The Legal Insider

December 2013

Weirdest Lawsuits of 2013

Most lawsuits are at least somewhat reasonable. Every so often, however, a case will test the public’s faith in our legal system. For example, consider the weirdest lawsuits of 2013:

1) Apple is Responsible For My Sex Addiction

You can tell a lawsuit will make headlines when the lawsuit claims “Apple is Hijacking Great Sex by Failing to Sell Its Products in Safe Mode.” Chris Sevier claims that Apple’s failure to block porn on his phone has led to the decline of America’s moral values, the closure of Mom and Pop porn stores, and his failing marital relationship.

That’s right; Sevier blames Apple for creating “unfair competition” between young porn stars and his wife. Amazingly, Sevier’s 50 page lawsuit is longer than Thomas Paine’s 48 page pamphlet, Common Sense.

2) Texters Are Liable for Accidents Caused By Drivers

Recently, a New Jersey appeal court decided that a texter could be held liable for causing an accident if the texter knew that the other person receiving the text messages was driving. To justify the ruling, the judges compared the case to a passenger who distracts a driver.

There are two problems with that comparison. First, unlike an annoying passenger, a driver can simply turn off his or her phone. Second, there are no laws or cases which hold passengers liable for a driver’s negligence.

3) Church Bells Ruined My Marriage

Imagine living across the street from a church. The church has been a quiet place for the past eighteen years. One day, however, its bells begin ringing. Every day. Seven hundred times a day in fact. Would you be annoyed? In this situation, John Devaney of Rhode Island sued St. Thomas More Catholic Church.

Devaney’s case sounds like a typical nuisance case. The strange part is his claim. Devaney believes that the church bells ruined his relationship with his ex-wife. If that’s true, why did Devaney wait until after the divorce to bring the case against the church?

Legal Tips for Work on Christmas

Most employees look forward to the Christmas holidays. Shorter work days, vacation dates, and company parties are typical perks around the end of the year. The change in work routine can bring problems, however. Some employees expect a more relaxed work schedule than their employers. Other employers might prefer a more tranquil work protocol than their employees are prepared for.

Here are three common work expectation problems employees might face before Christmas and how the employee can resolve them:

1) Forced to Work?

There are some workers who want to spend the holidays with their families. Unfortunately, their supervisor is Ebenezer Scrooge. Kmart employees on Thanksgiving/Black Friday know the feeling all too well.

So what are the legal options? Employment contracts are the first source of authority employees can turn to. A contract which gives employees time off on federal holidays will allow the employee to stay home. The second possibility could be a religious accommodation. If the employee goes to church often and said church is holding Christmas mass, the employee might have legal cover to attend. The final possibility won’t excuse the employee’s absence, but at least the hard-working employee can earn more. Depending on the holiday work schedule, the employee may qualify for overtime pay.

2) Forced to Stay Home?

Some businesses close shop when Christmas rolls around. Sometimes there is little work to be done. In other cases, the boss just wants to spend more time with the kids. Some employees, however, would rather be working and getting paid.

Unfortunately for the super-productive worker, at-will employment allows employers to close for the holidays. The only limitations are employment contracts. If the employee’s contract states the employee will work over Christmas, the employee should work over Christmas. If the contract is silent or leaves it open to negotiation, the employee should definitely negotiate.

The employee can offer something in exchange for the “privilege” of working over Christmas, such as reduced pay or mandatory leave in the next year. Working from home could be an alternative as well.

3) Forced to Party?

Holidays are typically a time for celebration - but not everyone wants to party. If an employee is a wallflower, how does that employee say “no” to the office Christmas party without being demoted or fired?

Employment contracts are of little help when it comes to office parties. Most contract drafters don’t think about parties when writing a contract about work relations. The most helpful laws are probably religious discrimination or sexual harassment laws. If the parties involve prayer, employees can stay home or stay back at the desk without fear of retaliation. Similarly, if people at the parties start making unwanted sexual advances, employees are free to decline the invitation the next year.

How Can I Modify a Child Support Order?

In some divorce or legal separation cases, a child support order is issued at the end of the hearings. This is an order instructing one parent to provide monetary payments in support of a child or children. Child support orders generally cover basic necessities for the child, such as food, clothing, housing, medical needs, and academic resources. They are not intended to cover luxury expenses.

Over time, the child’s needs may change, and this can necessitate modifying a child support order. Child support can often be modified in situations involving factors like:

  • “Changes in circumstances” of the child, such as new academic needs, medical expenses, or changes in overall lifestyle.
  • A change in circumstance of the paying parent such as a loss of employment or a demotion- these may result in a lowering of the support order.
  • Changes in the life decisions of the custodial parent, such as remarrying a different person or cohabitating with another partner who will help support them.
  • Adjustments in overall living circumstances of the child.

Modifications of a child support order need to be submitted to the court and specifically requested with a judge. While the courts will monitor child support payments, they don’t take affirmative steps to have the order modified. This is something that you need to initiate yourself by filing with the court. You’ll likely need the assistance of a family law attorney during the process.

Also, you’ll need to support any proposed increases or decreases in the payment amount with valid documentation. For instance, if the payments need to be reduced due to a loss of job, you’ll need to present proof of this from an employer.

In some cases, there can be alternatives to modifying a child support order. For instance, it may be possible to obtain a temporary order of child support, which can be finalized into a more permanent order later on after things have settled. Or, you might need to seek help with enforcing a child support order if non-payment is an issue and a modification is not practical.

In any case, you also need to understand that all child custody and support determinations are always made according to the child’s needs and best interests, not the parents. If this means editing or amending the child support order, then courts will act accordingly so that the child’s needs are met in the most efficient and practical way.

The Miranda Rights: 5 Facts You Should Know

When a person is taken into custody and subject to interrogation, the police must read the Miranda rule, which guarantees the right to remain silent, the right to a criminal defense attorney, and the right to be provided with an attorney if you cannot afford one.

Here are five facts you should know in case you are ever taken into custody and questioned by the police:

1. The Miranda Rule Only Applies to a “Custodial Interrogation”

This is any type of interrogation that is done during an official detention or in relation to an arrest. The interrogation must be geared towards obtaining information leading up to conviction—that is, information that might be used in trial.

2. There Are Many Exceptions to the Miranda Rule

For instance, police don’t need to read a suspect their rights if there is a condition that might create a danger to public safety (such as during a terrorist situation or during hostage negotiations). Other exceptions include instances where:

  • The suspect is being asked questions that are standard booking procedures.
  • The person is unaware that they are speaking with a police officer.
  • The person voluntarily agreed to meet and speak with the police, and the conversation is being taped in secret.

3. You Can Waive Your Miranda Rights

Miranda rights can be waived by explicitly stating that you waive your rights. Also, rights can be waived implicitly if you decide not to remain silent. By speaking up, you effectively giving up your right to remain silent. If you waive your rights, then the police can interrogate you even if you do not have an attorney present.

4. Miranda Rights Are Sometimes Violated by Law Enforcement Professionals

Common ways that the Miranda rights can be violated include:

  • A failure to read the rights when required
  • Conduct by police that intentionally disregards the Miranda rights
  • Reading the rights in a way that is incorrect

5. If You Are Arrested, Do Not Speak to Anyone

You should only ever talk to your attorney about your case. If you speak with anyone else, that person can be subpoenaed to appear in court to tell the jury what you said.

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