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Thursday
Jul252013

How Does the DOMA Ruling Affect Estate Planning?

Trusts & Estate Planning Attorney

by Kira S. Masteller
818.907.3244

 

 

The United States Supreme Court's ruling on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on June 26, declaring the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman unconstitutional, means same-sex couples in several states can now take advantage of certain tax savings when estate planning. For federal tax purposes, homosexual married couples will now be treated the same as heterosexual married couples.

Granted, the IRS is still struggling to determine how they will deal with individual and joint tax returns for same-sex couples. But federal estate planning benefits may now apply to same-sex married couples in California:

  1. Company Retirement Plans: The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 gives spouses the right to be sole beneficiaries of certain accounts.

  2. IRA Rollover Rights: When a spouse inherits funds from an IRA or other qualified plan, s/he can roll those assets into her or his own IRA account to postpone the required minimum distributions.

  3. Annual Exclusion Gifts: Any individual taxpayer can gift up to $14K per year, to as many beneficiaries as needed, without triggering gift taxes. Together, spouses can gift up to $28K either from individual or joint accounts.

  4. Lifetime Gift Tax Exclusion: This one amounts to $5.25M for individuals, and $10.5M for married couples – significant savings for your estate.

  5. Portability: Speaking of the gift tax exclusion, portability allows the widow or widower to add the deceased spouse's unused exclusion to their own exclusion, totaling up to the limit of $10.5M.

  6. Other Tax Breaks: Using a marital deduction, spouses can make transfers to each other during life or at death.

Keep in mind that a same-sex spouse who moves to a state where gay marriage is not recognized, may not qualify for these benefits. The ruling in United States v. Windsor simply says the federal government will recognize a couple's marriage if the state where they reside recognizes the union.

Remember too, that the Prop 8 and DOMA rulings broke new ground in the legal landscape, and that for same sex couples in California and other states that recognize gay marriage, estate planning may be constantly changing for a while. Contact me if you need help keeping track of the current benefits and financial liabilities.

Kira S. Masteller is an Estate Planning Attorney and Shareholder at our firm. Email her at kmasteller@lewitthackman.com for more information.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Thursday
Jul182013

Pets or Threats? California Law Regarding Dog Attacks

Personal InjuryDog Attack Attorney

 

 

by Andrew L. Shapiro

(818) 907-3230

 

How many times have you gone to the beach, only to spot someone's dog frolicking in the surf without a leash?

Many people would cast a benevolent eye on such a scene, but in truth, these dog owners are violating Los Angeles Municipal Code. Even in some dog parks it's a violation to let a dog off-leash, and by the way, the tether in question needs to be no longer than six feet long.

Vicious Dog Attack Lawyer

The reality of the matter is that whether the dog is behind a fence, on a leash, or running free – and whether or not the owner knows how aggressive his or her dog is towards people and other animals – it is the pet owner who is held responsible. (Please read my colleague's, David Bobrosky's, blog about Pitt Bull & Rottweiler Dog Attacks, for steps to take immediately after being bitten or attacked by a dog.)

California Civil Code Section 3342 states:

The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness.

There are exceptions, of course, i.e. if the dog is working in a policing capacity, or when trespassers break into a dog owner's home. Aside from these situations, you should know that:

Statistically, certain breeds are more likely to be involved in serious or fatal dog attacks than others.

  1. Owners are liable for their dogs, whether the animal bites for the first time (called the one bite rule), or has attacked on other occasions – and whether the dog has been trained to fight, is in service, or is just a family pet.

  2. Owners may have to serve jail time or pay monetary fines if they are found criminally liable. They may be liable for the victim's medical bills, long-term care, increased living costs, psychological counseling to overcome trauma, and other provable damages.

  3. If a dog attacks a human and that dog has been trained to fight, attack or kill – a district or city attorney can bring a criminal action against the dog owner. A court may take whatever action is necessary to ensure the vicious animal does not attack people again. A court order could include euthanizing the animal, in addition to criminal penalties against the owner.

When a vicious dog attacks more than once, anyone can bring an action against the owner (called the two bite rule), and a court may order the dog euthanized.

 

What If a Dog Attacks Another Dog?

 

Your dog may be your best friend, and that friendship may be priceless to you.

To the courts though, there is generally a market value accorded to the dog. Usually, the value depends on the dog's purchase price, age, health, breed, training, and certain other factors.

California law is ever-changing, and this applies to a dog's value, including the emotional distress suffered by an owner of a dog suffering serious or fatal injury. Several years ago, a jury awarded a dog owner $39,000 in a veterinary malpractice suit – nearly one quarter of that constituted reimbursement for treatment, but the remaining amount compensated for the dog's unique value to the owner.

Just remember California Civil Code stated above: the owner of any dog is liable for damages

 

Andrew L. Shapiro is an experienced Dog Bite Attorney in our Personal Injury Practice Group. Contact him via email: ashapiro@lewitthackman.com or phone: (818) 907-3230 , for further information.

 

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Monday
Jul152013

Wacky Employee Claims: Reasonable Accommodations for Unreasonable Requests?

Lawyer for EmployerEmployment Defense

 

by Nicole Kamm
818.907.3235

 

 

As an employment defense attorney, I often think I’ve heard it all: every conceivable employee complaint, late-to-work excuse, and “reasonable” accommodation request. Still, from time to time, I come across an employee claim that surprises even me.

Here are some recent ones:

Spa Sued Over Brazilian Wax Training: A woman hired at a spa as a “wax specialist” alleged her recent termination was discriminatory. As part of her training, her employer required her to receive a Brazilian wax – in front of her female colleagues. The employee refused and complained, and claims she was fired in retaliation. 

Hair Color Discrimination: Earlier this year, the NYPD issued an anti-bias message alert warning sergeants and lieutenants about harassment or discrimination against red-haired officers. This alert went mostly unsupported by those who did not feel redheads were a particularly disadvantaged group. However, employers should note, to the extent hair color is associated with race, ethnicity or national origin, it could give rise to a claim for employment discrimination.  

Fired for Irresistable Attraction?: A female employee sued for wrongful termination after her employer fired her based on his concerns that if she continued to work for him, he would have sex with her and it would ruin his marriage. The lower court ruled this did not violate the law. The employee was not fired because she was a woman, but because of her “irresistible attraction.”  The Iowa Supreme Court recently confirmed the lower court decision.  

Vegan’s Religious Accommodation Case to Proceed: A former hospital employee alleged she was fired for refusing to take a flu shot, which is derived from eggs, claiming such discharge violated her religious beliefs because she is a vegan. The court refused to dismiss the case, finding “it plausible that Plaintiff could subscribe to veganism with a sincerity equating that of traditional religious views.”

Disabled by Insomnia: A court recently denied an employee’s claim that her insomnia, which prevented her from sleeping more than four hours per night, was an ADA-protected condition. While insomnia may be a disability under the ADA if it substantially limits a major life activity (which includes sleeping), in this case the court found the employee was terminated because she failed to properly keep time sheets and was unable to “communicate accurately and truthfully.” 

Can Height Be a Disability?: An Arizona Department of Agriculture worker recently filed a claim for disability discrimination claiming she was forced into a field work position in which she would not be able to drive vehicles because she was too short (4’10”). The Court held, in some contexts, her short stature could “substantially limit one or more major life activities” (i.e., rise to the level of a disability). 

Time Off to Head-Bang: Though this one comes from overseas (Sweden), it is a good one. A 42-year old dishwasher, who claimed he was addicted to heavy metal, requested his employer reasonably accommodate time off to attend concerts and listen to music while working. 

 

According to EEOC: Disability claims have risen over 66% since 2000; while religious discrimination claims, though still relatively few in number, have nearly doubled.

The bottom line is this: Employers should be prepared for anything. Handling employee complaints and accommodation requests is certainly not an easy job. But staying on top of the ever-changing employment laws and consulting employment counsel when needed will go far to minimize the risk of claims and litigation. 

 

Nicole Kamm is an Employer Defense Attorney at our firm. Contact her via email: nkamm@lewitthackman.com for more information.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
Thursday
Jul112013

Dog Attacks: Are Pit Bulls and Rottweilers More Likely to Cause Serious Injury?

Injury Attorney Los AngelesLos Angeles Injury Lawyer

by David B. Bobrosky

(818) 907-3254

 

According to California Health and Safety Code, no specific dog breed or mix shall be declared potentially dangerous or vicious, in city or county ordinances.

But the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) says certain breeds tend to be involved in serious dog bite injuries more frequently than others: German Shepherds, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and mixed breeds top the list of culprits.

Statistics show that Pit Bulls tend to be more involved in fatal dog attacks, followed by Rottweilers and then Huskies, and mixed breeds – though other, miscellaneous varieties account for 19 percent of fatalities from dog maulings. In short, it's always best to be on your guard when around dogs, particularly those you don't know well.

  People still argue over whether it's the owner or the breed that is at fault for vicious dog attacks. Whatever side of the argument you fall on, consider recent headlines throughout California, over the past few months:

  • A few weeks ago, a six year old boy died when he was mauled by a pit bull owned by his uncle – a dog that according to news reports, showed no previous signs of aggression.

  • A young woman in Stockton suffered serious injury when attacked by two pitbulls while staying at a friend's house.

  • Another woman in Stockton was mauled to death by a pit bull with a history of jumping fences and attacking animals.

  • In May, a pack of pit bulls and mixed-breed dogs fatally attacked a jogger here in Los Angeles County – the dog owner was recently charged with murder.

While the above stories do not necessarily settle the argument over whether it’s the owner or the breed that is responsible for the most serious attacks, they do highlight the most important point. 

In every dog attack case we have ever worked on and in every case above, there has been a lack of responsible pet ownership.  This includes ensuring the dogs are safely restrained on the property, ensuring they are not trained to be attack dogs, ensuring they are not allowed to be in situations where they can be a danger to someone else, etc.  Regardless of the breed, the owner must be responsible for the dog.

Most dog bites don't require medical attention. But those who do suffer serious injury when mauled or bitten by a dog, may need extensive medical treatment.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 866 dog bite victims sought emergency room treatment in 2008, resulting in $54M in treatment overall. Their injuries included skin and tissue damage and infection, wounds to the head, neck and torso, bone fractures and blood poisoning. They required wound debridement, sutures, skin grafts and other surgical procedures, not to mention counseling, in some cases.

 

Steps to Take After a Dog Attack

 

If you have been hurt because of a single dog bite or a vicious attack, the first thing you should do is seek medical help. Use the following as a guide:

  1. Treatment: You need to stop the bleeding and prevent infection immediately. Additional medical services such as surgery or physical therapy can be determined later.

  2. Identification: The next step to take is to identify the dog's owner, if s/he was not present during the attack. Identifying the owner is important for several reasons.  In terms of your treatment, you need to know the health of the dog and whether the dog has received certain vaccinations.  Legally, you may need to bring a claim against the owner, which is often covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy. 

  3. Report: Contact the local animal control authority and/or police department to report the attack.

  4. Evidence: Take photos of your injuries, and the premises where you were attacked or bitten. Gather witness information. Save torn or dirtied clothing. If you ran to a vehicle or behind a fence to escape, take pictures of the exterior doors or fences/gates that may have been scratched, especially if the dog attempted to follow you inside.   

 

How to Find a Dog Bite Attorney

 

California Civil Code Section 3342 clearly states that the owner of a dog is liable for damages suffered if a person is bitten in a public place or while lawfully in a private place. If you've been attacked by a Pit Bull, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, or any other breed, you may be eligible for damages related to your medical treatment, continued therapy, psychological treatment, loss of wages and more.

We can't stress this enough: If you've been injured, get treatment first. This principle applies to any type of injury, whether you're involved in a car accident, tripped over a dangerous condition, or been attacked by a Pit Bull. Your health should be your primary concern.

Once you've received initial medical treatment, you can then look for a personal injury attorney if you feel that's what is needed. Look for a law firm experienced in dog bite cases that offers free consultations and is willing to take your case on a contingency basis (both attorney fees and costs).

David B. Bobrosky is a Dog Bite Attorney in our Personal Injury Practice Group. Contact him via email: dbobrosky@lewitthackman.com, for further information.

 

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Monday
Jul082013

Tony Soprano's Run In With the Tax Man

 

by Robert A. Hull

 

Many of us who were fans of the HBO show about a fictional New Jersey mafia family, The Sopranos, and actor James Gandolfini in particular (who played mob boss Tony Soprano), were shocked and saddened to learn of the actor's untimely death.  

Now, the media reports that substantial taxes will be due on Mr. Gandolfini's estate due to poor estate planning. Could some of these taxes have been avoided or, at the very least, delayed with different estate planning strategies?  

Based on the latest information about his estate, it is very likely. While many of the specifics are unclear, it appears Mr. Gandolfini could have benefitted from using estate planning strategies to leave more of his assets to his family.

As one example, if the $7 million life insurance payout to James' son was not held in a life insurance trust, the full value of this payout would be included in the value of his estate for taxation purposes. If such insurance were held in a life insurance trust, then this payout would not be included in his taxable estate, and could result in savings of several millions of dollars in estate tax.

Also, Mr. Gandolfini could have potentially reduced the size of his estate subject to estate taxes also by using revocable and irrevocable trusts, perhaps creating certain business entities and employing gifting strategies. But, without additional specific information about his assets, it is difficult to tell which combination would have been most effective.

Though the value of most of our estates does not approach Mr. Gandolfini's, estimated at over $70 million, we all have an interest in maximizing the assets which are ultimately distributed to our beneficiaries and minimizing those to the Tax Man.

The government's take from Mr. Gandolfini's estate will likely be over $30 million, and that's a lotta "scharole".

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120