Small Business Tip: Include Provision in Your Contracts to Recover Attorneys’ Fees

small business lawyer, small business attorneyYou’re running a small business. You have a form, purchase order, or other short contract you always use.  Take a moment to look at your forms and contracts. Do they include an attorney fee provision?  If not, we recommend that you add one.

Reason to Add an Attorney Fee Provision

If someone fails to pay you, you might need to file a lawsuit to recover what you are owed. Going to court is expensive.  In Tennessee, each party is responsible for paying their own attorney fees. That’s right–even if you win in court, you generally can’t make the other side pay your attorney fees unless you have an attorney fee provision in your contract.  For more information on attorney fees, read this blog post.

Sample Attorney Fee Provision

If any party institutes any action or proceeding to enforce any provision of this contract by reason of any alleged breach of any provision herein, the prevailing party shall be entitled to receive from the losing party all legal fees and costs incurred in connection with any such proceeding.

We are Small Business Lawyers.

Check out our team at Wiseman Bray PLLC.  If you need help with your small business contracts, agreements, or forms, or if you have a question about business litigation or the recovery of attorney fees in a lawsuit, please call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here. We have offices in Memphis and Nashville TN.

 

 

Lawsuit Deadlines: How long do I have to file a lawsuit in Tennessee?

lawsuit deadlines, personal injury lawyer memphis

Don’t let lawsuit deadlines kill your case before it even starts.

In Tennessee, there are lawsuit deadlines called “statutes of limitations,” so it is important to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible if you believe you may need to file a lawsuit.  If you wait too late, you may lose your ability to seek a remedy or recovery in court.

Why are there statutes of limitation or lawsuit deadlines?

Statutes of limitation serve a number of purposes.  They promote stability in personal and business relationships; they prevent undue delay in filing lawsuits; they help to avoid uncertainty in pursuing and defending old claims; and they help to ensure that evidence is preserved and not lost due to the lapse of time, fading memories, or death of witnesses or parties.

What time limit applies to my case?

It depends on what kind of case you have. Even our courts sometimes struggle with which statute of limitation applies. Generally, a court looks to the “gravamen” of the complaint to determine which statute of limitation applies. Think of the “gravamen” as the “real purpose” or the “main point” of a lawsuit.

The Tennessee Supreme Court, in Benz-Elliott v. Barrett Enterprises  said that when determining the gravamen of a complaint in order to decide which statute of limitation applies, “a court must first consider the legal basis of the claim and then consider the type of injuries for which damages are sought. This analysis is necessarily fact-intensive and requires a careful examination of the allegations of the complaint as to each claim for the types of injuries asserted and damages sought.”

You may have multiple legal theories and claims available to you in your case, but those claims could have different statutes of limitation that will affect your ability to recover.  Because this analysis can be difficult, and it is to your advantage to include as many viable claims for recovery as possible, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case.

Statutes of Limitation in Tennessee for Common Claims

Below are statutes of limitation for common types of claims. There are others, so make sure and consult with an attorney to make sure you understand what time limit applies to your case.

  • Personal injury or wrongful death – 1 year
  • Property damage – 3 years
  • Conversion – 3 years
  • Breach of Contract – 6 years
  • Fraud/Misrepresentation – 3 years
  • Legal or medical malpractice – 1 year
  • Consumer Protection Act claims – 1 year
  • Sale of Goods Contract Claims – 4 years
  • Slander (spoken defamation) – 6 months
  • Libel (written defamation) – 1 year

Exceptions

There are certain exception to the statutes of limitation in Tennessee, but you should never assume an exception will apply to your case. For example, if a person took active steps to keep you from discovering an injury or claim (i.e., fraudulent concealment), then you may have additional time to file suit.

Courts will not allow you extra time to file suit simply because you did not know the applicable statute of limitation, or because you suffered an injury but didn’t find out the full facts or extent of your damage until later in time. Consult with an attorney as soon as you think you have a claim.

Don’t Lose Your Ability to Recover. Call us today.

Statutes of limitations and lawsuit deadlines can kill your case before it even starts. If you think you may have a legal claim against someone, please call us today at 901-372-5003 or email us here. Don’t wait too late and lose your ability to file suit or recover damages. Let the attorneys of Wiseman Bray PLLC help you today.

Get it in writing: A handshake probably won’t do.

memphis contract lawyerYou’ve heard it before:  “If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist.”  While that is not technically true, we don’t recommend entering into an unwritten agreement or contract of any significance.  If it is important to you or to your business, get it in writing. Unwritten agreements, or oral contracts, can be legally enforceable in Tennessee in certain cases, but they are extremely difficult to prove in court.

Contracts Required to be in Writing

According to a legal rule called the “statute of frauds,” there are some agreements that are required to be in writing in Tennessee, including:

  • An agreement to pay someone else’s debt
  • An agreement concerning the sale of real property or land
  • A lease with a term longer than a year
  • A contract that can’t be performed or concluded in a year
  • A contract for the sale of goods for over $500.00

What Should a Contract Say?

Any contract should contain the essential terms of the agreement. The contract should clearly spell out what each party is going to do in plain language.  Say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you don’t clearly spell out your intentions in a contract, then you run the risk of having a judge decide what your agreement means.  You wouldn’t believe the number of cases in Tennessee where courts have had to interpret contract terms and agreements because of drafting failures on the front end.  Do you really want a judge telling you what your contract says?

Be Smart: Hire an Attorney During Contract Negotiations

Contract law and litigation can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. One way to avoid disagreements, misunderstandings, and the high cost of contract litigation is to involve an experienced lawyer during contract negotiations.  Many people believe that hiring a lawyer during contract negotiations will signal distrust of the other party, but that is not true in today’s business world. It is common, and usually expected, that attorneys will be involved. We are often successful in obtaining favorable contract language for our clients that they would have never known to request had they not involved an attorney.  It is sometimes a matter of knowing what to ask for, and we can help you with that.

We are not only experienced in drafting and reviewing agreements and contracts, but we are trial attorneys.  Call us today at 901-372-5003 if you need help with a contract or agreement.

Can I Represent Myself in General Sessions Court?

injury lawyer memphis for general sessions court

Can I represent myself in General Sessions Court?

Can you represent yourself in General Sessions Court? Yes, you may always represent yourself in any court matter – it’s called proceeding pro se.  However, you may only represent yourself.

If the true party in the case is actually a corporation or limited liability company (LLC) – even if you are the sole shareholder/owner/member – then you may not represent “yourself” because, technically-speaking, a business organization is a distinct legal entity separate and apart from you as a natural person.  And unless you are a lawyer, you cannot represent another person or entity, or else you would be guilty of the unauthorized practice of law, and no Judge will allow that.

Should you represent yourself in General Sessions Court?

If you are the party in the case as an individual, or as a sole proprietorship, then you may always represent yourself.  The real question, though, is should you?  Many people believe General Sessions Court is a “small claims court” similar to the TV court shows where two parties stand at podiums and, with great drama, show or tell the Judge whatever they want. While it is true that General Sessions Court disputes are typically limited to smaller matters under $25,000, and further that any judgment can be appealed to Circuit Court, it would be a mistake to assume that General Sessions Court is somehow informal or easy.

In many cases, litigating in General Sessions Court is easier and less expensive than litigating in Circuit Court. However, General Sessions Court is serious. All parties, even those representing themselves, must follow the Rules of Court and the Tennessee Rules of Evidence and must observe the proper rules of courtroom decorum.  You cannot simply tell or show the Judge whatever you want.

So the question really is this: do you know the Tennessee Rules of Evidence? Do you know what makes a piece of evidence objectionable? Do you know how to lay a proper foundation to get a document or a witness’s testimony admitted in evidence? Attorneys are trained to know the rules and to use them to their client’s advantage. You may have a perfectly winnable case and lose it because you do not know how to properly present evidence.  We’ve seen it hundreds of times.

Many people say they cannot afford an attorney, while others simply don’t want to pay an attorney to handle something they believe they can handle themselves.  However, is the potential of recovering nothing on your claim – or, conversely, subjecting yourself to a judgment that will be reported to creditors – preferable to paying an attorney fee?

Helpful Resources for pro se litigants

If you truly can’t afford to hire an attorney, here are a few resources you may find helpful:

Rules of General Sessions Court (Shelby County)

General Sessions Court–Civil Case Forms

Attorney of the Day Courthouse Project. Each Thursday Memphis Area Legal Services hosts an advice clinic at the Shelby County Courthouse at 140 Adams Avenue in Memphis.  Volunteer attorneys meet with walk-in clients and provide advice and counsel.  The clinic starts at 1:30 p.m. in Room 134 of the Courthouse.

Saturday Legal Clinics. These clinics, also hosted by Memphis Area Legal Services, operate on a first come, first served basis and provide opportunity for members of the community to meet with an attorney to discuss their legal issues.  Volunteer attorneys provide advice, counsel, referrals.   Memphis clinics are held the second Saturday of every month at the Benjamin Hooks Main Library, 3030 Poplar Avenue, starting at 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Covington clinics are held on a Saturday every other month at First Presbyterian Church, 403 S. Main Street, starting at 10:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.

We practice in General Sessions Court. 

The attorneys at Wiseman Bray PLLC regularly practice in General Sessions Courts in Memphis, Shelby County. We know the rules and we will use them to effectively present your case or defense to the Judge. We represent both Plaintiffs and Defendants. If you have a pending General Sessions case, or if you are thinking of suing someone in General Sessions Court, and you’d like to talk to us about it, please call us at 901-372-5003.

Can We Make Them Pay My Attorney Fees?

scalesCan we make them pay my attorney fees? This is one of the most common questions we receive from our clients who find themselves involved in lawsuits. Unfortunately, the answer in most cases is no. Tennessee follows the “American Rule” which means that each party in a lawsuit pays their own attorney fees, no matter who wins. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Two of the most common exceptions are as follows:

(1) Certain state and federal statutes allow the prevailing party to recover attorney fees. Examples: certain consumer protection, civil rights, and employment claims, etc.

(2) A contract provision where the parties to a contract have agreed that the prevailing party in a dispute will be entitled to recover attorney fees. Examples: leases, commercial contracts, collections, home sale contracts, etc.

Your attorney should examine the allegations in the lawsuit and any contracts that may apply to determine whether it is possible for you to recover your attorney fees. If you are a business person and you don’t have attorney fee provisions in your contracts, consider adding them. Here are some answers to additional questions we are frequently asked about attorney fees:

“This lawsuit is frivolous! Can we make them pay for all the money I have to spend dealing with this?” The standard for “frivolous” is pretty high. Even lawsuits that are eventually determined to have no merit are not necessarily frivolous. Very few cases are. Unless your case meets one of the exceptions, you probably can’t recover your attorney fees, even if you win.

“My contract provides for attorney fees. What are the chances I actually recover them?” If you are the prevailing party and you obtain a judgment, that judgment should include an award of what the judge deems a reasonable attorney fee. Your award may or may not equal what you actually paid your attorney. If your case is resolved through settlement, the attorney fee provision is often used as a negotiation point to increase the overall amount of money you recover.

“If the judge awards me an attorney fee of less than what I actually paid my lawyer, does my lawyer have to give my money back?” It depends on what your fee agreement is with your lawyer, but in most cases, the answer is probably no. Your fee agreement with your lawyer is independent of any judgment you may recover from the opposing party.

If you need help drafting an appropriate attorney fee provision for your contracts, or if you have a question about recovery of attorney fees in a lawsuit, please call us at 901-372-5003.

Construction Contract? Confirm Your Contractor is Properly Licensed First!

construction contract lawyer I spent a good amount of time one week working with a client to cancel his construction contract after learning that the contractor was not properly licensed to build his new house. What started out as an exciting time in this client’s life turned out to be a big mess.  I was eventually able to work out a solution with the unlicensed contractor, but not before he had hired legal counsel of his own.

In Tennessee, residential and commercial construction contractors are regulated by the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors.  Per the Board,

A contractor’s license is required prior to contracting (bidding or negotiating a price) whenever the total cost of the project is $25,000 or more.

For residential construction, licensed contractors may contract to build houses so long as the total cost of the project does not exceed the monetary limit established by the Board.  A contractor may apply to have his limit increased after submitting documents showing financial stability.

Frequently however, home builders enter into contracts with customers for projects that exceed their monetary limits.  Many problems can come into play when this happens.  Contractors jeopardize their licenses and expose themselves to fines from the Board. Contractors open themselves up to not being able to collect under the terms of the construction contract, even if everything goes well.  Customers run the risk of the project being shut down and having to incur additional expenses. Customers may even have to hire a replacement contractor.

Before Your Enter Into a Construction Contract. . .

Check to see if your contractor is properly licensed!  Construction litigation  can be lengthy, complex, and expensive. Many problems can be avoided if customers do a little quick research to confirm that the contractor they want to use is fully and properly licensed.  You can do that by clicking here.

If you need a construction or contract lawyer, call me at (901) 372-5003 or email me here. 

By: Chris Patterson

Construction Contract Lawyer Chris Patterson

WISEMAN BRAY PLLC

8001 Centerview Parkway, Suite 103

Memphis, Tennessee 38018

(901) 372-5003 Office

 

 

engagement ring after break up

Who keeps the Engagement Ring After a Break-Up?

engagement ring lawyerI enjoy listening to the “Mike & Mike Show” on ESPN Radio during my morning commute.  I remember on one show that they were discussing a lawsuit filed by NFL player, Mario Williams, against his ex-fiancee seeking the return of a $785,000 engagement ring. So they posed the question for each of their in-studio guests:  Should the ex-fiancee get to keep the engagement ring?

Opinions varied, but the general consensus was that she should have to return the ring, unless the engagement ended because of infidelity by Williams. Interesting opinions.  And actually not that far off from what the law actually requires.
READ MORE

Credit Application and Small Business

credit application small business lawyerMost small business vendors and suppliers require a company officer to sign a Commercial Credit Application or Agreement to buy goods and supplies on account.

Watch out, though!

Signing a Credit Application on Behalf of a Company Could Subject You to PERSONAL Liability

Carefully examine the language of the Credit Application or you may find yourself personally liable for the debt even if you don’t have any ownership in the company!

In 2011, the Tennessee Supreme Court considered a credit application in  84 Lumber Company v. Smith that contained the following language:

BY SIGNING BELOW I HEREBY … UNCONDITIONALLY AND IRREVOCABLY PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THIS CREDIT ACCOUNT AND PAYMENTS OF ANY AND ALL AMOUNTS DUE BY THE ABOVE BUSINESS….

Mr. Smith signed the Credit Application as “R. Bryan Smith, President.” This manner of signing is typically referred to as signing in a “representative capacity” to denote that it is being executed by the company only, as compared to signing your name without a title to indicate that it is being signed personally.

However, the  Court ruled that the attempt to sign in a representative capacity did NOT  trump the unmistakable language of the Application, and held that Mr. Smith was personally liable for the debt as well.  This same logic would presumably apply not just to company presidents like Mr. Smith but also even to junior employees who might have signed such an agreement.

Credit Application Best Practices

So what should you do if faced with this situation?

  1. Strike through offending language. In order to avoid personal liability, you would at a minimum need to physically strike through the personal guarantee language AND then also sign the document in a “representative capacity” (i.e. name + title).
  2. Make an Informed Decision.  Many suppliers and vendors require a personal guarantee in order to do business, and so you may have to decide whether to go ahead and sign the agreement, shop around, or try to negotiate a better deal (e.g. perhaps provide for a maximum limit on the guarantee, or secure a bank letter of credit instead, etc.). At least you will be making an informed decision.
  3. Ask a “Higher Up” to Sign. If you’re just an employee or junior officer of the company then you should probably take the agreement to a superior to make certain that the right person is signing the agreement. A regular employee (i.e. someone with no ownership interest) should not fairly be expected to personally guarantee the obligations of his or her employer.
  4. Go see an attorney! The above tips are intended only as general legal advice. Each agreement, contract, and situation is different, and you should seek legal advice tailored to your specific situation.

We are Small Business Lawyers.

Check out our team at Wiseman Bray PLLC.  If you need help with your small business contracts, agreements, or forms, or if you have a question about business litigation, please call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here. We have offices in Memphis and Nashville TN.

What is a Deposition? Law FAQ

Deposition victim attorney in memphisA deposition is similar to a witness testifying in court, except that it occurs in an out-of-court setting.  A witness at a deposition is referred to as the “deponent.”  A deposition usually takes place in a lawyer’s conference room, although I’ve personally been involved in depositions that took place in homes, hospitals, and even over the telephone.

What is a Deposition?

It’s a chance for lawyers to ask questions and get answers from a witness under oath.  A court reporter is present to make a record of the questions and answers, which is then usually reduced to writing in what’s called a “transcript” of the proceedings.  You can see a sample page from a transcript by clicking here.  Sometimes a videographer will also be there to film the testimony.  To view a generic sample video you can click here or here.

Depositions are part of the “discovery” process of a lawsuit.  Each side has the right to discover information about the other side’s allegations. This is accomplished by things like written questions, production of documents, inspection of property, independent medical exams, and depositions.  Rule 30 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure governs depositions in Tennessee.

Do we really need a deposition? Isn’t it expensive?

A deposition can be expensive, but it’s perhaps the most useful tool in a lawyer’s discovery toolbox because it allows for real-time follow-up and feedback.   One of the most useful benefits is that, with some exceptions, it can be used to preserve and/or “lock in” crucial testimony.  A transcript can be admitted as evidence in court if the witness later becomes unavailable for trial (e.g. death, incapacity, outside the reach of court’s jurisdiction, immune from subpoena, etc.).  A transcript can also be used to impeach and cross-examine a witness who shows up for trial with a different version of events.

Depositions are Serious Business.

A deposition is a very serious matter with serious potential consequences.  Remember, the transcript may be used in court. If you are the deponent, you should treat your deposition as if your testimony is occurring right in the courtroom in front of the judge and jury.

Need a lawyer in Memphis?

We’d be honored to represent you. Call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here.

Blog Post by: Lang Wiseman

Deposition Victim Attorney in Memphis

Lang Wiseman

Are Oral Contracts Enforceable?

oral contractsWith a few limited exceptions oral contracts are enforceable in Tennessee just like a written contract.  Of course, a written contract is much easier to prove because there is hard evidence of the agreement.  However, an oral contract IS enforceable in most cases.  The parties and/or their witnesses can testify about the terms of the agreement, and things such as partial performance or “normal course of dealing” can serve as powerful circumstantial evidence of the terms of the deal.

Elements of a Contract in Tennessee

A contract is a contract – oral or written – so long as it has the following elements:

  1. A legal purpose (e.g. Tennessee courts will not enforce a contract between neighbors to illegally use one cable box);
  2. A mutual agreement that is free from fraud or undue influence;
  3. Terms that are definite enough to be enforced (e.g. a promise to work for a person’s lifetime would be too vague because a lifetime is not a definite duration); and,
  4. Adequate value exchanged by both parties (referred to as “consideration” in legal terms).

Contracts Required to be in Writing

There are certain contracts that are required to be in writing under a legal doctrine called the “Statute of Frauds.”  In Tennessee, the six types of contracts that must be in writing include contracts for the following:

  1. Marriage;
  2. Contracts with a term greater than 1 year (i.e. a 2 year lease must be in writing);
  3. Sale of land/property;
  4. Executor’s/Administrator’s promise to pay debts of the estate;
  5. Sale of Goods/Personal Property that costs $500 or more; and
  6. Suretyship agreements (i.e. a promise to guarantee payment of the debts of another person).

Even after you have successfully navigated all of the above requirements, you should still be careful to file a lawsuit for a violation of an oral contract within 6 years in Tennessee – the same statute of limitation as a written contract.  Additionally,  oral contracts often require the testimony of a witness to verify the terms of the agreement.

We advise avoiding oral contracts.

While oral contracts are enforceable, you should avoid them, if at all possible, simply because written contracts are so much easier to prove and enforce.  Contracts can be difficult to navigate, and if you have any doubts when drafting or entering into a contract, it is best to consult an experienced contract attorney.  If you need help in negotiations, contract drafting, or even contract disputes, please give us a call at 901-372-5003.

 

Wiseman Bray PLLC

8001 Centerview Parkway, Suite 103

Memphis, Tennessee 38018

(901) 372-5003 Office

www.WisemanBray.com