Monthly Archives: February 2017

Law Responsibility for a Dangerous Product

You might assume the company that created a dangerous or defective product would automatically be held responsible for the injuries that item caused. Surprisingly, that is not always the case. Depending on the laws in your state and the circumstances surrounding the defective item, anyone in the supply chain from the manufacturer to the retailer might be liable for your injuries.

Strict Liability Laws

In states with a strict liability rule, a consumer injured by a defective product is not required to prove that the retailer was negligent. In other words, a plaintiff in a strict liability state does not have to prove that the seller knew the item in question posed a risk to consumers. Whether the retailer is aware of a defect or recall or not, they may still be required to pay damages caused by a product they sell. Strict liability laws motivate retailers to stay on top of product recalls and do everything in their power to make sure everything they sell is safe – so they can avoid expensive lawsuits and payouts.

Other states require consumers harmed by defective products to go further and prove that retailers are negligent before filing a lawsuit. Negligence means that a retailer knew the potential safety risks of a product and sold it regardless. Stores that sell items that have been recalled are considered negligent. Retailers are also considered negligent if they fail to inform consumers of important product usage guidelines or safety information. Some states even require retailers to notify consumers of recalls issued well after a product has been purchased. Again, these product liability laws regarding negligence exist to protect the safety of the general public.

When we buy something in a store, we assume it will work the way it is intended to. That promise from the buyer to the seller is presumed and can also be expressed more concretely in the form of a warranty. Written warranties are the most explicit and easy to prove when they are violated. Automobiles, electronics, and appliances usually come with written warranties. When these products do not live up to the quality and safety standards promised, the retailer may be liable for breach of warranty. Warranties can also be implied or spoken, and proving breach of warranty in those cases can be more challenging requiring the assistance of a skilled product liability lawyer.

The Fault for Stair Accidents

Thousands are injured each year in slip and fall accidents, many of which occur on stairs. Premises liability laws require that the owner of a property, whether commercial, government, or private must maintain it so that people can walk safely throughout public areas.

Walking areas must be free of debris, clutter, spills, damage, snow, ice, or any other hazard which could cause a person to slip and fall. This includes stairs, but proving fault may be particularly tricky because of the vertical nature of the surface.

Stairs pose a risk just because of design. As anyone with a child can attest, navigating stairs takes skills beyond merely walking a horizontal surface. For good reason, stairs especially must be kept clear, clean, and maintained.

When a person falls on stairs, liability law requires the same tests for even surfaces. Either the owner or an employee caused the hazard which resulted in a fall, that person knew about it and did nothing, or they should have reasonably known. If any of these three elements can be proven, fault rests with the property owner.

Maintenance, Cleanliness, and Appearance of Stairs Play a Role in Fault
Stairs must be maintained. Over time, surfaces such as carpet may become worn and slick, or the carpet may have torn and frayed, yet was ignored by the owners or property managers. Rather than clear ice and snow, the stairs may be left covered, creating a needless hazard.

Handrails too play a role in stair safety. If the handrails become damaged or are of the wrong height and design to safely allow people to navigate the stairs, the owner may be found at fault.

Even the choice of materials used in the construction of the stairs plays a role in whether the owner is liable for injuries caused by accidental falls. If an owner chooses a material which adds to the beauty of the staircase, yet fails to remain safe because it is smooth, the owner may be liable for damages in the event of a staircase accident.

Finally, the stairs must be uniform and constructed to specific standards. The Uniform Construction Code of Pennsylvania requires that stairs have a riser height that is no more than 8 ¼ inches. This is the vertical distance. In addition, there may be no variance greater than 3/8 inch between steps.

Many bodily functions occur without thought. When moving, our brain anticipates for conditions. It automatically gauges the next step by the distance and height we moved with previous steps. If one stair step is higher or lower than the others, we may stumble and fall. We may think ourselves clumsy, but if the variance is more than legally permitted, this may not be so. The owner may be liable for our injuries.

Here Ten Signs You May Be Facing Age Discrimination

In 1967 the Age Discrimination in Employment Act was passed to protect employees from discrimination based on age. While this was a very positive step towards protecting workers rights, age discrimination in the workplace still persists across every industry and sector today.

According to AARP, two out of every three older workers have seen age discrimination in the workplace. As reported in a Consumer Affairs article entitled, Age Discrimination Said to be Rampant in New York City, “AARP has sounded the alarm. Older workers in New York City are experiencing age discrimination in the workplace in unprecedented numbers” (according to an AARP survey).

Equally as troubling is the idea of what constitutes “old” among employers, especially employers in Silicon Valley where age discrimination appears magnified. In Silicon Valley, the average workers age is a full ten years younger than the national average. In this technological metropolis, workers over the age of 35 may have a hard time landing a job due to their “old” age.

If you are concerned that you may be experiencing age discrimination in the workplace, you may be right. Here are ten signs that your employer is illegally discriminating against you due to your age.

1. Harassment

If your employer is making fun of you, calling you names, or continually harassing you about your age or about age related matters; it is likely that he/she is trying to get you to quit. It is much easier for a company to have an employee quit than it is to fire them. Especially when the reason for firing, age, is illegal.

2. Pattern of Hiring Only Younger Employees

In Silicon Valley there is a pattern. The majority of employees hired are young. Here are the median ages for each company examined, as reported by Fox, “HP (40); IBM (37); Dell (36); Cisco, Oracle, EMC (35); Texas Instruments (34); Adobe (ADBE), Intel (INTC), Microsoft (MSFT), Micron (33); Amazon (AMZN), Nvidia, Yahoo (32); Apple, Qualcomm (31); eBay, Twitter, Blizzard Entertainment (30); Google, LinkedIn, Salesforce (29); Facebook, Zynga (28); AOL (27).”

If you notice a pattern at your company of only the young being hired, you could be onto something. Many employers will never say it, but they are specifically looking for younger workers, often due to unfounded misconceptions about ability, work pace, knowledge, and sociability.

An employer’s use of the term “overqualified” may be a sign of age discrimination. It is unlawful for an employer to not hire an experienced older person based merely on the assumption that they might become bored or dissatisfied and leave the job.

3. Age Related Remarks

Employers or managers who make age-related remarks or speak to you in a demeaning tone for no reason may be hovering on the line of harassment. While not quite there yet, their behavior still signals a larger issue. As Time reported, “Even those oldest boomers not held back professionally because of age may experience something called micro-aggressions, which are ‘brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative slights and insults to the target person or group,’ according to research out of Columbia University.”

4. Turned Down For a Promotion

If you have been turned down for a promotion that ended up going to a younger worker that was less qualified, you have may have evidence of age discrimination. If you can show a pattern of older workers being looked over for promotions that as a whole typically go to younger workers, with no evidence of the decisions being based on merit, your case for age discrimination will gain a lot of clout.

5. Overlooked for Challenging Work Assignments

One way employers may attempt to force older employees out, is by “lightening the load,” or removing challenging work and projects from their plate. This tactic frustrates and demoralizes the worker while making them look less useful and valuable to the broader organization, perpetuating the myth the older workers are not as knowledgeable and are less capable.

6. Isolated or Left Out

Similar to the previous point, employers or managers may begin to remove you from meetings, leave you out of decisions and may even isolate your desk location away from your department or group, thereby making it more difficult for you to contribute and be a valuable part of the team. Or going a step further they may ask you to work from home or relocate you to a different office all together, possibly to another state or location that would cause a major disruption in your life.

7. Encouraged or Forced to Retire

Oftentimes companies will offer retirement packages to older employees as an incentive to retire. These packages are typically hard to turn down for employees. What’s more, even if an employee turns down a retirement package and the option to retire, there is no saying that the company won’t go ahead and fire them anyway. Similarly, although illegal today, some companies try to enact a mandatory retirement age. Enforcing a mandatory retirement age is only legal in a limited number of specific professions such as law enforcement and firefighting.

8. Layoffs

Layoffs happen at companies of all shapes and sizes. But if your company is only laying off older employees you may be able to prove age discrimination. But because lay offs require legalities, companies are typically smart enough to dilute lay off groups by including a sampling of younger employees in the mix as well.

9. Eliminating Your Position

This is an all too common practice at companies throughout the country. Eliminating a job by changing the job title. If an employer says that your job is being eliminated but then hires a younger employee to work in the same capacity as you only with a different title, this is possible evidence of age discrimination.

10. Employment Improvement Plans

Being put on an employee improvement plan is never a good sign. If you’ve had strong reviews and have no history of poor performance, being suddenly put on an employment improvement plan is a strong sign that your employer is looking for a “legal” way to fire you.

There is no doubt that age discrimination in the United States is a major issue, especially as more and more baby boomers enter their later years and the demographics of the country put a large majority in the over-55 age bracket. Not only is age discrimination wrong but the reasons employers’ practice it are based on unfounded assumptions. In fact, there are often more benefits to hiring older workers than there are drawbacks.If you feel that you are facing age discrimination in the workplace it is important that you retain experienced employment counsel who can help you navigate the law and stand up for your rights.

About Crossing State Lines with Children

This is especially true with the issue of child custody or parenting time. Courts have come to expect that emotions run high, and tend to have a modest tolerance for parties figuratively “crossing the line” when involved in a family law matter.

There is, however, another very important line that you do not want to actually cross without the permission of the Court or the other party when dealing with a child custody or parenting time matter – a State line, or a national border. Not only can this become ugly, it can become somewhat complicated. As a general rule, Courts do not tend to look favorably upon parties crossing state lines without permission, or in violation of a court order – particularly when leaving the state with the child is challenged or opposed by the other party.

It is important to note here that anyone who shares custody of a child is subject to the laws discussed here – not just parents. Therefore, grandparents, aunts/uncles, domestic, or same-sex partners sharing joint custody of a child are equally protected by the laws prohibiting crossing state lines with a minor child without permission from the other party.

e.g. Dad has a court order from a New Jersey Court which affords him two consecutive months of parenting time with their daughter during the summer. Mom has legal and physical custody of the twelve year old daughter who now lives with her in the State of Virginia, but sends her to stay with her dad in New Jersey for the summer. The entire family previously lived in New Jersey before mom and dad divorced. Daughter stays with dad for one month, but is fearful of dad because he is constantly yelling at her – even for the slightest of mistakes. Daughter calls mom to pick her up from dad’s home in New Jersey. Mom hears that her daughter is afraid, and immediately comes to pick her Daughter up to take her back home to Virginia – before the two month period expires.

The party affected by crossing the state lines without permission has the ability to request that the Court order the return of the child to the State. This is often done by way of an “Order to Show Cause” (which is an emergency hearing) at which typically only one of the parties appear.

There are some exceptions to the appearance of only one party, however, if the parties are currently involved in or have recently been involved in litigation before the same Court. In such a case, the Court may require that the other party’s attorney be contacted to appear on his/her behalf. Typically, however, if there is no attorney appearing, and the party filing for a return to the state cannot get in touch with the other party – their request to return to the state will more often than not be granted.

e.g. Dad is not too happy about what occurred, and is obviously upset with mom for picking up the child during his parenting time. Dad knows that he has the upper hand, because he has a Court order which states that he should be enjoying parenting time with his daughter. He goes to the court and tells the Judge that mom removed his daughter from the State without permission, and in violation of the parenting time agreement. He, of course, does not mention that he yells at his daughter, or that she is fearful of him. Dad tells the Judge that mom and daughter are refusing to get in contact with him, and that he has no way of getting in touch with mom. Dad is granted the order to show cause to return his daughter to the State of New Jersey. Dad immediately takes that order to the police station or prosecutor’s office, and they get in touch with the police in Virginia, where mom lives. Mom arrives in Virginia, and is welcomed by contact with the police, who threaten to charge her with Violation of a Court Order Regarding Custody or Visitation (commonly referred to as “custodial interference”), if she refuses to immediately return the child to the father in New Jersey. Mom is of course panicked and unsure of what to do.

The above scenario is unfortunately a very real, very common one. And unfortunately, by choosing to first remove the child from the State, without seeking permission from a Court and informing the Court of the dangers up front, the mom in this example has possibly damaged her credibility with the Court in New Jersey if she now seeks to argue that their daughter is afraid of dad at a later time.

There are several other complications which may arise in issues of child custody and parenting time, when the parties live in, or seek to move to, other states. There are consequences that a party might never even think of. I’m sure that the mom in this scenario did not think that she would be facing possible criminal charges upon her return to Virginia. The best thing that mom could have done would be to seek the advice of a family law attorney to act on her behalf before leaving the State of New Jersey. The second best thing to do would be to seek the advice of a family law attorney immediately upon return to Virginia.

e.g. Mom called [a family law firm], and [they filed] a motion to reconsider the Order to Show Cause on mom’s behalf (or better yet, mom had hired [that same law firm] preemptively before removing the child), citing past instances leading to the daughter’s well-documented fear of the father, and requesting that the father address his issues with anger prior to resuming unsupervised parenting time.