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Business Law

A Property Damage Attorney Can Help Ensure a Proper Insurance Settlement for Home Damage

Hurricane Ian is projected to be one of the costliest storms in U.S. history. It prompted mass evacuations, school shutdowns, and thousands of flight cancellations across the Florida. It is likely to end up as the worst hurricane to directly impact the west coast of Florida in over a century. The dangerous storm posed a substantial hazard to the life and property of Florida residents.

Damages and economic losses in the area could reach $45 billion to $70 billion. The top end of that range would rank Ian as the sixth-costliest U.S. hurricane, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.

Flooded Florida Subdivision of Houses

Common Types of Property Damage after Hurricane

The arrival of Hurricane Ian brought heavy rain, powerful winds, and destructive storm surge across much of the state of Florida. So, what does this mean for your home?

The following types of property damages are typical are with intense hurricanes:

  • Water and flood damage
  • Wind damage
  • Fire damage
  • Structural damage to homes and buildings
  • Roof damage
  • Mildew, mold, and microbial growth
  • Electrical and plumbing damage

Damages to your property can be external or internal, visible or invisible. Make sure to complete a  thorough investigation of the damage, even if that means hiring a professional.

Common Claims Not Covered by Insurance Policies

As a homeowner, it is your responsibility to take the proper measures to protect your property and livelihood. It’s highly encouraged to review what types of damage are included within your insurance policy. This can make the difference between successfully filing a stress-free claim and paying out of pocket for expenses.

Some of the common areas that are not usually covered by property insurance include:

  • Loss from flood waters;
  • Damage to buildings from earthquakes and aftershocks;
  • Intentional property damage; and/or
  • Sinkholes.

However, additional premium payments may cover some of these types of property damage. As such, it is important to research possible events in your geographical area that require additional coverage.

How to File a Property Damage Insurance Claim in Florida

The first step in making a property damage claim is to notify your insurance company as soon as possible.

Once your claim has been filed, your Florida insurance company has 14 days to acknowledge the receipt. After this step, the insurance company will investigate the validity of your claim. You can take several steps to ease this process and increase your chances of receiving fair compensation.

  • Make a list of the damaged property – Create an itemized list of any items that are damaged. It doesn’t have to be formal; just important that you have one. This includes interior and exterior damage, including any damage to valuables such as computers, appliances, and furniture. Receipts for the items are helpful.
  • Take pictures – This should be done before filing a property damage claim. Any visual evidence, including photos or videos of damage that occurred from the hurricane or tropical storm, will significantly support the authenticity of your claim. Make sure to take pictures of any damaged valuables as well.
  • Review proof of loss and other documents carefully – After notifying your insurance company of your property damage, an insurance adjuster will be assigned to your help to help settle the claim. Before issuing payment, you may need to sign a proof of loss document. This document contains the scope and pricing of repairs for your house or property. This must be reviewed thoroughly to ensure all necessary restorations are included. It is advisable to hire an attorney to review the proof of loss document and provide that nothing is left out.
  • Choose your repair company carefully – Don’t hire the cheapest repair company you can find, as the quality of work usually reflects the price. Additionally, you are not required to choose the company your insurance suggests. It’s a good idea to get estimates from several companies and choose the best option.

What to do if settlement offer is too low or claim is denied in Florida

Insurance companies generally outline their policies to have multiple hidden loopholes designed to maximize profit for themselves, and denial of property damage is expected. You still have legal rights if you believe your claim was wrongly denied or if the insurance carrier “low balled” your claim. Depending on the circumstances of the claim, you may be able to pursue compensation either from a third party or go directly after the insurance company.

Going up against an insurance company is a complex process. Contacting a property damage attorney is encouraged. They will guide you on the best course of action and can help you better understand the legal process for filing a lawsuit for property damage.

Lieser Skaff Alexander is here to help with your Insurance Claims

If you or your company needs help filing an insurance claim after Hurricane Ian, please contact our office.

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Firm Updates

LSA Attorneys Named as Recipients of 2022 Legal Elite and Super Lawyers Designation

Lieser Skaff Alexander is honored to announce that several of our attorneys have once again earned the designation of Super Lawyer and Legal Elite by their peers and legal experts for 2022.
Lieser Skaff Alexander attorney's list of Legal Elite & Super Lawyers Awards

Super Lawyers

Each year, Super Lawyers magazine uses independent research, peer nominations, and peer evaluations to rate attorneys across the nation in over 70 practice areas. Nominations are made by peers, managing partners, or the Super Lawyers research team. Candidates for Super Lawyer status are then evaluated using 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. Only three percent of attorneys are ultimately named to the ranks of “Super Lawyer” based on their professional achievements and peer recognition. This year, Jeff Lieser, Ghada Skaff,  Joe Alexander, and Stephanie Martin are privileged to be among the select few attorneys who were named as Florida Super Lawyers.

This year’s designations show consistent high-level legal representation by the firm. Attorney Jeff Lieser was also named a Super Lawyer for 2021 and a Rising Star for 2013-2017. Joe Alexander received the Super Lawyer designation for 2016-2021 and the Rising Star recognition in 2014-2015 while Ghada Skaff was previously named a Rising Star in 2015-2017. Stephanie Martin made her debut as a Super Lawyer in 2022.

Legal Elite

Florida Trend magazine publishes a list of Florida’s Legal Elite each year, presenting the state’s top licensed and practicing attorneys. Along with making the Florida Super Lawyers list, attorneys Jeff Lieser and Ghada Skaff are proud to announce their inclusion on the 2022 list of Legal Elite attorneys. Florida Trend solicits nominations each year for the Legal Elite list from members of the Florida Bar. Members are asked to nominate, and then vote for, attorneys who are highly regarded or who they would recommend to others. Only 1.4 percent of Florida lawyers make the Legal Elite list each year, making this a distinctive honor for attorneys Jeff Lieser and Ghada Skaff. Both attorney Lieser and attorney Skaff also received the Legal Elite designation in 2021.

Our Super Lawyer and Legal Elite recipients are humbled and proud to be recognized by experts and peers for their hard work, exceptional skills, and unwavering dedication to representing clients and to the exceptional practice of law.

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Business Law

Internal Limited Liability Company (LLC) Disputes: Direct or Derivative Claim?

As a member of a Limited Liability Company (LLC), you may find yourself in a position in which you believe legal action must be taken to prevent or remedy wrongdoing. If so, you may be entitled to file a direct claim or a derivative claim. If you file a derivative claim, you must first make a formal demand unless the exception to the demand requirement is applicable.

Direct vs. Derivative Claims

A direct claim is a claim based on a member’s right of action against another member. As such, a direct claim is made directly on behalf of the member or manager of the limited liability company against another member or manager of the limited liability company. For example, if a member was singled out and not allowed to vote on a particular company action, that harm might form the basis of a direct claim.

A derivative claim is based on a wrong that impacts the company itself. A derivative claim, therefore, stems from the company’s right of action not an individual member’s right of action. In a derivative lawsuit, a member seeks to enforce a right or to prevent/remedy a wrong to the company when the company has failed or refused to do so itself. Misappropriation of the limited liability company’s assets, for instance, might give rise to a derivative action. Although that misappropriation may indirectly harm the members of the LLC, the primary harm is to the LLC itself.

Derivative Claims and the Demand Requirement

If you are entitled to bring a derivative claim you need to first make a demand unless the exception to the demand requirement applies.  In the State of Florida, LLC derivative claims are governed by Fla. Stat. § 605.0802 which allows a member to pursue a derivative action to enforce a right of a limited liability company “if the member first makes a demand to the other members (in a member-managed limited liability company) or a manager (in a manager-managed limited liability company) requesting that either the members or managers cause the company to take suitable action to enforce the right and then the members or other managers do not take the action within a reasonable time, not to exceed 90 days.”

The only exception to the demand requirement under Florida law is found in subsection (2) of the statute which allows a derivative action to proceed without first making a demand “if a demand (as described above) would be futile or irreparable injury would result to the company by waiting for the other members or managers to take action to enforce the right.”

Contact the Tampa Bay Business Attorneys at Lieser Skaff Alexander

If you are a member of an LLC and believe you are entitled to file an action against a limited liability company, consult with an experienced business law attorney first to determine what type of action to bring and whether the pre-suit demand requirement applies.

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COVID-19 Real Estate

Landlords and tenants should work together to reduce evictions in Tampa after moratorium lift

Everyone has been impacted by COVID-19, and renters and landlords are feeling especially vulnerable.

Various state and federal safety nets have been created to help tenants remain in their rental homes or apartments if they’re having problems coming up with rent due to job losses, health costs or other challenges due to the pandemic.

But there’s less attention to the other part of the equation: the landlords, who are also impacted by COVID. Not only do many have their own personal and professional challenges, they also are restricted from taking action on tenants unable to pay their rent.

In Pinellas County, about $45 million in rental assistance has been put aside from various federal, state and local sources. As of late September, more than $14 million has been allocated to about 1,800 homes to help pay landlords on behalf of their tenants, and hopefully put the tenants on a path toward financial stability.

But while many families continue to benefit from these programs, conditions are changing.

A federal freeze on evictions has just ended, which means landlords can begin to take action on families delinquent on their rent payments. Potentially millions of people could be evicted, increasing the numbers of homeless as well as leaving landlords with months of unrecoverable, unpaid rent.

The current dynamic rental housing situation was recently discussed on “To The Point Already,” a podcast hosted by Rick Elmhorst and Roy DeJesus from Spectrum Bay News 9.

One guest was Michael Singer, a Lieser Skaff Alexander real estate attorney who has represented all types of landlords. While he applauds programs which help hard-working families, he said these programs also create challenges for landlords, who may not get some or all of the rent due to them. They still must pay standard costs (upkeep, utilities, mortgages) without the rent revenue.

“It has been frustrating,” Singer said.

The end of the moratorium has created another interesting challenge. Some landlords are expected to begin the process of evicting delinquent tenants at the same time that local municipalities are trying to get funding to landlords on their behalf. This could stay or cancel any eviction efforts.

“It’s become a race to get this money out,” he said.

Joining him on the podcast was Bruce Bussey, community development manager for Pinellas County, who said that the Tampa area still has more than $30 million available in the form of rental assistance. Some potential applicants may not be sure of their eligibility or understand all the paperwork. Some tenants may have put the application off while the eviction moratorium was in effect, and may be scrambling now to fill it out, if they remember.

Bussey said some restrictions have even been lowered to encourage more families to apply.

He and Singer encouraged landlords to be involved in this process and work to create positive relationships, which can include encouraging or even assisting tenants with the paperwork. Once submitted, funding can be received within a month.

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Firm Updates

LSA Attorneys Prove Super Lawyers and Legal Elite Again in 2021

We are delighted to announce that once again, our namesakes have been recognized as Super Lawyers and/or Legal Elite by a panel of peers and experts.

Super Lawyers

The Super Lawyer designation is awarded to a select few attorneys who excel in their chosen fields. Fewer than 3% of attorneys are recognized each year. This year, Super Lawyers magazine has selected Jeff Lieser, Ghada Skaff, and Joe Alexander as recipients of this prestigious designation.

Florida Trend’s Legal Elite

In addition to being recognized as SuperLawyers, Jeff Lieser and Ghada Skaff have been named Legal Elite members.  This distinction is provided to just 1.3% of Florida lawyers.   Legal Elite by Florida Trend Magazine recognizes the top Florida attorneys. Florida Trend’s Legal Elite attorneys are chosen by peers for their knowledge, expertise and experience in various areas of Florida law.

Both the Super Lawyers and the Legal Elite awards are given after careful consideration and peer voting. Lawyers who are awarded these designations have been chosen as leaders in their fields by attorneys throughout the state of Florida.

Categories
Business Law COVID-19

Business COVID-19 Waivers for Employees and Customers

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken all of us into uncharted waters. After an unprecedented near nationwide shutdown, many states are going through the process of reopening. For business owners, the ability to re-open is often crucial to the very survival of the business. At the same time, a business may have valid concerns about the possibility that an employee or customer could contract the virus while on the premises, resulting in the filing of a lawsuit against the business. In an effort to avoid costly litigation, some businesses are requiring workers and/or customers to sign a liability waiver — but do waivers actually work?

Are Waivers the New Normal?

Businesswoman hanging an "Open" sign after COVID-19 shutdown.

Just as social distancing and wearing a mask in public have become the new normal, signing a liability waiver before returning to work or entering a business may also be commonplace going forward. The New York Stock Exchange is requiring traders to sign a waiver before entering the trading floor, while Walt Disney Co.’s website cites “severe illness and death” risks for customers at its Orlando, Florida, amusement parks. The Trump campaign even had attendees at a rally sign a waiver agreeing not to sue the campaign if they contract the virus.

Why Are Businesses Requiring Waivers?

Business owners are contemplating the use of waivers to avoid the very real possibility of costly litigation that could ensue if a worker or customer claims they contracted COVID-19 at the business.

Typically, workers are covered under workers’ compensation if they are injured or become ill on the job, but questions remain unanswered regarding Covid-19 coverage. In order to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, a worker need not prove that the employer did anything wrong, only that the injury or illness is job-related. Illnesses like the cold or flu, however, are not usually covered under Florida’s workers’ compensation laws, because they are seen as a hazard of daily living. Though the Florida Department of Financial Services has issued a directive to honor Covid-19 claims made by frontline state employees (such as police officers, first responders, corrections officers, state healthcare employees, child safety investigators and active national guard members), this directive has not been categorically extended to all employees, which could leave employers vulnerable to negligence lawsuits if Covid-19 claims are treated like cold or flu claims. 

Customers have long been able to pursue a personal injury lawsuit based on the concept of premises liability if they were injured or became ill as a result of the business owner’s negligence. For a business that already suffered significant economic losses during stay at home orders, the prospect of a hefty damages award may be enough to implement the use of a liability waiver.

Does a Liability Waiver Really Work?

It depends. The basic idea behind a liability waiver in the context of the coronavirus pandemic is to protect a business from liability for damages if someone contracts the virus while working or visiting the business. In legal terms, this is accomplished by asking the person executing the waiver to “assume the risk” of contracting the virus. Can a waiver actually protect a business though? The answer is less than certain, – and depends on a variety of factors that are likely to change in the coming months.

Liability waivers have historically been limited by the courts in three important ways. First, only known risks can be assumed by the person signing the waiver –, meaning a waiver must clearly state the risks – (in this case, contracting COVID-19). Second, it must be a voluntary assumption of the risk.  Finally, a waiver must be consistent with public policy, which may present issues for both employee and visitor waivers due to the bargaining position between employees and employers, as well as certain businesses and visitors that are consumers.

Additionally, Florida courts have made clear that they will not enforce waivers that attempt to protect a business from actions arising from the business’s gross negligence or intentional acts.  Likewise, a waiver that requires an employee to waive the right to workers’ compensation or unemployment benefits is also unenforceable.

Should I Require a Waiver for My Business?

If you are a business owner who is concerned about your liability exposure during the coronavirus pandemic, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced business law attorney before you consider utilizing a liability waiver. Additionally, business owners should carefully analyze the potential non-legal impact of requiring visitors or employees to sign waivers (i.e., potential effect on image). While a carefully drafted waiver may provide your business with some protection, it should be uniquely tailored both to your business and to the ever-changing laws relating to COVID-19

Categories
Business Law COVID-19

Jeff Lieser Joins AM Tampa Bay to talk about Payroll Protection Program

On April 3, 2020, the Paycheck Protection Program was established with the intent to support small U.S. businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Program funding was depleted within a few days, in part, because some of the loans were distributed to companies that were not the intended recipients. The Paycheck Protection Program received an additional $484 billion on April 24, 2020, when President Trump signed a second COVID-19 rescue bill.

Problem with the Original Paycheck Protection Program Structure

As originally structured, there was an inherent flaw in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Under PPP requirements for loan forgiveness, businesses had to spend 60% of the loans on payroll with the other 40% on rent, mortgage, interest, or utilities within 8 weeks of receiving the funds. For struggling businesses that had been forced to close due to the pandemic, there was no payroll, which meant that the loan could not be forgiven. 

Issue Rectified with Second Payroll Protection Program Structure

The second COVID-19 rescue bill extended the timeframe that businesses were required to use the funds from 8 weeks to 24 weeks. As states allow businesses to reopen, more small businesses can seek forgiveness of the loans under the federal guidelines. However, challenges still remain. 

During an interview with WFLA News, Jeff Lieser, an attorney at Lieser Skaff Alexander, said that while the Small Business Administration (SBA) has a guide for loan forgiveness, this process is dense and difficult to understand. Mr. Lieser urges businesses to stay in contact with their lender and to ask questions about any part of the process that is unclear. In addition, Mr. Lieser encourages business owners to continually review the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) of the SBA’s website to stay current of changes and updates to the loan program. 

Loan Forgiveness Process

The main purpose of the Paycheck Protection Program was to ensure that small businesses could continue operations during the shutdown but qualifying for loan forgiveness is a complex process. Business owners must be prepared to provide their lenders with complete and detailed documents of how the loan funds were spent and prove that the disbursement complied with the payroll percentage requirement.  For businesses that utilize payroll programs or third party payroll process companies, this part of the process may be simplified but rent, interest, and other expenses must also be fully documented. 

Mr. Lieser encourages business owners who are having difficulty documenting their qualifications for loan forgiveness to contact an attorney specializing in business law to support them in this process. 
 

Categories
Firm Updates

LSA attorneys recognized by Super Lawyers and Florida’s Legal Elite for 2020

LSA Legal Elite Super Lawyers 2020 ChartWe are proud to announce that Jeff Lieser and Ghada Skaff were recognized as 2020 Florida Legal Elite and Joseph Alexander was named Super Lawyer for 2020. In addition, Associate Alissa Kranz was named both a Super Lawyers Rising Star and Florida Legal Elite Up & Comer for 2020.

Florida Legal Elite is an honor bestowed to the top 1.4% of Florida attorneys. 

Florida Legal Elite has recognized Jeff each year since 2017, making this his fourth year to receive this honor. Jeff was also named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers Magazine from 2013 to 2017. A co-founder of Lieser Skaff Alexander, Jeff’s practice focuses on complex business and real estate litigation. He also serves as class action counsel, Circuit Civil Mediator, and Reserve Judge Advocate in the U.S. Army J.A.G. Corps.

This is the third year in a row that Ghada Skaff has been recognized by Florida Legal Elite. She has also been recognized by Super Lawyers as a Rising Star from 2015 through 2017. She is a member of Leadership Tampa class of 2020, a program designed to enhance the skills and opportunities of local business leaders. Serving as counsel for many of Tampa Bay’s finest businesses and entrepreneurs, Ghada’s practice is focused on transactional and business law. 

Joe has been named a Super Lawyer every year since 2016. He is known for excellent representation as well as his extensive service to the community. 

For Alissa, this is her third consecutive year to be named a Super Lawyer Rising Star, which is an honor reserved for the top 2.5 percent of attorneys under the age of 40. This is the second year she was named Florida Legal Elite Up and Comer. Alissa specializes in complex commercial and real estate litigation and represents clients in both federal and state courts. Her client base ranges from individuals to Fortune 500 companies.

 

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