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Under Maryland law, a legally binding contract must be supported by consideration provided by both parties.  Consideration is something of value that is bargained for and received by a promisor from a promise. In practical terms, this means both parties have to be giving up something for there to be a valid contract. Let’s do a quick example to make sure we are reading off the same page.  You say you like my shirt.  I say I’ll give it to you if you like it that much.  Let me just wash it for you.  I change my mind.  We do not have a valid contract because you did not give or promise to give me anything of value. Let’s change it.  You say you like my shirt.  I say I’ll give it to you if you promise to drive me to the store to get myself a new one.  That offer to drive me to the store is valid consideration because you now have a bargained-for exchange, albeit maybe an unfair one.

Maryland Law on Contract Consideration

Under Maryland Commercial Law Article, Section 3-303(b), consideration is defined as any consideration sufficient to support a simple contract. Like many states, Maryland courts will not get bogged down in how valuable the consideration was or whether the deal is fair.  So unless there if foul play, Maryland courts will not inquire into the adequacy of value exacted for a promise so long as it has some value. Blumenthal v. Heron, 261 Md. 234, 274 A.2d 636 (1971).  Even $1 in consideration may be sufficient to form a contract under Maryland law.

As a personal injury lawyer, I get questions from people wanting to know if they can sue in various situations.  All of our attorneys do.  One of the questions we get most often is “can I sue if my dog gets attacked and injured by another dog?”

The emotional motivation is easy to understand, right? People really love their dogs and view them as full members of the family. If your beloved dog gets viciously attacked and injured or even killed by another dog right in front of you, it’s only natural to want some type of justice.

Our lawyers get this question so often is because dog-on-dog attacks are very common. According to the VCA, attacks by other dogs are the most common reason for emergency veterinarian care.

With hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases and increasing deaths worldwide, COVID-19 has quickly become the only topic of conversation.  I can no longer remember what we used to talk about. If you own a business, you have probably felt the effects of the pandemic more substantively.  We have. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) will hear oral arguments in late July, about whether to consolidate and centralize lawsuits involving COVID-19 insurance coverage. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, many insurance carriers created policies made to include a vague virus exclusion as a reason for them not to cover businesses who have been paying insurance for years. Unfortunately, in most cases, insurance companies did not offer policies without this exclusion or the ability to buy virus coverage. On April 20, plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a motion to form an MDL. The motion filed in the Northern District of Illinois (and another was filed in Pennsylvania) alleges that there are two key issues that need to be decided in this litigation: business interruption cases turn on two questions: (1) whether COVID-19 causes “physical damage or loss to property” and, (2) whether the COVID was “present” on the insured property.  Those issues should be decided in one litigation for efficiency and for consistent rulings. The court has yet to decide whether to grant plaintiffs’ motion for an MDL class action. business interruption insurance

What Is the Benefit of Centralizing Claims and What Can I Expect?

The JPML will consider whether to consolidate both individual and class action lawsuits. The majority of these lawsuits surround the effect of the pandemic on business and insurance carriers. As a result of the pandemic, businesses have been outraged to find that their insurance refused to cover their losses, regardless of the policy. Most business owners who have filed a suit were under the impression that they were covered for the pandemic, because of their business interruption insurance. However, business interruption insurance policies typically only trigger if there’s a direct physical loss to property; they do not cover virus and bacteria. Insurance carriers in response have denied many claims, claiming that the virus was an exclusion in the coverage, written in the fine print of the policy. Various states have proposed legislation to resolve the situation. However, in the near future, there’s no immediate clarity for business owners or insurers.

With a growing number of complaints being filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, several parties filed a motion to transfer, asking the JPML to centralize the claims before one judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Centralizing the claims would promote a more efficient and universal process, while also avoiding duplicative discovery into similar issues presented by each case. Somewhat predictably, insurance carriers have filed an opposition to the establishment of consolidated proceedings altogether. On July 30, arguments will be presented through a videoconference due to the ongoing pandemic. It is likely that in the time leading up to the hearing, thousands of businesses who have suffered similar effects will likely look to file lawsuits as well. In complex litigation, where numerous claims regarding similar situations and similar injuries have occurred as a result of the same circumstance, it is common to centralize the litigation for pretrial proceedings.

What Should You Do if You Have Lost Income as a Result of COVID-19?

The most important first step for any person or business owner is to collect evidence that will allow you to file a business interruption claim. You want to talk to a lawyer quick. There could be notice provisions and other technicalities that could bar a future claim.

Gathering as much information as possible and contacting your insurance carrier will allow them to determine whether your claims are covered.  Most insurance carriers are not covering losses due to the pandemic which is why there will be litigation for years seeking coverage.  However, if a policyholder files a claim within the deadline requirements for first notice of losses, it allows you to still dispute the insurance carrier’s decision. Before the July hearing, there hasn’t been a binding decision from any court in the country that makes provisions and exclusions in the insurance contract enforceable, at least concerning COVID-19 claims. By following the strict deadline requirements, it may allow you to dispute the claim decision at a later date when there has been regulations or court precedent passed universally. Sample-Business-Interruption-2   Regardless of any virus exclusion policy, you may still recover some damages. It’s not clear whether the virus exclusion will be enforceable and there is currently nothing to make a clear distinction. Making sure that you’ve followed the requisite steps will all you to not be precluded from recovery in the future.

What Else Should I Do?

What started as a judicial question has moved to both the legislative and executive branches. Legislative bills that would require insurers to pay COVID-19 business interruption claims have been introduced in eight states so far. President Trump also pronounced his support for claims made by business owners who purchased insurance policies without any virus exclusions during an April 10 press briefing. It is an election year so politicians will be pandering to business owners. That is good for you.

These are certainly unprecedented times we are living in. Moving forward in the coming weeks business owners can expect more clarity. For now, you should stay safe and healthy and take some additional steps to help yourself later down the road.

  • Stay up to date – Following the latest consolidation hearings, regulations, and restrictions from state and federal governments. This will help you stay in compliance. Doing so, will not preclude you from recovery and allow you to plan for the future.
  • Review your policies –You should take some time to familiarize yourself with the remainder of your policy, as well as other exclusions that may apply to you or your business. Doing so, will keep you up to date and acutely aware of how your policy affects your circumstances. 

Blood v. Stoneridge at Fountain Green Homeowners is an interesting case not only because the opinion begins with an Elton John verse from “Don’t Let the Sun Come Down on Me.”

Facts of Blood v. Stoneridge

In Blood, two Harford County (Bel Air) homeowners installed solar panels on their roofs. Big solar fans apparently, they installed fifteen solar panels on the front roof and thirty-three solar panels on the rear roof.

You can’t scalp tickets in Baltimore City. It is a goofy law in 2013 with StubHub and Ticketmaster. But it is the law.

So a guy, the lead plaintiff, pays $12 in Ticketmaster service fees when buying a Jackson Browne ticket at the Lyric and literally makes a federal case out of it. The federal court certifies some questions to the Maryland high court, most notably whether a Baltimore City ordinance banning the sale of tickets above face value applied in the case. Again, while the law is arguably dumb and old, the court said the law applies.

I’m just not a big fan of these lawsuits, honestly. I’m a plaintiffs’ lawyer, so that should mean that I’ve never seen a lawsuit I don’t like… but I don’t like them.

The U.S. District Court issued an opinion in another “the bank was bad when it foreclosed on me when I wasn’t, you know, paying my mortgage” case.

Plaintiffs, Pasadena, Maryland residents, sued Bank of America alleging that the bank’s failure to process a mortgage modification, after the servicer informed them it would help them change their mortgage terms, was actionable. The big crime? Bank of America was only willing to lower the payment a bit.

Judge Catherine C. Blake dismissed the case, finding that:

In Koste v. Town of Oxford, Judge Robert A. Zarnoch starts out the Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinion like this:

Which comes first: a law’s enactment or a referendum drive? In this case, we consider the classic chicken/egg casualty riddle in the legislative/political setting. And in the context of petitioning to a referendum of a municipal annexation resolution, we conclude that the Legislature has required enactment to precede petitioning. We turn from the abstract to the concrete.

Honestly, I’m not sure what this means. In the bubble of personal injury cases in which I live, it is amazing to me how many other legal issues there are for judges to get their minds around.

I defended latex glove allergy lawsuits in the late ’90s/early ’00s. They were just awful cases for plaintiffs. But that does not minimize the suffering of many who have latex allergies, a little-talked about problem that really affects the lives of a few people.

In Meade v. Shangri-La Partnership, the Plaintiff had a severe latex allergy. She got it in the ’90s from latex gloves, as many healthcare providers did. She sent her child to preschool at the Children’s Manor Montessori in Howard County (I’m not sure if it was Ellicott City or Columbia). She wanted the preschool to remove latex gloves from the school so she could visit and “be part of [her] son’s preschool experience.”

To me, reading the case, while I sympathize with her injury, she sounds a little melodramatic. Anyway, the school made matters much worse by kicking the kid out because they feared a lawsuit. Seriously? Of course, a lawsuit is exactly what followed. What a mess.

The Maryland Court of Appeals has adopted new rules to make life harder for companies that buy up debt to obtain judgments against consumers. This does not take effect until January 1st, so expect a ton of activity in debt cases to clog up District Court dockets in the foreseeable future.

There is nothing wrong with buying “junk” debt. The problem is that to make money, these companies often have to run their business with a lot of upfront cash. They are not looking through the details of individual cases, they just run them through the assembly line. Imagine all the home foreclosure short cuts on steroids. Do they know that the debtor has not contested the debt? Do they know the debtor’s last known address? My guess? Probably not.

The court is trying to make these companies operate on a more level playing field and play fair in every individual case. Does this make debt collection harder? Absolutely.

The Maryland Court of Appeals published its opinion in Wietzke v. Chesapeake Conference Association, a Silver Spring, Montgomery County case dealing with the law of nuisance (which I know nothing about).

The nutshell is that the church – Seventh Day Adventists – built a new parking lot which causes “repeated and continu[ed] flooding” of the residents next door. The neighbors demanded $3 million in damages which, you know, is what you ask for when someone floods your property a bit. Neighbor loses at trial but gets another crack because the Maryland high court reversed the trial judge’s decision.