Analysis: If Trayvon Martin family pursues civil case

Interesting analysis from Reuters should Trayvon Martin’s family pursue a civil case against the Retreat at Twin Lakes Homeowners’ Association–as the “Stand Your Ground Law” also protects Zimmerman from civil action.

Read the full Reuters story here.

By Andrew Longstreth

NEW YORK | Wed Mar 28, 2012 7:08pm EDT

(Reuters) – As uncertainty swirls around any criminal prosecution of George Zimmerman, the shooter of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in an Orlando suburb, one option that remains open to Martin’s family is a civil case.

Zimmerman could be shielded from prosecution under Florida’s 2005 “Stand Your Ground Law,” which gives immunity to people who use deadly force in their own defense without clear evidence of malice. The same law also says a person who uses such force is immune from civil action.

However, given certain conditions, the Martin family could bring a wrongful death case against Retreat at Twin Lakes Homeowners’ Association, Inc, the homeowners association for the central Florida gated community where the killing took place, legal experts said.

Such a lawsuit would likely allege that the association was negligent in overseeing Zimmerman’s activities, and could seek a judgment in the seven-figure range, said Philip Gerson, a Miami trial lawyer and founder of the law firm Gerson & Schwartz.

Ben Crump, an attorney for the Martin family, told reporters Monday that there were no plans to file a lawsuit now. But a wait-and-see strategy is common with alleged crime victims and their relatives. Often they wait until a criminal proceeding concludes to pursue a civil case in an effort to avoid appearing to be motivated by money.

A civil lawsuit in the Martin case, legal experts said, would be predicated on establishing a relationship between Zimmerman and the Retreat at Twin Lake association, as well as establishing a relationship between Twin Lakes homeowners and a crime watch group that Zimmerman led.

The homeowners association acknowledged Zimmerman and the neighborhood crime watch in a February newsletter, according to the Associated Press. The newsletter encouraged residents to contact Zimmerman in case of an incident, it said.

“If you’ve been the victim of a crime within the community, after calling the police, please contact our captain, George Zimmerman … so we can be aware and help address the issue with other residents,” the newsletter said.

That relationship is likely to come into play, said Donna DiMaggio Berger, a founding partner at the law firm Katzman Garfinkel & Berger, which represents community associations in Florida.

“It’s not as if the association can say we had no idea … that Zimmerman held himself out as a neighborhood watch captain,” she said.

Efforts to reach board members for Retreat at Twin Lakes Homeowners’ Association were unsuccessful.

WHAT COVERAGE?

A crucial factor in such a lawsuit would be the insurance Twin Lakes carries and whether it would cover any payout stemming from litigation over the Martin shooting.

Most homeowner associations have policies with at least $1 million in coverage, according to insurance attorneys, but it is unknown what kind of insurance, if any, Retreat at Twin Lakes carries.

The vast majority of homeowner associations do not have insurance policies that cover the acts of their volunteers, according to Berger.

If that is the case with Retreat at Twin Lakes, the residents could be responsible for satisfying any judgment against the association, said Berger, the community associations lawyer not involved in the case.

Such a scenario would not be unprecedented. In the mid-1990s, a Tarmac, Florida, homeowners association was hit with a $1.2 million judgment in an age-discrimination case. The group was unable to pay and had to file for bankruptcy. That left individual residents to pick up the tab, which came to more than $7,000 for each homeowner.

Read the rest of the analysis here.

Supreme Court Refuses Tobacco Firm Appeal in Smoker Case

The U.S. Supreme Court said it will not hear an appeal by R.J. Reynolds in a Florida case in which it was ordered to pay $28.3 million to a woman whose husband died of lung cancer after decades of smoking its cigarettes.

Read the full Reuters story here.

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON | Mon Mar 26, 2012 11:39am EDT

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it will not hear an appeal by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co in a Florida case in which it was ordered to pay $28.3 million to a woman whose husband died of lung cancer after decades of smoking its cigarettes.

The justices refused an appeal by the Reynolds American Inc unit, which argued that its constitutional due process rights had been violated and that the issue could affect thousands of pending cases in Florida against tobacco companies.

In 2009, a state trial court in Pensacola, Florida, ordered Reynolds to pay more than $3.3 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages to Mathilde Martin.

Her husband, Benny Martin, died in 1995 of lung cancer that she blamed on his long-time smoking of Reynolds’ Lucky Strike cigarettes.

The jury found that Reynolds was 66 percent responsible for his death and that Martin, who started smoking in the 1940s before cigarette packages had health warnings, was 34 percent responsible.

The lawsuit stemmed from the so-called “Engle progeny” cases filed against tobacco companies by sick Florida smokers or their relatives. A class-action lawsuit filed in 1994 by a pediatrician, the late Dr. Howard Engle, produced a $145 billion judgment against cigarette makers six years later.

Read the rest of the story here.

Fired For Wearing Orange?

14 workers at a South Florida law firm were fired for wearing orange. The former employees claim that they would wear orange on pay day so they could be easily recognized during happy hour after the workday was over. Or were they wearing their shirts in protest?  Florida is an “at will” state for employment, which means that an employer can fire an employee for any lawful reason if there is no contract.

Read the full Sun-Sentinel story here.

14 fired at law firm for wearing orange shirts, workers report
By Doreen Hemlock, SunSentinel

Were they wearing orange shirts on Friday to protest management? Or to get psyched for happy hour?

Either way, orange-shirted workers no longer have jobs at the Deerfield Beach law firm of Elizabeth R. Wellborn P.A.

A spokeswoman said the law firm had “no comment at this time.”

Four workers tell the story this way: For the past few months, some employees have worn orange shirts on pay-day Fridays so they’d look like a group when they went out for happy hour.

This Friday, 14 workers wearing orange shirts were called into a conference room, where an executive said he understood there was a protest involving orange, the employees were wearing orange, and they all were fired.

The executive said anyone wearing orange for an innocent reason should speak up. One employee immediately denied involvement with a protest and explained the happy-hour color.

The executives conferred outside the room, returned and upheld the decision: all fired, said Lou Erik Ambert, 31, of Coconut Creek, a litigation para-legal who said he was terminated.

“There is no office policy against wearing orange shirts. We had no warning. We got no severance, no package, no nothing,” said Ambert. “I feel so violated.”

Meloney McLeod, 39, of North Lauderdale, said her choice of shirt puts her in a tough spot: “I’m a single mom with four kids, and I’m out of a job just because I wore orange today.”

Janice Doble, 50, of Sunrise,said she wore orange Friday because she was looking forward to happy hour with colleagues after a busy work week.

“Orange happens to be my favorite color. My patio is orange,” said Doble. “My lipstick was orange today.” She said she supervised 12 people who scanned, copied and mailed documents for the firm.

Now she’s worried for relatives employed at the law firm. “I have four kids who work there,” said Doble. “I don’t want them to retaliate and fire my kids.”

Yadel Fong, 21, of Miami, wonders where he’ll find work after losing his job in the mail room. He was not aware of anyone in the group involved in a protest.

Read the rest of the story here.

Whitney Houston’s Will Was Far From Perfect

Whitney Houston’s will was made public last week, and her daughter Bobbi Kristina is the sole beneficiary. According to Forbes.com, Whitney Houston should have had a living trust beyond a simple will. What do you think?

Read the full article here.

Danielle and Andy Mayoras

Last week, Whitney Houston’s will was revealed, after it was filed with the probate court to open her estate, in Atlanta, Georgia. As expected, it named Bobbi Kristina as Whitney’s sole beneficiary. Beyond that, it was surprising for several reasons.

First, the fact that Whitney relied on a will — signed back in 1993 no less — instead of a living trust is troubling. We’re talking about the woman who signed the largest recording contract in history! If anyone should have thorough estate planning, including a living trust, it was Whitney.

Why? Wills have to pass through probate court to be effective, which makes them public record. That’s why information about the contents of her will is all over the internet. Inside Edition, for example, posted a copy of the will, here. In addition to be public, probate can be expensive, time-consuming, and a breeding ground for family fights.

Living trusts, on the other hand, when properly-used, keep matters private and outside of probate court. Most people with even modest estates are better served using living trusts, instead of a will. It’s frankly rather shocking that Whitney only had a will.

After signing her will in 1993, Whitney made one change, at least. She signed at least one codicil (an amendment to the will), dated April 14, 2000. There have been reports of a second codicil in 2004, but that has not been made public. The Order from probate court which admitted the will only refers to a single codicil, not two codicils, which would normally be the case if there were in fact multiple codicils.

When Whitney signed the codicil, she named her mother, Cissy Houston as the executor, replacing the person named in her original will, the attorney who prepared that will. When the attorney who created a will also is named as an executor, it sometimes raises red flags. Whitney obviously had second thoughts about who she wanted in control of her estate, and that’s not a bad thing. Interestingly, Cissy Houston did not end up serving as executor, however. Instead, Whitney’s sister-in-law, Pat Houston, was appointed by the probate court.

So what else is surprising about the will? It did create a trust, but not a living trust as most people would do. Rather, the will calls for Whitney’s assets to be held in trust for her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, but Whitney did not create an actual trust while she was alive. This is called a testamentary trust, because it is created by the will, not during life. A testamentary trust can still function like a living trust, but it doesn’t have the advantages of avoiding probate court and privacy, which a living trust would have.

But, you certainly have to give Whitney credit for thinking that aspect of her estate plan through. As we wrote previously, without employing a trust, Whitney’s daughter would stand to inherit all of the money immediately, because she is 18 — legally, an adult. By using a trust — even a testamentary trust — Whitney was able to space out the distributions. So Bobbi Kristina will inherit 10% at age 21, another one-sixth at age 25, and the rest at age 30. There are provisions to allow for the money to be spent by independent trustees (Whitney’s brother and sister-in-law) for Bobbi Kristina’s benefit, for things like education, buying a home, starting a business, having a child, and more.

Read the rest of the article here.

Hulk Hogan’s breach of contract lawsuit against ex-wife thrown out of court

A lawsuit filed by Hulk Hogan against his ex-wife claiming that as his business manager, she did not obtain enough insurance coverage to protect his family’s assets was thrown out of court. Read the rest of the Fox News story here.

By Hollie McKay

Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea and wife Linda called it quits in 2007, yet the two have continued to battle it out in court over a number of issues.

Now Linda Bollea’s attorney tells Fox411 that his client just scored a major victory.

“We just won a final judgment against Hulk Hogan in his claims that Linda Hogan breached her fiduciary duties as his wife and business manager because he claimed she did not obtain enough insurance coverage to cover Nick’s accident,” Linda’s Florida-based attorney, Raymond Rafool, told Fox411’s Pop Tarts column on Wednesday.

Last year the wrestling champ filed a lawsuit Pinellas County Court, Florida claiming that the Wells Fargo branch he frequented should have advised him that he needed an advanced level of insurance to protect his assets. Hogan revised the suit to also name his ex-wife as a defendant, alleging that as his business manager at the time, she should have “adequately protected” the family’s assets and that she has a “fiduciary duty under Florida law” to educate herself on potential liabilities.

The suit was in relation to his son Nick Hogan’s 2007 accident, in which he crashed one of Hogan’s cars, leaving passenger John Graziano in a vegetative state. The Graziano family later sued Hogan for negligence and direct liability, and although the terms and finances of Hogan’s settlement with the Graziano family were not disclosed, his automobile insurance was limited at $250,000 per injured person.

Hulk claimed that the excess settlement money paid out-of-pocket was a result of the other parties not fulfilling their duties adequately.

Rafool claimed that Hulk was seeking millions from Linda, but the judge granted their request to have the case against her dismissed. We’re told the judge recognized and accepted that the marital settlement agreement signed by Hulk during divorce proceedings clearly released Linda from any associated liabilities.

“The parties’ Confidential Marital Settlement Agreement (CMSA), dated July 29, 2009 and the release provided is clear and unambiguous,” reads the Final Judgment Summary. “The Court does not know how the releases in the CMSA and the Graziano Related Settlement Agreement and Release could be any more comprehensive than they were.”

Read the rest of the story here.