Lesser Law Group

San Rafael California Insurance Law Firm

$1 million punitive damages award upheld

A California court of appeals has upheld a judgment against a major insurance company for dealing with one of its insureds in bad faith. In August 2008, a 24-year-old man was in a serious car accident on a California highway. He was traveling at around 45 or 50 miles per hour when he crashed head-on with a vehicle that had crossed into his lane traveling approximately the same speed. The at-fault driver, who had crossed into the wrong lane, was killed in the crash.

The insurance carrier for the at-fault driver paid out the policy maximum, $50,000, and the 24-year-old man's attorney sought further recovery from GEICO, which was his insurer. In December 2009, the attorney filed a claim under the man's underinsured motorist coverage. The claim included medical records and other documentation, and it demanded $50,000, which represented the man's $100,000 underinsured motorist policy limit minus the $50,000 that had already been paid by the at-fault insurer.

Understanding professional malpractice and filing a claim

When Californians hear the term "malpractice," they will automatically think of a medical mistake that leads to illness or injury to themselves or death of a loved one. However, malpractice is not limited to medical professionals. If other professionals who agree to provide various services make mistakes through intent or incompetence, there is recourse to address it and be financially compensated. When errors are made by an accountant, an attorney, a financial professional or anyone else, it can warrant a professional malpractice legal filing.

Professional malpractice occurs if there are egregious errors related to failing to adhere to the requirements for professionalism, the professional does not live up to the appropriate standard of care, shows negligence, commits fraud or other acts that harm the client. To recover damages in these circumstances, it is important to know what to do to pursue compensation and hold the professional accountable.

Depp professional malpractice trial set to begin on Dec. 2

A California judge has agreed to delay the trial that will decide Johnny Depp's $50 million malpractice lawsuit against his former attorneys until Dec. 2. The trial date had already been postponed several times when attorneys representing the actor and his former law firm appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court on May 29. Depp is said to be eager to put the matter to rest. However, the defendants successfully argued that they require more time because important information has not been handed over to them in a timely manner.

The case has sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry. Oral contingency agreements are common in Hollywood, but their validity was cast into doubt in August 2018 when a judge ruled that such an agreement between Depp and his longtime attorneys was invalid. Depp's lawsuit has also drawn in some of the industry's biggest names. In April, attorneys representing the defendants sent deposition notices to studio heads, prominent attorneys and Depp's ex-wife Amber Heard.

Hip hop artists face lawsuit after benefit concert cancellation

Organizers of California concerts depend on contracts with talent to justify the application of resources. A benefit concert organized by The Circle Foundation contracted with Remy Ma and Safaree, stars of the docuseries "Love & Hip Hop", but the nonprofit that mentors urban youth canceled the event after the stars violated the performance exclusivity clauses in their agreements.

The Circle Foundation responded with a lawsuit against the performers, claiming that they breached their contracts. Per the contracts, they were specifically barred from giving concerts within 60 miles of the benefit concert's venue during the 30 days leading up to the event. Exclusivity clauses like this are largely standard and are meant to prevent the weakening of public interest in an upcoming event.

Does your business have a disaster plan?

You have poured your time, efforts and money into your business, and its success rests squarely on your shoulders. While you may have control of the day-to-day operations, you cannot control every factor that can affect your business. For that reason, it is wise to have a plan in place in case the unthinkable happens.

While California is familiar with natural disasters, it does not take a catastrophic event to cause the kind of damage that could bring your company to the brink of bankruptcy. Having a disaster plan in place can help you get back in business as soon as possible, as well as facilitate your dealings with your business' insurance company.

California lawsuits accuse online tax preparers of fraud

Lawsuits filed in California on May 6 allege that two of the nation's largest tax preparation companies defrauded low-income filers by using deceptive and misleading practices. The companies supposedly made it difficult for taxpayers to access the Internal Revenue Service's Free File program. In the lawsuits, the Los Angeles City Attorney accuses H&R Block and Inuit of violating California's unfair competition law. The litigation asks for injunctions to put an end to the alleged deceptive practices and seeks restitution for filers who paid for tax preparation services even though they qualified for the Free File program.

Free File is a program created by the IRS in partnership with online tax preparation companies that allows individuals with an annual income of $66,000 or less to complete and submit their tax returns for free. According to the lawsuits, H&R Block and Inuit made finding information about their free options extremely difficult and instead tried to upsell low-income filers with costly services.

Ad agency fined for deceptive weight-loss promotions

While diet products are popular in California for people seeking to lose weight, many supplements and other items are backed by little to no meaningful evidence. Now, one advertising agency has settled a joint complaint brought by the Federal Trade Commission and the Maine state government for deceptive advertising. The firm, Marketing Architects, agreed to pay $2 million to the plaintiffs, representing the largest fine imposed on an ad agency. The plaintiffs had accused the company of using false and misleading claims to promote dubious weight-loss regimens.

The complaint noted that the ad agency had previously been warned about presenting advertisements without competent or reliable evidence to back up its health claims. It noted that Marketing Architects had even received information from its own client that further scientific support would be necessary in order to make certain claims. However, the company continued to make unproven health claims. In addition, it also sought to present its advertising materials as if they were legitimate news reports and promoted entirely false customer testimonials written by the agency itself.

Lab-grown diamond companies warned over advertising

California-born celebrity Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the investors in a diamond company that recently received a warning letter from the Federal Trade Commission over advertising practices. Diamond Foundry, which counts the actor among its backers, is a purveyor of laboratory-created diamonds. These man-made diamonds have chemical properties equivalent to those of natural, or mined, diamonds. However, rather than being mined from the earth, these diamonds are grown entirely inside a laboratory, typically through the use of a small plasma reactor that allows chemical elements to form a final stone.

Several lab-grown diamond companies received these warnings in April 2019. The statements noted that these companies must make clear that the diamonds they sell are lab-grown rather than "natural." The FTC letter said that it was concerned that consumers could believe that they are buying mined diamonds instead of man-made versions because of the terminology in the advertisements, especially on social media. For example, some ads called the stones "aboveground forged" or "real diamonds created in America" without using the term "laboratory-grown."

Lawsuit draws attention to problems with cyberinsurance

Dark clouds hover over the booming cyberinsurance industry. Cyber policies currently value an estimated $5.2 billion and should reach $7.5 billion by the end of the decade. However, a recent lawsuit shows that these policies might not protect insurance holders as well as they had believed.

Frequent Bay Area flooding puts business owners in a bind

From San Rafael’s flash floods in late February to an “atmospheric river” flooding the North Bay, Northern California has seen our share of rough waters in the last few months. And according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, more than a quarter of businesses that close because of a disaster like a flood never re-open.

As local business owners assess the recent damage, here are a few things to keep in mind:

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