Articles Posted in Business Litigation

AdobeStock_151536590-300x214When filing a lawsuit in California, the original complaint may be either verified or unverified. If it is verified, the plaintiff makes assertions under the pains and penalties of perjury. A verified complaint also forces the defendant to respond to the lawsuit with a verified answer. This tactic forces the defendant to immediately make statements about the allegations under oath. There are strategic reasons to use – and not use – a verified complaint when filing a business lawsuit in California. Learn more about this litigation tactic so you can ask your litigator if it is right for your case.

Pros and Cons

As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to using a verified complaint. As discussed, the most pressing pro is that it forces the defendant to submit a verified answer. These statements can be disproven in litigation – which means your attorney can ask for the defendant to be penalized for lying under oath. You might be awarded attorney’s fees or discovery sanctions for the perjured evidence. At trial, the defendant will be made to look like a witness who is not credible to the jury. By starting your lawsuit with a strong hand, you can have more control over the direction that discovery takes throughout the case.

AdobeStock_335918168-300x200A civil lawsuit is a common experience for business owners. Whether you are filing or defending a lawsuit, it is important to work with an experienced litigator who knows how to protect your legal rights throughout the discovery process. The experienced business lawyers at Structure Law Group, LLP know how to protect both you and your business from inappropriate discovery requests by seeking a protective order. Here are a few examples of tools our experienced attorneys can employ to protect your rights.

Privacy

Certain information must be exchanged during the discovery process. This is not, however, an unlimited right for the other party to learn every detail about your personal life. Discovery requests must pertain to information that are admissible at trial – or “reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence.” If you are asked about personal information that does not pertain to the lawsuit, your attorney can object. Objections can be made to written requests, such as interrogatories, requests for admission, or requests for documents.   Objections can also be made to questions posed at a deposition.  By following up with a protective order, your rights to preserve your objections can be protected throughout the remainder of the case.

AdobeStock_368546040-300x200Litigation is a reality in the life of a business owner. Most business owners will, at some point, have to engage in litigation in order to protect their legal rights. Litigation can result in a monetary judgment that is enforceable by court order. A judgment is the first step to collecting what is owed.  Unfortunately, many defendants are either unable or unwilling to pay.  Luckily,  there are many ways in which a business lawyer can enforce money judgments through the legal system. Here are some of the legal tools at a creditor’s disposal that can help collect money owed pursuant to a lawful court order:

Writs of Execution

A writ of execution is a court order to the local sheriff that directs his (or her) deputies to seize a debtor’s assets in order to satisfy an existing money judgment. For example: if your company has a judgment against another company, you can ask the court to issue a writ of execution against the debtor company’s business accounts in the amount of your judgment.

AdobeStock_282672626-300x200Sadly, it is not uncommon for litigants to abuse the discovery system in a civil lawsuit. Sometimes it is an attempt to make an opponent’s legal fees too high to continue litigation. Other times, a party might be trying to drag out a lawsuit and force the opponent to settle rather than continue indefinitely. These tactics are especially common when a business knows that a competing business is undercapitalized and cannot afford litigation that is costly or lengthy. But business owners do not have to succumb to these tactics. Learn more about what an experienced litigator can do to protect your business throughout the discovery process.

What RFAs Do – And What It Costs to Prove Them

Requests for Admission (RFAs) are a specific type of discovery tool that can be very effective when used properly. An attorney submits RFAs to the opposing party. These are formed as questions that the answering party must either: 1) admit, 2) deny, 3) admit in part, 4) deny in part, or 5) explain why it is unable to answer.  It is also possible to object to the request entirely, but courts do not take kindly to gamesmanship in the discovery process. If the answering party fails to answer these questions, it is considered an admission that they are true. It might not come as a surprise to learn that parties sometimes lie on these questionnaires. When this happens, the asking party or “Propounding Party” has an opportunity to prove that the question should have been admitted as true. This can be done in many ways. Your attorney might, for example, hire a forensic investigator to review the other party’s financial statements. You might find a former employee who can testify that the statement should have been admitted as true. Your attorney might even hire a private investigator to uncover evidence of the truth. However done, it almost always costs the Propounding Party money to prove that the RFA should have been admitted in the first place.

AdobeStock_69411638-300x200A breached contract can result in significant business losses. The amount of the contract may not reflect lost business, missed opportunities, and other financial losses that can seriously hurt your bottom line. Unfortunately, these losses are not adequately reflected by the value of the breached contract. In some cases, the contract actually specifies a value for breach – an estimate known as “liquidated damages.” This pre-breach estimate rarely reflects the full value of your company’s financial losses. This is why many companies seek punitive damages in addition to their specific losses under the contract. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for misconduct in order to deter such conduct in the future. They are not, however, available in most breach of contract cases. Learn more about punitive damages – and when they might be available to help mitigate your losses under a breached contract.

Can You Get Punitive Damages for Intentional or Malicious Breach?

In California, punitive damages are only available in a breach of contract case if the defendant has also committed an intentional tort. This means that mere negligence, or a poor choice to breach the contract, will not justify punitive damages on its own.

AdobeStock_271469937-300x200In general, shareholders are protected from liability for the debts of the corporation. This is because the corporation is viewed as a separate legal entity with its own assets and liabilities. This “corporate veil” of protection can, however, be pierced in certain situations, and personal liability imposed on the shareholders. Creditors use this legal tactic strategically to be sure they can access funds for what they are owed. The experienced California business attorneys at the Structure Law Group can help advise creditors on how to effectively pierce the corporate veil in order to satisfy the debts they are owed.

Elements of Alter Ego Liability

In order to pierce the corporate veil, the plaintiff must prove “alter ego liability.” Alter ego literally translates to “other self.” In alter ego liability, the corporation has been treated as an extension of shareholders’ personal interests, so the courts find it fair to hold shareholders liable for the corporation’s debts, as well. Plaintiffs in California must establish: (1) that there is a unity of ownership and interest between the owners (or shareholders) and the corporation, and (2) that it would be unfair to only hold the corporation accountable for its debts in order to establish alter ego liability.

AdobeStock_252763744-300x200In November 2020, California voters approved what is arguably the most comprehensive privacy rights law in the nation. The California Privacy Rights Act does not take effect until January 1, 2023. But its requirements are far-reaching, and California business owners have a lot of work to do to prepare their businesses for compliance with the law before that date. Moreover, violations of the new Act prior to 2023 can cause bad public relations and potential liability in other areas. Business owners should meet with a California lawyer now to determine how the new law will affect their business, what steps must be taken, and the most efficient process for implementing these measures as soon as possible. The sooner these changes are integrated into a company’s practices and culture, the less likely it is the business will face liability under the Act.

Corporate Responsibilities Under the California Privacy Rights Act

The CPRA requires businesses to track an entirely new category of user data: “sensitive personal information.” This includes government-issued identifiers, finance information, biometric data, health status, precise geolocation, contents of emails or texts, and race or ethnic origin. Sensitive personal information is a subcategory of personal information that is protected under existing privacy laws. This means that it, too, must be de-identified or subject to an aggregation exception. The CPRA adds an additional requirement for businesses to implement “reasonable security measures” to protect personal information. What measures are “reasonable” will be determined by the type of information that is collected. Detailed financial or medical records will likely require higher levels of security than basic demographic information. Retention periods must also be updated to meet only what is reasonably necessary to perform the purposes for which the data was collected. This means that sensitive personal information might have a shorter retention policy than more general personal information.

AdobeStock_336124038-300x200The coronavirus pandemic has caused drastic changes in almost every facet of life in California. For instance, federal, state, and local courts are all facing a major backlog. Many courts were shut down entirely for months, open to only the most urgent cases (such as restraining orders). Now courts have reopened, but many are operating at reduced capacity, meaning they have been making slow progress through the serious backlog of cases. Litigants should be aware of how this backlog will affect their legal claims.

The Incentive to Settle

Parties have the option of settling their claims out of court before trial. Whether they choose to do so depends on a wide range of factors, including:

AdobeStock_252648156-300x200Drafting contracts that properly protect your legal interests requires training, a unique skillset, and years of experience as a business attorney.  Contracts that are not drafted by experienced counsel often fail to provide adequate protections to the parties involved.  For example, contracts prepared by business people that are not attorneys often contain key terms that are vague or are missing key legal provisions and fail to offer business owners sufficient legal protection. A well drafted contract can provide a business owner predictability and will save significant time and money by avoiding pitfalls that can be a significant burden on a company.

4 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Draft Your Own Business Contracts

  1. The Agreement May Not Reflect Your Intentions. Although a form contract purchased online might look enticing, it may very well fail to meet your specific needs.  You might not properly understand its provisions, legalese, or legal terms of art. Lengthy terms in a form contract can be confusing to the untrained reader and can contain terms that are dangerous to include in your specific situation. They can address complex legal theories that are best understood by an experienced attorney.  Ultimately, using a form contract without individualized legal advice can lead to your business being bound to legal provisions that you never intended.

AdobeStock_269304451-300x200As your Silicon Valley startup grows, it’s hard to know whom to trust. You’ve likely gone from a close-knit group of founders invested in the confidentiality of your trade secrets to hiring at-will employees who are less concerned with secrecy. Both federal and state laws reflect the value placed on corporate trade secrets and confidential information. Especially in technology-driven industries where startups are valued for their unique innovations, protecting your trade secrets is a key to success.

Defining Trade Secrets & Confidential Information

While you can contractually bind your employees to keep certain confidences, only qualifying trade secrets are protected by state and federal law. Trade secrets are defined as information that derives economic value by not being generally known or readily ascertainable by competitors and are subject to reasonable efforts to maintain confidence. Trade secrets can consist of:

Contact Information