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Law Rules

How we resolve our disputes

Entries in lawsuit (3)

Monday
Apr192010

Cure-ious

In a unanimous decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a ruling that Volvo had to rescind a notice terminating the franchise of one of its truck dealers. Initially, the dealer decided to sell its Volvo truck franchise and took steps to eliminate its efforts to sell Volvo trucks. This admittedly violated its franchise with Volvo. However, about a year later, the dealer decided not to sell its Volvo franchise. Nevertheless, Volvo issued a notice to terminate the franchise because sales had decreased dramatically and the dealer’s actions had breached the franchise agreement. As required by state law, Volvo gave the dealer time to cure the breach. The dealer claimed that it complied with the requirements to cure the breach, but Volvo disagreed. The state agency charged with hearing such disputes agreed with the dealer and Volvo appealed. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed and so did the Supreme Court. Essentially, the dealer claimed that by recommitting itself to promoting Volvo’s trucks, it cured the breach. Volvo argued that the breach was not cured because the dealer had not restored matters to the way they were before the breach. The courts agreed with the dealer, using the technical legal definition of “cured” rather than the dictionary definition that Volvo preferred. Substantial performance — a term all law students learn in law school — is what the law required. The courts found it was unreasonable to expect the dealer to return to the status quo ante, as Volvo desired.

What is curious about this case is that Volvo was not satisfied with getting a longtime successful dealer back in its fold. It wanted to punish the dealer for temporarily straying from the farm. Obviously, the courts agreed that it should have left well enough alone. I wonder if it was worth the time and expense of litigation to resolve this one ambiguity in the law.

Thursday
Nov122009

Who was inappropriate -- the Queen or King?

A 22 year-old beauty queen scolds a veteran TV newsman for asking what she considers to be an “inappropriate” question. Not exactly a man-bites-dog story, but it raises an interesting legal question. Did Carrie Prejean have the right not to answer Larry King’s question about why she settled a lawsuit in mediation rather than going to court against the Miss California Organization? Apparently, she thought she was on the show to promote her new book. King did what any good reporter would do — ask a question that might get a response that would be interesting to his readers, listeners or viewers. However, Prejean responded that “it’s completely confidential.” While many mediators tell the parties to mediation that what they say during the settlement negotiations is confidential, that is not exactly correct in many states. I am not licensed in California, but here in Wisconsin the only legal protection is a rule of evidence that prohibits the admission in a judicial or administrative proceeding of communications relevant to a matter in mediation. The rule defines such evidence as irrelevant and, therefore, inadmissable. It does not create a “mediation privilege.” Even if the settlement agreement provided that the terms of the settlement were confidential, King clearly did not ask about the terms of the settlement. He asked why Prejean decided to settle. And, of course, Larry King was not a party to any confidentiality agreement. So was he being inappropriate? Or was Carrie Prejean practicing law without a license?

Thursday
May282009

To settle or not to settle?

The story about the woman who died in a King’s County (New York City) Hospital psychiatric emergency room after waiting a day for service or treatment has raised some interesting questions about both our health care system and our legal system.  The woman’s family settled their wrongful death case with the hospital for $2 million yesterday.  Yet, more than half of the people voting in response to an online story about the case said the family shouldn’t have settled for that amount.  The story mentioned that the family still wanted a criminal investigation to proceed, apparently because there was some evidence that some hospital personnel falsified some records of the incident, which had been recorded on a security video camera.  The City accepted full responsibility for the incident, and the hospital fired several people and made changes to reduce waiting times.  My question is this: if the parties to the civil lawsuit are satisfied with the settlement, and there are other avenues available for addressing potential criminal issues, who cares whether anyone else thinks the settlement is not enough (or too much)?  The civil justice system succeeded in resolving the dispute to the apparent satisfaction of the parties.  Isn’t that what it is for?  This case does raise legitimate issues about how we place a monetary value on a life.  It also raises questions about how our healthcare system can and should deal with pyschiatric patients.  But those are issues for another forum.  As long as neglect and intentionally wrongful conduct can be addressed in the courts, let’s get on with improving our healthcare system by other means.