Practice Areas : Civil Litigation

Civil Litigation is a general term used to describe the relationship of the parties. In civil litigation, one person or company is suing another for money damages or an injunction as compared to criminal litigation that involves the government and possible jail time.

Van Dress Law Office has significant experience in all aspects of civil litigation. The most common categories and typical scenarios are as follows:

  1. Personal Injury (Car Accidents, Slip and Fall, Civil Assault, Boating and Motorcycle Accidents, etc.).
    1. What should I do when injured?
      Document your injuries! You should call the police to make a police report or contact a manager to fill out an incident form. If you are injured, do not wait – go to the emergency room immediately from the scene of the accident. Often, a person who suffers soft tissue injury such as whiplash from a car accident will not start to feel bad until the next morning. Doctors say that the pain is caused by the tearing of the muscle fibers during the accident and the pain is a symptom of the body healing itself. This process often takes several hours or a few days. If this happens to you, again, document your injury by seeing your family doctor. You should always contact a physician for a definitive diagnosis. Also, try to get statements (and names, addresses and phone numbers) from witnesses. Take photographs of the property damage and scene of the accident. Usually photographs are taken after initial medical treatment.
    2. What should I do with the medical bills and property damage?
      Again, document everything by taking photographs and making copies of bills, receipts, prescriptions, checks and insurance forms. Keep everything in a special folder. Usually, if the person who caused the accident has insurance, his insurance company will pay for a rental vehicle for 30 days or until necessary to repair your vehicle. If the insurance company declares the vehicle a total loss (totaled), then you will receive a check for the fair market value of the car, not the replacement cost!! This amount is negotiable, which is one of the benefits of having an experienced attorney handle the matter for you. You will typically receive your first medical bill about 30 days after your first visit. If you have health insurance, I usually recommend to my clients to turn the bills into your health insurance. If so, you may be required to pay your health insurance back that money, depending on the outcome of your settlement or verdict. If you do not have health insurance, you may have a “med-pay” provision on YOUR car insurance policy. Most people don’t even realize that they have it, but usually it is there for coverage between $1,000.00 and $5,000.00. You will need to contact your insurance agent to report the claim. Most policies require that you report the claim within 24 hours of the injury/accident. Meeting deadlines is a good reason to make your first telephone call to an experienced attorney first.
    3. Should I make a RECORDED CONVERSATION for the insurance company?
      Most insurance companies now try to get a recorded conversation from you within the first 24 hours of the accident. You DO NOT HAVE TO give them a recorded conversation by law. Keep in mind that everything you say to an insurance agent, doctor, nurse, police office or witness will be available to the insurance company later, so you should contact a lawyer who will tell you what to expect.
    4. I’m off work, what now?
      Nobody likes to be off of work through no fault of their own, but when you suffer an injury and require rest to heal at the direction of a doctor, then you should follow the doctor’s advice. If you go to work against your doctor’s orders, then the insurance company attorney will argue that you weren’t really injured because you were well enough to go to work!! Don’t sacrifice your rightful claim. Be patient and document the lost wages. You can legitimately claim the lost wages as damages later during settlement or trial.
    5. How much is this going to cost me?
      Van Dress Law Offices charges typically charges a CONTINGENCY FEE for personal injury representation, which means that no fee will be charged by the attorney for his time unless he brings in money for you. The attorney will take a percentage of what he brings in for you. If he brings in nothing, then you pay him nothing for his time. If settlement is not successful, then you may have to sue. To start a lawsuit in Cuyahoga County, the court charges a $100.00 filing fee. Other counties charge a similar around (usually $100.00 to $250.00). If you win, you can get the court costs back but usually not the attorney fees.
    6. How long do I have to sue?
      Ohio Law says that you must file suit within 2 years of the accident or of discovering the injury (i.e. I didn’t know the doctor failed to take out my tumor until 3 years after the surgery). Ohio has a one year statue of limitations for malpractice (medical and other professions). If you do not file suit within this timeframe, you will never be permitted to bring it in the future. You should contact an attorney to discuss the statue of limitations.
  2. Contract Disputes (Breach of Contract, Fraud, Misrepresentation).
    1. What is a contract – is it oral or written?
      Contracts in Ohio can be both oral and written, with some limitations. For example, all contract and instruments relating to real estate MUST be in writing. Additionally, Ohio follows the “Statute of Frauds” which sets forth other requirements for written and oral contracts. A contract is a mutual agreement between at least two people in return for something valuable (i.e. money). Lawyers call this consideration. A “promise” may not be an enforceable contract (i.e. on her deathbed, Johnny promised to look after Grandma’s cats when she dies). On the other hand, a promise for value is a contract (i.e. I promise not to sue you if you give me $500.00 for my broken bicycle – and the $500.00 is givien). Some contracts are governed by Ohio Statute, such as residential leases and insurance policies. Others still are deemed not to be contracts because of public policy (i.e. indentured servants, contracting for body parts, and polygamy). In general though, normal contracts for goods and services are enforceable and disputes over contracts, whether it be non-payment or the meaning of terms therein, actually compose a very high percentage of litigation in the courts.
    2. My contract says I have to go to Arbitration instead of Court – is that right?
      Arbitration provisions in contracts, especially for the sale of motor vehicles, are more common today than ever before. As a general policy, the courts favor arbitration provisions because they resolve disputes without using court resources, but some interesting appellate opinions have begun to chip away at the general policy, especially where fraud or forgery is alleged. Also, if the allegation alleged or relief sought is not under the general spectrum of the purpose of the arbitration provision, then a court should allow you to take your case to court instead of arbitration. Private arbitration is seen by businesses as a more efficient way to resolve disputes, and an arbitration award can be reduced to judgment, which means that you can collect on the judgment in the courts thereafter.
    3. Can I get my attorney fees back?
      Yes, if you have that provision in your contract (another reason to have an attorney write or review your contract). The median hourly rate for contract lawyers in Cuyahoga County is $185.00 according to the Ohio State Bar Association, so having the proper provisions in your contract can be very costly. The Van Dress Law Office charges $150.00 for an HOURLY FEE for contract dispute. Sometimes, a modified contingency fee arrangement can be made available for debt-based contract disputes.
    4. What are my damages?
      Ohio favors what is called “expectation damages” (i.e. the amount of money you lost because the other guy breached his contract). Expectation Damages (also generally known as a compensatory damage) are typically proven by showing lost profit or lost rent in the case of a residential lease. Good documentation is the key to proving expectation damages. Sometimes, an expert such as an accountant is necessary to calculate lost profit. Certain other circumstances require a “Liquidated Stipulated Damages” clause, such as in a new business that can show no track record of lost profit. In this case, the parties agree, at the time of entering the contract, on the reasonable amount of damages even if the facts show otherwise at the time of settlement or trial. Some contract disputes have elements of FRAUD associated with them. In the case of fraud, a prevailing party can get punitive damages (i.e. an amount of money to punish the bad guy which may or may not be related to actual lost profit of the injured party).
    5. In General…
      In general, contracts are what you make them. That is, as long as its legal and within certain limitations, you can contract for almost anything you want. The important thing to remember about contracts is to make sure the terms are clear and the contents protect you. Having an attorney review or write your contract will give you the peace of mind that everything is done properly in the beginning instead of hoping it was done right when things go wrong. Simple provisions, such as an attorney fee clause or an arbitration clause could save you thousands of dollars.
  3. Consumer Rights (Lemon Law, Unfair/Deceptive Trade Practices).
    1. Do I have more rights as a “Consumer”?
      Yes. According to Ohio Code, if you fall into the category of a “consumer”, then you have additional rights than a “non-consumer.” Those rights include the ability for nominal damage, treble damage (three times your damages), and attorney fees. There are many different special protections for specific consumers, such as consumers approached by a home solicitation high-pressure sales person and the purchaser of a new automobile (i.e. lemon law and odometer rollback protection law).
    2. How do I know if I have a case?
      First, you have to meet the statutory definition of a “consumer.” A consumer is a person who engaged in a sale, lease, assignment, award by chance, or other transfer of an item of goods, a service, a franchise, or an intangible, to an individual for purposes that are primarily personal, family, or household, or solicitation to supply any of these things. In general, if you are buy things at the mall, you are a consumer as long as it’s not for business purposes. Second, consult an experienced attorney. Van Dress Law Offices does not charge for consumer rights consultations.
    3. What are Treble Damages?
      Treble damages is lawyer-lingo for three times your damages. For example, if you purchase a used car which had its odometer rolled back unknown to you, then you are entitled to three times the value of the rollback damage!! So, if the value of the car is $5,000.00 less than what you paid for it, then your (treble) damages is $15,000.00. This is a powerful incentive for the car lot to settle the case quickly. With the availability of services such as CarFax, proving a case is much easier than in the past.
  4. General Litigation (Lemon Law, Unfair/Deceptive Trade Practices).
    Van Dress Law Office represents clients in a variety of other general litigation matters not covered in the more common areas listed above. Please call for a consultation.