the interest group for lawyers representing injured people. With a population of over 4.8 million people, that’s under two trial lawyers per 10,000 people. Uneven distribution of lawyers throughout the state makes it even less likely that some people will know a trial lawyer. Simply put, there are large portions of the population that do not come into contact with lawyers on a regular basis, especially ones that represent people in personal injury and wrongful death cases. So, lawyers advertise for these cases, and people who do not know a lawyer call the lawyers who advertise.

Our firm’s approach to client engagement is different. Instead of billboard advertising, our firm focuses its energy on client satisfaction, community involvement and consumer education. We strive to provide exceptional service for our clients, and most of our new clients come as referrals from satisfied previous clients and from lawyers who know the work we do and refer clients to us. Continue reading

            When corporations that manufacture consumer products put profit ahead of safety innocent people can be killed or sustain catastrophic, permanent injuries.  For example, when a car manufacturer like GM keeps quiet about problems with an ignition system that it knows can cause accidents and fails for many years to recall these defective cars, dozens of people can die.  Or when drug manufacturers play fast and loose with the FDA drug approval process, severe injury and death result.

                Corporate governance describes the way in which the company is managed.  It also has everything to do with the culture in which the corporation exists and in which it designs, manufactures and markets its products.  Every corporation has a structure that enables it to operate and have continued existence.  There are several different models for corporate governance.  Some models focus almost exclusively on the interests of the stockholders and other models focus on the interest of all the stakeholders of the corporations, such as workers, creditors, suppliers, customers and the environment, in addition to the stockholders.  The model that the management of a particular corporation adopts can have a great effect on the safety of the products that the company designs, manufactures and sells.  Here’s why:

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