Hiring the Right Personal Injury Attorney

Personal InjuryThe Road to Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer

Accidents happen. As nice as it would be to think that the person whose negligent actions caused your injuries would simply offer to compensate you, or that their insurance company would offer a fair settlement, the reality is that almost never happens. More often than not, people fail to take responsibility for their actions, and insurance companies end up profiting by paying victims less because they know that most are unaware of their legal rights. The key to avoiding falling victim to the schemes of insurance companies is to find an experienced personal injury lawyer who can help advise you of your options and take further legal action if necessary. After all, do-it-yourself lawyering can only take you so far. The following steps will guide you through the process of choosing a personal injury lawyer that will best meet your legal needs.  At Owens, Sneller, Pinzelik, Wood & Schaff, P.C., we are confident our personal injury attorneys can help you tick all the right boxes in your search.

(1)  Understand your case.

Before seeking the help of a lawyer, it is important to know what you are looking for first. Ask yourself: what do you hope to get out of this at the end? Before meeting with any attorney, it is important to know and understand why you are pursuing a lawyer, and what exactly you want to accomplish with their help. How were you injured? Car accident? On the job? The answer to these questions will shape which attorneys you choose to get to know before making your final decision.

The question of cost is an important consideration. Consider whether you would be able to negotiate and recover more than half of what a lawyer would be able to get for you. If you hire an attorney, you will likely end up paying a portion of your recovery to the lawyer. But, chances are, if you have a serious injury or significant financial loss, an attorney will be able to recover a lot more than an unrepresented victim.

(2)  Build a list.

Family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues are your greatest resources when it comes to finding a lawyer. Ask other attorneys for recommendations. Lawyers know other lawyers, and although a family member’s business attorney may not be able to help you with your personal injury case, he or she will probably be able to refer you to an attorney who can.  Your employer or a union you belong to might offer a referral service that even covers your initial consultation or provides some discount on the fees you will pay.

Don’t want to share your legal woes with your inner circle? Hunt on your own and make the most of other resources.  A simple Google search will yield a number of online resources, such as FindLaw, Martindale-Hubbell, and Avvo.

(3)  Do your homework.

Research. Research. Research. Now that you’ve compiled a short list, your next step is to research the potential attorneys, check their backgrounds and evaluate their track records and qualifications as they pertain to your case. Check the websites of the attorneys you are considering and learn about their areas of expertise. Use the Internet to search for blogs written by the attorney that can give you a sense of their personality.

Remember, size matters. As you conduct your research, keep in mind the types of firms the potential attorneys are practicing in. Do they work at a large firm? Small firm? Solo practice? In the case of personal injury, a small firm such as ours can handle your case in a more personal and direct manner.

As you near the point of setting up an initial consultation, do your final due diligence. Some lawyers offer free consultations, others do not. Although personal injury lawyers rarely charge for initial consultations with potential clients, if they do, you will be obligated to pay that fee even if you do not hire them. At Owens, Sneller, Pinzelik, Wood & Schaff, P.C., we never charge an initial consultation fee to discuss your personal injury matter.

(4)  Schedule the consultation.

If you haven’t already, make sure you create a list of questions to ask each attorney during your meeting. Important questions to consider are:

–      Have you handled similar personal injury cases before? How many? What were the results?

–      Will you be the only attorney who works on the case? If not, who else will work on it?

–      How will I be kept informed about the progress of my case and how often will you communicate with me about my case?

–      Will I be able to speak directly with you if I need you? How quickly do you respond to phone calls and e-mails?

–      How long will it take for this case to be resolved?

–      If I don’t want to accept a settlement offer and you want to settle, will you still go to trial? If I want to accept an offer, but you think we can win more at trial, what will you do?

After you’ve received the answers to all of your questions, at some point before leaving the meeting, make sure you understand how you will be charged. Attorneys generally charge in one of three ways: by the hour, a one-time flat fee or with a contingency fee (a percentage of the recovery amount). Most personal injury lawyers charge a contingency fee. If this is the case, you’ll want to know:

(1)  How likely you are to recover (keeping in mind that there are no guarantees)

(2)  An estimate of how much you will recover

(3)  The percentage the attorney will charge for the contingency fee

(4)  Any additional related expenses you might incur

(5)  The impact to your fees if the case settles immediately or goes to trial

We think you’ll be more than happy with the answers our personal injury attorneys give you for these and any other questions you might have.  If you’ve met with other attorneys that weren’t the right fit for you, contact Owens, Sneller, Pinzelik, Wood & Schaff, P.C. today to schedule your free personal injury consultation.

(5)  Hire your attorney.

You’ve done your research, met with potential attorneys, and by this time, should generally have an idea of which lawyer will best meet your legal needs. After you make your decision, the next step will be to sign the engagement letter, the contract between you and your lawyer. Be sure to read carefully, as this document will describe the nature of your legal cause, the terms and conditions of your working relationship with your attorney, and any other matters you agreed to. If you are still unsure about anything, ask your questions before signing the letter.

Happy personal injury lawyer hunting.  If you choose to go elsewhere, we understand and respect your decision.  We’d appreciate the chance to earn your business and help you reach the right result with your personal injury matter.

Owens, Sneller, Pinzelik, Wood & Schaff, P.C. is an Oregon law firm with attorneys licensed to practice in the states of Oregon and Washington.  This article is for informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.

by Rachna Hajari, John A. Pinzelik & Brook D. Wood

How to Keep your Legal Fees Down

For most, if not all, clients, minimizing the expense of litigation or other legal services is one of the top priorities.  What many fail to do, however, is to take positive steps to help realize that goal.  Sometimes this can be attributed to highly charged, emotional situations in which it is difficult for the client that make it hard to think about the simple things like “how much is this going to cost me?”  More often than not, though, this failure is simply the result of not knowing HOW they can help themselves in this regard.  Here is are 6 key tips to help you keep your legal fees down.

1. Read and Understand the Fee Agreementlegal-fees

The fee agreement is a contract entered into by the client and the lawyer or law firm, and it should be very clear about what charges the client is responsible for, how those charges are calculated, and how they are supposed to be paid.  Do not be afraid to ask questions if there is something you don’t understand or is not worded clearly.  If you are not satisfied with the attorney’s answers, perhaps that is a signal that you should look for representation elsewhere or at least ask another attorney to review and explain the agreement to you before you sign it.

2. Ask about Alternative Billing Methods

Rightly or wrongly, the standard legal billing method is by the “billable hour.”  Attorneys charge clients for the time dedicated to working on their cases and that time is multiplied by the attorney’s hourly rate.  Increasingly, however, lawyers and firms are offering alternatives to the billable hour.  Before you hire your attorney ask him or her if your case would be appropriate for either “flat-fee” or “contingency” consideration.

3. Consider a Limited Representation

For many disputes that are not yet in the litigation/arbitration stage, one option I have found many of my clients to appreciate is the opportunity to hire our firm on a “limited representation” basis.  In this kind of representation, the client hires the attorney to perform very specific services, which are explicitly listed in the fee agreement, such as drafting and mailing a demand letter to a debtor; preparing and recording a deed or other document with county offices; reviewing and providing advice regarding a contract.  the attorney is then not responsible for handling potentially related issues that the client deems unimportant.  this type of representation can then be handled hourly, flat-fee, or contingent.

4. Know if your Attorney Uses MBI’s

Many lawyers use minimum billing increments (MBI’s) to make up for the negative impact on productivity that interruptions can have when one client’s matter necessarily takes attention away from another.  MBI’s are a set minimum amount of time for which a client is charged for an activity regardless of how long the activity actually took for the attorney to perform.  The most common example is for emails and phone calls, where it is fairly standard practice to bill clients a minimum of 0.1 hours (six minutes), 0.2 hrs (12 mins), or even 0.25 hrs (15 mins) for each phone call or email to or from the attorney, even if that phone call lasted only a minute or two, or even less.  Also common are MBI’s of 1 hour for court appearances and of 0.1 or 0.2 hours per page for drafting legal documents.

5. Prioritize and Consolidate your Questions

Many clients simply do not understand the impact of their own communications with their attorney on the bottom line cost of representation, especially if MBI’s are in play.

Example: Steve hires Joan to represent him.  Steve has LOTS of questions.  Steve emails Joan 4 times per day, 5 days per week, for a month.  If Joan’s hourly rate is $200 and her firm bills an MBI of 0.2 for each email, Steve’s bill for these emails alone is $3,200!

Before calling or emailing your attorney, ask yourself if the issue is urgent.  If it is go ahead.  If it’s important but not urgent, write your question or comment down for later.  Once you’ve got a few notes, or the next time something urgent does come up, call or email about ALL of your issues.  In our example, if Steve had emailed Joan once per week instead, his bill would potentially be as low as $160 if the answers to his questions were simple.

6. Listen to your Attorney

When you hire an attorney to represent and advise you in a matter, presumably, you do so because you intend to listen to the advice you are given.  Ultimately, the client does make a lot of decisions about what is important to him or her, how he or she would like to proceed, and whether or not to settle a case, among others.  If your attorney recommends one course of action and you choose another, or if your attorney advises you not to do X and you do X, you can expect your legal fees to increase.  This is not because your attorney wants to punish you but because those are the natural repercussions of your decisions.  In some cases, not only will your own fees increase but you may be made by the court to pay the opposing party’s fees, too.  The only thing worse than paying one attorney is paying two.

In addition to these tips, don’t hesitate to ask your attorney if there are other things you can do to keep your legal fees down.

For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.

by Brook D. Wood

Oregon Small Claims Court – Getting Started

At our firm we often get calls from people who want to file or need to defend a lawsuit in small claims court, and who want  some basic information regarding the process.  While we do not mind taking these calls, we thought we could help many more people by publishing some of this information here.  Here, then, is some basic information on how to start your Small Claims case.  Mind you, we are aware much of this information is already available elsewhere on the internet but, apparently, it isn’t as easy to locate as it should be.

If you still have questions and would like to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys to discuss your small claims case, as plaintiff or defendant, click here.Mult.Co.Crthse. Plaque

1. What is ‘Small Claims Court’ anyway?

Small Claims Court is a simplified venue for civil cases in which the amount in dispute is relatively low.  The rules of evidence are relaxed and there are no attorneys to appear on behalf of the parties (though you are permitted to seek the advice of an attorney outside of the courtroom before the hearing).  The purpose of Small Claims Court is to quickly and fairly resolve modest claims, while minimizing the financial burden on the parties often associated with legal disputes and making efficient use of limited judicial resources.

2. What cases can be brought in Small Claims Court?

For a case to be eligible for Small Claims Court in Oregon the amount in dispute, including the value of any property, must be $10,000 or less.  So, if you are a contractor, suing a non-paying client for $10,001, you may not file in Small Claims Court.  If you are suing for more than $10,000, you must file your suit in the Circuit Courts.

Additionally, in Oregon, with some few exceptions all claims of less than $750 must be filed in Small Claims Court.

(So, if the matter in dispute is between $750 and $10,000, you can file in either Small Claims Court or Circuit Court.  Consider discussing your case with an attorney, who can explain the advantages and disadvantages of each system which may impact upon your case.)

Also, to file a Small Claims Court action you must first genuinely attempt to resolve the matter with the opposing party and swear to the Court under penalty of perjury that you did so.

3. Who are the parties in a Small Claims suit?

Just as in Circuit Court civil suits, the party that files the lawsuit is called the Plaintiff and the party being sued is the Defendant.  The Defendant can bring counterclaims against the Plaintiff but is still called the Defendant.

4. How do I file a Small Claims case?

The Plaintiff begins the Small Claims case by filling out a Small Claim and Notice of Small Claim form.  (For Multnomah County forms, click here.)  The Plaintiff files this form with the Small Claims Court of the county where: a) at least one Defendant resides; b) the injury or damage occurred; or, c) the Defendant was supposed to perform some contractual obligation.  In Multnomah County this form is filed at the Small Claims counter in Room 210 of the Multnomah County Courthouse, 1021 SW 4th Avenue, in Portland.

There is a filing fee that must be paid when the form is filed with the Court.  The fee is $53 for claims of $2,500 or less, and $95 for claims between $2,500 and $10,000.

5. What else do I need to do?

Before the Defendant(s) can be made to show up to Small Claims Court, the Plaintiff must serve (provide notice to) the Defendants regarding the lawsuit.  There are a few ways this can be accomplished but generally if you know the Defendant’s home or work address the easiest is to take a true copy of the Small Claim and Notice of Small Claim form to the sheriff’s office of the county where the Defendant resides or works.  The sheriff’s office will deliver the copies to the Defendant and provide you with a Proof of Service that you must file with the Small Claims Court.  There is a fee charged for this service that varies by county.  In Multnomah County, you can call the sheriff’s office at (503) 988-3291 or simply stop by their office on the first floor of the Multnomah County Courthouse.

After doing all of the above, the Plaintiff must then wait to see if the Defendant will voluntarily pay the claim, request a hearing, demand a jury trial (if you are suing for $750 or more the Defendant can demand that you file your suit in Circuit Court), or ignore the whole thing and hope it goes away.

Obviously, this isn’t everything to know about Oregon Small Claims lawsuits.  For more , feel free to check out the information provided by the Multnomah County Circuit Court here, or by the Oregon State Bar here.

Again, if you wish to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys to discuss your small claims case, as plaintiff or defendant, click here.

For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.

by Brook D. Wood

Oregon DUII Part 1 – Potential Benefits of the Breathalyzer

A Good Night Suddenly Turned Bad

You’ve just left your friends behind after an enjoyable night and are headed home to the comfort of your own bed.  Then that sinking feeling as you see the red and blue flash in your rear-view mirror.  You have just been pulled over and, though you may feel fine, you know you’re probably in trouble.

This is the first post in a short series of Oregon DUII-related topics.  In future posts we will look at Oregon’s DUII Diversion Program, the “McShane” Plea, and other issues.  For now, however, we  will examine the potential benefits of agreeing to undergo breath analysis, commonly referred to as ‘Breathalyzer.’

Continuing the above scenario, the officer approaches your car and begins to ask you questions.

Do you know why I stopped you? Have you been drinking this evening? How much have you had to drink? When was your last drink?

It all happened so fast and you don’t even remember what you said.  What you do know is that at the end of the conversation the officer indicated he was arresting you for DUII.  You are cuffed and in the back of a squad car on your way to the station.  When you arrive you are asked to voluntarily submit to breath analysis to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC).

intoxilyzer-8000Many people instinctively refuse to ‘blow,’ thinking that if the cops can’t determine their BAC they may have a better chance of getting out of this.  There are situations in which not submitting to the test might be beneficial, given a person’s unique circumstances.  What many people don’t realize, however, is that there are potential benefits to submitting to the Breathalyzer.

Some possible benefits to voluntarily submitting to breath analysis include:

  • Implied Consent Suspension – Under ORS 813.100 and 813.420, refusal to submit to the test will automatically result in suspension of your license for a period of from one to three years.  Compare this to the automatic suspension that results from a ‘failed’ test of only 90 days to one year.
  • Low BAC – Under ORS 813.010 a person is guilty of DUII if the results of breath (or blood, again a different topic) analysis indicate that you were operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or higher.  If the Breathalyzer demonstrates that your BAC is below 0.08% you might not be charged with DUII.  Another future topic will discuss how you may still be charged with DUII even if your BAC is below this limit.
  • High BAC – Under ORS 813.010(6)(d) a person convicted of DUII with a BAC of 0.15% or higher must pay an enhanced fine.  This, obviously, is not a benefit.  However, a high BAC can be indicative of a ‘problem condition involving alcohol’ – legalspeak for alcoholism.  Oregon laws and courts recognize that alcoholism is a problem that may be beyond a person’s control alone and the system allows for people with genuine difficulty, who genuinely wish to receive treatment, to be provided both some measure of leniency and assistance in receiving much-needed treatment.

Only a competent, licensed Oregon attorney can explain your options under these laws to you if you have refused to submit to breath analysis or have submitted and still face criminal prosecution.

To be contacted by an attorney at Owens, Sneller, Pinzelik, Wood & Schaff, P.C., click here.

For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.

by Victoria Timbrook, David W. Owens, and Brook D. Wood

Understanding the Legal and Practical Risks of Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Reddit, blogs, vlogs – today’s social media outlets provide any number of ways for people and businesses to connect, from sharing photos and recipes with friends and family, to planning vacations, to building your customer base or hyping a new song, movie, or product.

Most people and businesses, however, are too busy enjoying this ‘golden age’ of digital inter-connectivity to think about the legal and practical dangers inherent in social media.  The following information is provided as a courtesy to help you understand, and hopefully avoid, some of the more common personal and business pitfalls of social media.

Social-Media-Icons-1

Personal Risks of Social Media

  • Confidentiality –  Information communicated between you and your lawyer, doctor, priest, and others, may be protected by confidentiality or privilege laws.  This means it may not be accessed by others or used against you in court.  Sharing this information online, however, might be seen as a waiver of those protections.  Be careful and think twice about what you are posting.
  • Anonymity –  Many have the false impression that comments posted to online forums, news outlets, or blogs are anonymous.  Just post it under hamm3rtime1981 and nobody will know it’s you, right?  Wrong.  There is no such thing as anonymity on the internet.  Everything online can be traced back to its source.  Any time you post anything online, do so on the assumption that everybody in the world may find out it was you that wrote it.
  • Children –  Nowadays everyone uses the internet to find whatever it is they are looking for, even child predators and bullies.  Be aware of your children’s internet activity and talk to them about online safety and how to handle and report inappropriate behavior.
  • Other Legal Risks –  Increasingly, Facebook updates and Tweets are being used as evidence in divorce, child custody, and criminal cases.  No matter how innocent you may think your posts are, consider what it may look like to others, like a judge or jury.  That photo of you pretending to shotgun a beer outside the football stadium may cost you in court later.

Business Risks of Social Media

  • Intellectual Property and Likeness Rights –  Thought should be given and care exercised before using content created by others to promote your business without their permission.  Using another’s words or graphic designs may violate copyright laws.  Additionally, using someone’s photo (or other identifiable feature) may violate his or her rights of publicity and/or privacy.  In today’s digital age it is easier than ever to fall into these traps.  If you are uncertain, don’t do it until you can speak to your attorney.
  • Company Reviews –  Finally getting around to creating that company Facebook or other site’s page should be considered carefully.  On any site that allows customers to post reviews, sometimes just one bad review, even if undeserved, or worse, completely fabricated, can devastate your business.  Before signing up, be sure to look into things like: Who controls what users see, you or the site?  How long do negative reviews or ratings stay on your business profile?  Is there a way to remove or dispute negative comments?
  • False Advertising and Defamation –  In promoting your own business or products, think twice before engaging in comparisons to your competitors.  In advertising, not only must you speak honestly about your own business but you must also be honest about your competitors.  Opinions about your own products and services are generally okay – “the best full-service laundry in Oregon” – but don’t chance it with your competitors’ – “John Doe’s laundry is the worst.”  Any false claims boosting the qualities or attributes of your business may violate false advertising and/or unfair trade practice laws, while false statements about a competitor that harms his/her/its reputation me be grounds for a defamation suit.
  • Account Ownership –  When you asked your assistant to create social media profiles for your business you probably didn’t think about who would own those profiles when he or she is no longer with the company.  The same is probably also true of content posted on those profiles by your employees.  These are new issues and no bright line rules exist yet in the law.  To protect your business it is generally best, however, that these profiles are set up independent of any actual person’s account if possible, or as alter-egos of your own profile, where necessary, and your employee handbook or employment contracts should explicitly define who owns what.  Additionally, consider provisions stating that it is against company policy to use company social media outlets to discriminate, disparage, defame, or engage in other tortious conduct.

For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.

by Brook D. Wood

The College Send Off Done Right

College-PlanningNow is the time many families look forward to the storied day when they send their children off to college.  It is a time to celebrate, as the child and the family have all worked hard toward this goal.  Often, in this hopeful and hectic time, lost among the campus tours, class schedules, text books, and clothes shopping, is the idea that there are legal issues that merit consideration, particularly if your child is 18 or older.  Parents of adult children do not have the same rights to grades and other academic information, or to make medical or financial decisions.  Proper legal planning for these issues can be hard to address but the peace of mind it brings may well be worth it.

  • Will – Thinking about the possible death of your adult child is undoubtedly difficult but is a matter that needs discussing, particularly if he or she owns significant assets outright.  If your adult child were to die without a will, laws of intestacy would determine the distribution of his or her estate.  If your adult child has no children of his or her own, in most states the estate would then pass upward to the parents, which may wreak havoc on their estate plan.
  • Power of Attorney – Statistically, young men are approximately 32%, and young women 147%, more likely to become disabled than die.  Still, if planning for the possible death of a young person is uncommon, planning for possible disability of one is almost unheard of.  If your adult child is the victim of an unfortunate incident resulting in disability, or less tragic, studying abroad, and unable to manage his or her financial affairs, a durable power of attorney can save the time and expense of having a guardian and/or conservator appointed by a court, and allow the nominated parent (or other person) to take care of things like banking, paying bills, and filing taxes.
  • Advanced Directive – As a power of attorney allows the student to designate someone to handle financial affairs, an advanced directive, sometimes called a living will, allows the designation of a person to handle medical decisions and to carry out your child’s wishes regarding life support, ‘heroic measures,’ and the like.

Other Issues:

  • InsuranceHealth – Many college students are included in their parents’ health care coverage and recent reforms allow this until the student graduates from college or turns 26.  If your child is not covered on your policy, check with the college or university, as many offer low-cost plans themselves or have arrangements with insurers that could benefit your child.  Car – If your child isn’t taking a car to college, think twice before automatically removing him or her from your auto policy.  When your child returns home for visits, will he or she be driving your car?  What if, while away at school, your child is asked to be the designated driver for a group of friends?  Talk to your auto policy representative about your options.  Property – What if your child’s laptop is stolen from the dorm?  Talk to your homeowner’s insurance representative about protecting your child’s personal belongings.
  • FERPA (The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) – Gone are the days when parents had unfettered access to their children’s academic records.  FERPA explicitly prevents a student’s information from being released without his or her permission.  There are exceptions but parents should check with the college or university regarding its FERPA policies and consider asking their children to sign a FERPA release authorizing parents to view the student’s academic records.

For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.

by Brook D. Wood

Some Helpful Links:

University of Oregon Academic Calendar

Oregon State University Academic Calendar

Portland State University Academic Calendar

Portland Community College Academic Calendar

Lewis & Clark College Academic Calendar

Common Neighborly Disputes

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Robert Frost said, “good fences make good neighbors.”  What he didn’t tell us is that that fence, itself, could be the source of some serious animosity.  In a way, neighbors are like family – rarely do you get to choose them and you will not always get along.

Here are a few common sources of neighborly squabbles, with ideas on resolving similar issues you might be having peacefully and legally.  Remember, however, if resolution is not possible and the fight is taken to the courts, only a competent, licensed attorney is trained to analyze the facts of your specific situation, including any legal claims you or your neighbor(s) might make, and present you with your legal options.

If your property in question is in Oregon or Washington and you would like one of our attorneys to contact you to discuss your dispute, please complete the form here.

Boundary Disputes – The most obvious potential issue between neighbors is disagreement over where your property ends and your neighbor’s begins.  This type of dispute usually arises when one owner decides to build a fence or put up a row of trees along where he believes the property line to be.  If not properly addressed beforehand this type of dispute can result in significant financial losses for the party in the wrong – perhaps tearing down that fence or pulling up those trees only to move them two or three feet.  The easiest way to avoid problems is to request a property survey BEFORE you build that fence.  You may even convince your neighbor to share in the expense of the survey, but shouldn’t expect it.

The Multnomah County Surveyor’s Office provides a FAQ regarding private property surveys here.

Trespassing Trees – Though common enough to be considered an issue of its own, these disputes are really just another type of boundary dispute.  Your neighbor has trees along the property line.  Though the trees are technically on his property, the branches overhang onto yours.  What can you do?  The best course of action is usually to ask your neighbor to trim the trees back and to give him or her permission to come onto your property, if necessary, for that purpose.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work.  Some neighbors are too busy, others just too mean.  If after a reasonable period of time your neighbor hasn’t addressed the issue, you might try approaching him again, this time suggesting hiring a tree service, and perhaps offering to chip in.  If this still doesn’t accomplish the desired result, you are generally free to reasonably trim the offending branches or to hire a tree service yourself and ask that your neighbor compensate you for the cost.  You are not entitled to kill or cause serious damage to the tree(s) in question, so if you are in doubt the tree service is likely the better idea.  Call an attorney if your neighbor refuses to compensate you.

Noise and Other Annoyances – Whether it be a favorite song played over and over and over, an enthusiastic guard dog, or an exceeding affinity for Christmas lights, there are times when most neighbors (even you) get on someone’s nerves.  Again, the best way to deal with these issues is simply to talk it out peaceably, in advance whenever possible.  If that doesn’t get the job done, consider raising the issue with your home-owners or condo association (if you have one), apartment or building management (if applicable), or your neighbor’s landlord (if you know how to contact him or her), before calling the police to make a nuisance complaint.

For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.

by Brook D. Wood

Bankruptcy FAQ

Bankruptcy – Frequently Asked Questions

Below are a number of Frequently Asked Questions that we get from many of our clients.  The responses are general and may be different depending on your own unique circumstances, especially if you live elsewhere than Oregon.  Our consultations are free and we would be glad to discuss your particular financial situation and provide you with specific answers to your questions.

Will I lose my home?

It depends on the current value of your home and the amount you owe against it.  In Oregon, if the value of your home after subtracting the mortgage balance is $40,000 or less (or $50,000 for married filers) then you should be able to keep your home as long as the payments are current and remain current.  If the total is considerably more than $40,000 or $50,000, then filing a Chapter 13 may be your best solution for keeping your home.

Will I lose my car?

As with your house, your ability to keep your car depends on the value of the car and the amount owed against it.  In Oregon, if the value of your car after subtracting the loan balance is $3,000 or less (or $6,000 for married filers) you will be able to keep your car.  If this amount is greater than $3,000 then there may be alternatives that will allow you to keep your car either in a Chapter 7 or in a Chapter 13.

Will bankruptcy stop the foreclosure of my home?

Yes, when you file bankruptcy an “automatic stay” goes into effect that prevents creditors from taking any action to collect on a debt incurred prior to filing for bankruptcy.  This automatic stay will stop a foreclosure sale, but it only stops it temporarily.  If you are facing foreclosure make sure you contact a bankruptcy attorney well before your house is scheduled to be sold at auction.

Can I sell my stuff before I file?

Yes, you can sell your stuff.  But you have to sell it for a fair price.  In other words you can’t sell your car to your friend for $10 – unless your car is really worth $10.  If you do sell something worth more than $500, be sure to keep records of who purchased it and how you spent the money you received.  Receipts and bills of sale are very important.

Can I give away my stuff before I file?

No.  If you give away anything worth more than $200 it could be considered a fraudulent conveyance and the trustee may be able to recover the property.

Will I have to go to court?

If you are represented by an attorney, in most cases the only legal proceeding you are required to attend is the Section 341(a) meeting of creditors that takes place at the US Trustee’s office or the Chapter 13 Trustee’s office.  In a Chapter 7 case if you are reaffirming a debt on a car loan, you may be required to attend a short court hearing where a bankruptcy judge will determine whether reaffirming the loan on your vehicle is in your financial best interest.  There are cases that end up in court for various reasons, but in most cases with proper planning, court appearances can be kept to a minimum or avoided altogether.

For more on Reaffirmation Agreements, click here.

Will everyone know that I have filed bankruptcy?

Your bankruptcy petition is a public document and, as such, anyone that searches for your petition could find it.  On the other hand, hundreds of bankruptcy cases are filed each day, so unless someone is specifically looking for your bankruptcy case, there is not much chance they will know about it.  All of your creditors will receive notice of your bankruptcy filing.

Will I be able to re-establish credit after I file?

Yes, many of our clients report receiving offers for credit cards within weeks of filing bankruptcy.  Most often the offers are for higher interest rate cards with low credit limits.  However, once you have filed bankruptcy you can begin to rebuild your credit by using credit wisely and not carrying a balance on your credit cards.  You may be able to obtain a “secured” credit card which will allow you to rebuild your credit.

Will I have to give up all of my assets?

When you file bankruptcy, everything you own becomes part of the “bankruptcy estate.”  However, you are allowed to keep assets that fall within certain guidelines.  For instance the Oregon exemption for Household Goods and Furniture is $3,000.  Now ,$3,000 may not sound like a lot of money for all your household goods and furniture.  However, in bankruptcy we use the current value for your property, not what you paid for a particular item or what it would cost if you bought it new.  One Chapter 7 trustee explained this idea as follows “what would you get if you put all of your stuff (household goods and furniture) out in your driveway, on a cloudy day?”  The answer in most cases is not very much and quite often well below the $3,000 exemption.

To be contacted by an attorney at Owens, Sneller, Pinzelik, Wood & Schaff, P.C., click here.

For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.

by John A. Pinzelik

Bankruptcy – Reaffirmation Agreements

What are Reaffirmation Agreements?

When you purchase a home or car, in most cases the lender takes what is known as a “security interest” in the home or car when loaning you the money to make the purchase.  The purchased item then serves as collateral for the loan.  When a lender takes a security interest, it can take back the collateral if you fail to make the required payments.

If you are current on the payments on such a loan and can afford to continue to make payments you can enter into an agreement with the creditor to continue to pay that debt even though you have filed for bankruptcy.  That agreement is called a Reaffirmation Agreement.  This agreement “renews”  or “reaffirms” your promise to pay the debt, and in exchange you get to keep the property. Reaffirmation Agreements only apply when there is property that secures the loan like a house, car, computer or even tires, for example.  You cannot reaffirm a debt to a medical provider or family friend because there is no property involved with that debt.

In some cases, the court requires you to attend a hearing to determine whether signing the Reaffirmation Agreement is in your best financial interest.  At the hearing the judge will ask you a few questions about the loan and your income and then determine whether he or she feels it is in your best financial interest to reaffirm the loan.  If the judge decides it is in your financial best interest, he or she will sign the agreement and you will be obligated to pay the loan in full even if later on you cannot afford to make payments and the creditor repossesses the vehicle or other property.

If the judge decides it is not in your financial best interest to reaffirm the loan, in most cases you can still keep the vehicle or other property as long as you are current on the payments and continue to make timely payments.  However, if you become unable to pay the loan at a later date, the lender can repossess the vehicle or other property but cannot seek further payment from you nor sue you to collect the balance of the loan.

To be contacted by an attorney at Owens, Sneller, Pinzelik, Wood & Schaff, P.C., click here.

For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.

by John A. Pinzelik

The Sondra Shineovich Story

 In 2006, Ms. Sondra Shineovich came to our offices needing legal assistance. After a long, hard battle, and with the appellate work of Mr. Mark Johnson Roberts (now ‘of counsel’ with Gevurtz Menashe), the Oregon Court of Appeals declared unconstitutional the Oregon laws granting presumptive parental rights to heterosexual husbands of women who bear children of artificial insemination, and expanded those laws to provide the same presumptive rights and responsibilities to the non-AI-birth partner in same-sex female relationships. Her case was remanded back to the Multnomah County Circuit Court, and, with the representation of Jodie M. Sneller and David W. Owens, in December, 2010, Sondra was declared the legal parent to the son and daughter taken away from her by her former partner.

We were and continue to be ecstatic at the result obtained for her.

Click the thumbnail above or this hyperlink to watch Sondra tell her story.

Thanks, Sondra.