Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

October 2012 Archives

Trooper Fatally Shot 2 Immigrants From Chopper

A Texas state trooper killed two illegal immigrants by shooting at them from a helicopter.

The police helicopter was giving chase to a pickup truck speeding through the desert along the Mexican border when the unidentified state trooper decided to shoot at the truck, reports The Associated Press.

The state trooper said that he was trying to disable the vehicle that was suspected to be involved in drug smuggling. The police sharpshooter fired shots at the truck's tires causing them to blow out. The driver lost control and drove into a ditch.

Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim without Losing Your Policy

The whole point of paying those homeowners insurance premiums is so that if something goes wrong you can file a claim and have the damage covered. But it's not always that simple.

In an ideal world your insurance company would always be willing to pay for any damage that occurs. But in reality you may have to deal with some push-back over what the insurance company is willing to cover.

Knowing what your insurance policy covers, be it flooding, wind damage, fire, earthquakes, or all of the above, is the first step. But there are some other tactics that make it more likely the damage will be covered.

Avoid Dangerous, Illegal Halloween Decorations

Do you know when a creative Halloween decoration pushes the envelope and becomes an illegal Halloween decoration?

In the good ol' days, one could simply decorate his house with a Jack-o-lantern. But now simply having a pumpkin is lame. Instead, homeowners are upping the ante with an assortment of decorations from flying witches to rising zombies.

However, while Halloween may give you an opportunity to get your creative juices flowing, you should be careful not to go too far as to make an illegal Halloween decoration. Here are three situations when you know you may have taken things too far:

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, disaster loans will likely soon be available through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

But just because they're called SBA disaster loans doesn't mean they're only for small businesses. Indeed, homeowners, renters, and even homeowner associations (HOAs) may be eligible for disaster loans, according to the SBA.

The federal agency actually offers different types of disaster loans for different classes of non-business applicants. These categories include:

What to Do if a Hurricane Cancels Your Flight

When your flight is cancelled due to weather or other issues, you often feel powerless to fix the situation but that doesn't mean you don't have any legal rights.

To be clear, airlines don't guarantee flight times and it's better to be delayed or cancelled than to fly in unsafe conditions. You can't stop an airline from cancelling your flight and you probably don't want to.

But with all the people stranded by Hurricane Sandy it's a good time to remember that even if your flight doesn't take off according to schedule, there are some things you can do.

3 Tips to Stay Safe This Halloween

When you think of Halloween safety and dangers, you may think of protecting your children from child predators, murderers, and even actual monsters.

But the reality is that most of the dangers related to Halloween are much more mundane and easily preventable by parents.

Here are three tips for having a safe (and fun) Halloween, as reported by the Quad-City Times:

Top 5 Sources of Neighbor Disputes

Your neighbors are a lot like your family. You can't choose them. As a result, you will often have to deal with legal issues relating to neighbor disputes.

Here are five common disputes you may have with a neighbor, with tips on how you can resolve the disputes legally, and civilly.

Neighbor Dispute No. 1: Boundary Disputes

If you want to put up a fence, but are unsure where your property ends and where your neighbor's begins, you will want to undergo a property survey. With a proper property survey, your neighbor will usually respect your fencing decisions. But for especially territorial neighbors, you may need to hire an attorney to request that a judge settle the boundary issues.

Twitter Rant Costs Man Job, Unemployment Benefits

A Pennsylvania man lost both his job and opportunity at receiving unemployment benefits when he wrote a series of nasty messages against his co-workers on Twitter.

Stephen Burns was the comptroller at AO North America and tweeted that his work environment was "toxic" and that his co-workers were "morons," "dysfunctional," "psychotic," and "schizophrenic, reports Business Insider.

After finding out about the tweets, Burns was fired from his position. To add insult to injury, when Burns applied for unemployment benefits, he found that his nasty tweets made him ineligible for these benefits as well.

'Fantasy Slut League' Wrong, Also Illegal?

Parents at Piedmont High School in California received an upsetting letter from the principal last week about a 'Fantasy Slut League' at the school.

The league involved a competition among some male students to earn the most 'points' through documented sexual activity with certain female students. The girls didn't know about the competition and in some cases fell victim to it.

The issue came to light recently and the school is investigating internally. But claims about the league raise questions about whether this goes beyond the school's jurisdiction.

Which State Has America's Lowest Divorce Rate?

New Jersey is often the punchline of national jokes but it looks like they're coming out on top when it comes to keep the divorce rate low.

The divorce rate in New Jersey clocks in at 9%, according to the 2011 American Community Survey. That's the lowest divorce rate in the nation and significantly lower than the national average of 52%. Divorce rates peaked in the 1980s but there's been an uptick recently, reports The New York Times.

So what is it about the Garden State that makes residents more likely to stay married? It may be something about the kinds of people who live in New Jersey.

Even if States Legalize Pot, Still a Fed. Crime

Three more states may soon make pot legal if their ballot measures pass in the November election. Washington, Oregon, and Colorado all have efforts to make marijuana legal on the ballots.

Polls indicate that the Washington measure is currently favored and that Colorado supporters have a slight advantage. While the Oregon measure still has more opposition than support, at least one state may legalize marijuana this year, reports Huffington Post.

But if you're in favor of the measure, don't start celebrating just yet. Even if some states legalize pot, that doesn't mean federal officials will follow suit.

Caution: Wi-Fi Names Lead to Disputes, Crimes

Wi-fi names are becoming the new community message boards. But can these cheeky wi-fi names also lead to escalated neighbor disputes and even be illegal?

If you look at the wireless network names in your area, you may see ten to 20 networks available. While most names may solely have a utilitarian purpose like "2WIRE399" or "Home," some clever users have given their wi-fi networks names like "Shut The Barking Dog Up No 7" or "We can hear you having sex," reports BBC.

These names take passive-aggressiveness to a whole new level. Neighbors can now take shots at each other with relative anonymity. But in some cases there may be legal fallout from such names.

Kids See Teacher's Topless iPad Pic, Get Suspended

Three middle school students are suspended and faced expulsion after seeing pictures of their teacher topless on an iPad.

The students were using school-issued iPads during class while playing a game called Flow. One of the students reportedly pressed a button, and a topless photo of their teacher popped up, reports CNN.

You would assume that the teacher would be the one at fault and blamed for the incident. But instead, the students were the ones to get in the most serious trouble.

Not surprisingly, the students' parents are outraged.

Men are Domestic Violence Victims, Too

The media often talks about domestic violence calling the perpetrator 'him' while the victim is 'her' but the reality is that men are victims too.

It's true that women are more likely to be the victims of domestic violence but 15% of victims are men, according to Bureau of Justice data from 2003. That translates to hundreds if not thousands of men who are the victims of violence in their own homes.

Those numbers don't include the men who don't report DV for various reasons. Some non-reporting may be because of shame or embarrassment. But it may also be that they don't know to report it as domestic violence because it's not physical.

Ft. Hood Shooter's Religous Beard Can be Shaved

A military court ruled that officials may forcibly shave Fort Hood shooting suspect Major Nidal Hasan's beard ahead of his court martial.

Hasan is a military psychiatrist who is accused of opening fire at a Texas Army post's processing center in 2009. Thirteen people died in the attack and another 32 were wounded.

Hasan claims to be a devout Muslin and says that he keeps his beard for religious purposes, reports CNN. Despite these religious claims, the military court said that the beard could be cut.

Pet Custody Laws: 5 Things to Know

Divorce and custody battles go hand-in-hand but what many don't know is that includes pet custody arrangements as well as child custody ones.

Pets are generally considered property in most jurisdictions but many states also recognize that both parties in a divorce may have a significant relationship with their companion animal. A pet isn't something that can be easily replaced or paid for, so courts may be willing to entertain the idea of a custody arrangement.

If you're gearing up for or in the middle of a pet custody battle, we have some tips that could help you come out on top.

'Beauty Bias' is Real and Discriminatory

The 'beauty bias,' where attractive people appear to have an advantage, isn't just a rumor. There is evidence that it exists and that it leads to discrimination against less attractive people in a variety of areas, including hiring.

Not only is it unfair, in some cases it's illegal discrimination.

Attractiveness isn't in the same category as gender, race, religion, or nationality but that doesn't mean hiring based on looks is ok under the law.

California Town Bans Smoking in Duplexes

Being a smoker in California just got a lot harder since the town of San Rafael passed what is one of the strictest anti-smoking laws in the country.

Residents of San Rafael are now banned from smoking in any multi-family homes, including duplexes and condominiums. The measure was passed unanimously in the town of about 57,000.

The new measure is in addition to other rules against smoking in public and private places. While smokers may oppose the added restrictions, there may not be much they can do legally.

Flamin' Hot Cheetos Getting Banned at Schools

It's no secret that junk food is bad for you but it seems that Flamin' Hot Cheetos are taking all the heat as more schools are banning the popular snack food.

School districts in Illinois, New Mexico, and California have banned Flamin' Hot Cheetos or are trying to do so. Students that bring them to school risk administrators confiscating the bright red spicy snack.

The problem is the lack of nutritional content in the snacks, according to administrators. But what's curious is that other snack foods aren't receiving the same treatment.

How to Become a U.S. Citizen in 3 Steps

Becoming a U.S. citizen is a big step for many immigrants.

While holding a Green Card allows someone to stay in the U.S. permanently, there are certain tangible and intangible benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Some tangible benefits include having the right to vote, having the ability to hold public office, and being able to extend citizenship to your family members. Some intangible benefits of citizenship include finally being able to tell others that you are an American with all that it entails.

Becoming a U.S. citizenship is a complicated and time-consuming process. Here are three general steps you should know about becoming a U.S. citizen:

Sex Offenders Sue Over Halloween Restrictions

Sex offenders, perhaps the least sympathetic group of plaintiffs, are suing a Southern California city over an ordinance requiring sex offenders to keep their lights off and to post a sign on their door during Halloween.

The plaintiffs are a group of five sex offenders who say that the City of Simi Valley went too far with their ordinance. 

The attorney representing the group even went as far as to compare the sex offenders to Jewish victims in Nazi concentration camps required to wear a star on their clothing. 

HS Counselor Fired Over Racy, Old Photos

High school counselor Tiffany Webb was fired over some racy photos that surfaced on the Internet but she's crying foul since the photos were taken many years before.

Webb was a counselor in New York City schools with the Department of Education for the last 12 years. But as a model in her late teens, she posed for some lingerie shots. Those photos surfaced last year and led to Webb's termination.

She's not taking the firing that easily, though, especially since she says the school knew about her previous career from the start.

What if the Elderly Just Stopped Paying Their Debt?

The honorable move for a debtor may be to pay off all the debt the incur. But while this may be the honorable move, paying off your debt may isn't always the best move (see some short sales/foreclosures).

This is especially true for seniors who have the option of filing bankruptcy and can withstand the hit to their credit score, The Wall Street Journal reports.

A Kansas couple was saddled with six-figure debt on 13 credit cards, reports The Journal. The husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and was unable to continue working full-time.

Faced with mounting debt and an inability to pay, the wife took on an additional evening cleaning job and launched an Avon business. The husband continued working 30 hours per week despite his illness, and they were able to work on repaying their debt.

Homeowner, Squatter Must Share House

A Detroit woman returned home after being away for a year to discover that a squatter had taken up residence in her home. In Michigan, a squatter has certain rights and cannot be evicted until there is a legal proceeding.

As a result, the homeowner, Heidi Peterson, her one-year-old daughter, and the squatter all must now live together under the same roof, reports Fox News.

During Peterson's absence, the squatter even took the initiative and made repairs on the home. The squatter reportedly changed the locks, reworked the plumbing, and replaced appliances. The squatter allegedly put a lien on the house to make the repairs.

NYC Sued Over 'Oral Suction' Circumcision Rule

Orthodox Jewish groups have brought a lawsuit against New York City over the city's new oral suction circumcision rule.

In some of New York's Orthodox Jewish communities, the circumciser will engage in the ancient tradition of using his mouth to draw blood from a baby's penis during the circumcision ritual, reports Reuters.

The New York City Board of Health has linked this practice to spreading herpes to children. Health officials say that at least 11 boys have contracted herpes through this type of circumcision between 2004 and 2011. Two of the children died and two suffered brain damage, they say.

Oakland Sues Feds to Save Pot Dispensary

Typically a lawsuit involving a pot dispensary is initiated by the federal government. But this time around Oakland is suing to stop federal officials from shutting down a dispensary.

Harborside Health Center is the largest dispensary in the city and it brings in a lot of tax money along with the three other dispensaries licensed in Oakland.

Melissa Haag, the U.S. Attorney assigned to the case, says Harborside violates California law because of the amount of business it does. But Oakland claims shutting down the dispensary will create health and safety concerns within the community. The city is also upset that the federal government is targeting the dispensary in the first place.

Top 5 Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Estate planning laws aren't a big deal until they become a really big deal. That's why you want to make sure your final wishes are carried out. You also want to be certain that you don't make estate planning mistakes.

Drafting a will can be vital even if you don't have many assets. It can help you map out who gets what after you pass on. And it can help your heirs.

So what are some estate planning mistakes you should avoid?

Can Social Security Benefits be Garnished for Child Support?

Our moderators over on FindLaw Answers receive a lot of questions about Social Security and child support. Everyone wants to know whether the government can garnish Social Security benefits -- retirement or disability -- for the purpose of paying past due child support.

It can. And it will.

Most lenders are not permitted to garnish Social Security benefits under the law. However, Congress made an exception for past due child support and alimony obligations.

Illegal Downloads Can Cost College Students, Too

It's not a surprise that downloading copyrighted music and movies is illegal but college students are often still surprised when they get caught.

There are a lot of myths about whether illegal downloading is really that bad and whether it will lead to legal trouble. The answer to those two questions is 'yes' and 'yes.' Entertainment companies take their intellectual property seriously which can lead to big fines for illegal downloaders.

If you think you're safe because you download things from your dorm room, think again. You're just as easy to find there as you are at home.

How Did Millionaires Receive Unemployment Benefits?

Unemployment benefits are important for many Americans who suddenly find themselves out of a job during hard times but should millionaires get them too?

Whether you say yes or no, there are currently no income limits on who can receive unemployment benefits. Over 2000 people who received unemployment insurance in 2009 had household incomes over $1 million, according to the Congressional Research Service.

That adds up to a significant cost for the government even though it's only a tiny fraction of the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits. But removing millionaires from the benefits payroll is easier said than done.

Recreational Marijuana Legalized in Nov?

If you live in Colorado or Washington State, you may soon be able to smoke weed legally. That's because recreational marijuana measures in these states appear to have a decent shot of being passed come the November election.

The voter initiatives in the two states would legalize up to an ounce of pot for recreational use. If passed in either state, it would mark the first time that recreational marijuana use is legalized in the U.S.

Out in Washington, support for the measure seems to be overwhelming. Proponents of the law have reportedly raised $4 million while opponents have raised only $6,000, reports Fox News.

Judge Reports to Jury Duty Like the Rest of Us

A Pennsylvania judge served jury duty. If she didn't have good enough reason to skip out on jury duty, neither should you.

Cambria County Judge Linda Fleming received a jury duty notice just like everyone else. But given her job, no one would have blinked twice if Fleming opted out of her civic requirements.

However, the judge said that her job was no more important than anyone else's and showed up for jury duty. The judge even made it to a 36-member panel for jury selection in a criminal case before she was struck from the panel given her familiarity with the lawyers and investigators, reports The Tribune-Democrat.

Philly Officer Who Hit Woman to be Fired

The Philadelphia cop who struck a woman at the Puerto Rican Day Parade will be fired at the end of his 30-day suspension. Lieutenant Jonathan Josey received his notice Wednesday with reporters standing by.

Josey became infamous on Sunday for a video that shows him hitting a woman in the face during the parade. She is seen spraying silly string near police and then a man nearby threw liquid at the cop, reports CNN. Josey retaliated against the woman who is later seen with blood on her mouth.

The video went viral and public opinion swayed against Josey. The police department appears to agree that his actions were unjustified.

Will Huguette Clark's Family Get Any of $300 Million Estate?

When copper heiress Huguette Clark died last year, she left a $300 million estate, two wills, and many angry relatives.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of Clark's wills were her accountants, attorneys, nurses, and other hospital staff. Her family members were largely left out, reports NBC.

Clark had been a recluse for years and died estranged from her friends and family in a hospital room. So the will leaving them out was not that surprising. However, her family is now waging an estate battle. They want a piece of the very large pie left by Clark. This could get ugly.

Was TV Anchor Really 'Bullied?'

TV anchors generally tell the news rather than making the news but Jennifer Livingston's statements about being bullied have made headlines.

This week Livingston read on-air an email she'd received from a viewer that made comments about her weight. The letter wasn't abusive but it did make critical remarks about whether Livingston was a good role model to women and girls in the La Crosse, Wisconsin area where her news channel is broadcast.

Livingston called the letter 'bullying' in her statement but some have argued that isn't accurate. While the letter is certainly hurtful, bullying is a loaded term.

Are Political Spam Text Messages Legal?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that unsolicited automated text messages and political spam are against the law.

Yet voters in Virginia are reportedly still receiving text messages that aren't really text messages. They are seemingly from Democratic candidate Tim Kaine, but not really from Tim Kaine, reports the Los Angeles Times. Confused?

You're not alone. Even more confusing: These "text messages" may be perfectly legal.

Adoptive Lesbian Mother Wins NY Custody Battle

Allison Scollar won an important battle for lesbian parents everywhere, but for now she's probably just happy to have won custody of her 6-year-old daughter.

Scollar and her ex-partner had the child together but Scollar was not the one who gave birth. Her ex, Brook Altman, is the biological mother. Still, a New York Family Court judge gave Scollar full custody of her daughter.

This is the first such custody case in New York, according to the New York Post. But the judge's decision isn't so unusual based on how custody cases are supposed to work.

Family's Mystery Illness Caused by Ex-Meth Lab

Imagine that you just bought the home of your dreams, only to quickly discover that your home used to be a meth lab.

Jonathan Hawkins and his young family bought a foreclosed home in an up-and-coming area of Klamath Falls, Oregon.

However, soon after moving in, Hawkins' wife began experiencing breathing problems, Hawkins began having migraine-like headaches and nosebleeds, and their two-year-old son developed mouth sores, reports Yahoo! A neighbor later revealed that Hawkins had just bought himself a meth lab.

'Stoner Dog' Cases are Way Up, Vets Say

Veterinarians are reporting that "stoner dog" cases are way up. If you're wondering what a stoner dog is, it's exactly what it sounds like, dogs who get high off their owner's marijuana.

While a stoner dog may sound funny (there are actually quite a few stoner dog YouTube clips), the reality is that cannabis and your canine may be a bad mix. Marijuana can be extremely toxic for dogs, reports CBS.

As medical marijuana gains in popularity and acceptance, vets in Colorado say they have seen a spike in dogs getting stoned. Before, doctors say that they saw maybe a few cases a year.

Now, they say they see a stoned dog almost every day of the week.

CA OKs Driver's License to Undocumented Youth

To complement Obama's policy allowing certain undocumented youth to apply for work permits, California will also permit those youth to get a state driver's license.

Governor Jerry Brown approved the bill on Sunday which will allow hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver's license in California. The state is the first in the nation to extend this privilege to youth newly eligible for work permits.

Many are praising the law as a positive move for both immigration reform and public safety. But not all California law makers are happy about the new legislation.

It's sometimes billed as a "cure" for homosexuality: psychotherapy that purports to turn gay teenagers straight. But beginning in 2013, it'll be unlawful in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law SB 1172, which prohibits so-called "gay conversion" therapy for anyone under 18, the Associated Press reports. The law takes effect Jan. 1.

The bill's author, state Sen. Ted Lieu, derided those therapy efforts as psychological abuse. Gov. Brown agreed, saying in a statement that "gay conversion" had "no basis in science or medicine and ... will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery."

Bring Pot Brownies to Work, Prepare to Get Fired

Bringing pot brownies to work is probably not a good move even if you aren't a bus driver like Ku'uipoaloha Lawler.

Lawler brought a batch of homemade brownies to work in August and gave them out to some of his co-workers. He neglected to mention the full list of ingredients but told the drivers he made the brownies himself, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Lawler was fired from his job but what about the three drivers who unwittingly indulged in the illegal baked goods? They've also had a tough time since the incident.

What Is Probate?

You've probably heard the word "probate" tossed around more than a few times. Maybe you've attended a dinner party where one of your know-it-all friends has said to you, "You should really get your estate together so you can avoid probate."

And, you probably nodded your head, pretending to understand what he was getting at. All the while, you're wondering to yourself - what is probate? And why do people want to avoid probate in the first place?

Well, here's the short answer.