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Archive for the "Hospitality" Category

‘Tis the Season for Reason: Business Owner and Social Host Liability for Holiday Drinking

With the holiday season rapidly approaching – and with it, a succession of alcohol-fueled celebrations – business owners with liquor permits and those planning to host parties should consider what could happen if they are not appropriately vigilant when deciding whom to serve cups of cheer.

Liquor liability for businesses

South Carolina courts have become more severe in punishing those who serve alcohol to people who are intoxicated, so businesses with liquor permits should review their liquor liability policies – not only their insurance policies, but also their internal protocols.

Liquor permit holders already know they can’t sell alcohol to people under 21 years of age or who are intoxicated. But they also should be aware that state law defines “intoxicated” very broadly. Even if a customer doesn’t appear to be drunk when served, business owners can be held liable for the customer’s later actions, such as an accident or a fight, if they know the customer had something to drink before coming to the establishment and the business continued to serve them alcohol. Moreover, business owners can be held personally liable for the behavior of those who overindulge. This means that plaintiffs can go after a business owner’s personal as well as business assets. The costs can be overwhelming: In one case, a bar and its owners were held liable for $10 million dollars.

Creditors’ Rights Trump Ownership Restrictions in LLC Operating Agreements

A recent South Carolina Supreme Court decision affirms the supremacy of creditors’ foreclosure rights, and sounds a cautionary note for LLCs. The state’s high court said that LLCs can’t use an operating agreement to force a creditor to sell a distributional interest it obtained via judicial foreclosure. 

The ruling came in Levy v. Carolinian, LLC, a case involving an LLC that owns an oceanfront hotel. One of the members, who owned about a quarter of the LLC, found himself on the wrong end of a judgment for $2.5 million. Creditors obtained a charging order – essentially a lien – against their debtor’s distributional interest in the LLC. The creditors then foreclosed on its charging lien and purchased the member’s distributional interest at public auction. 

What to Expect When You are the Target of a Lawsuit

It’s frightening for most business owners to receive notice of a personal injury or premises liability lawsuit, and one of the first questions lawyers are asked is whether to settle the suit and for how much. The good news is that a majority of suits settle, usually within the limits of insurance coverage, and those plaintiffs who insist on going to trial generally have weak cases.

Protect Your Business Investment with a Buy-Sell Agreement

Every business relationship eventually will lead to a parting of ways. Investors or business partners retire or are slowed by health issues, die, disagree about the future course of the business, or simply decide they want to do something else with their time and money.  

We often deal with “corporate divorce,” and it’s surprising how many people go into a business relationship without giving sufficient thought to their exit strategy. If you’re forming a new business or investing in one, you need a buy-sell agreement that anticipates the end of the relationship and sets terms that will help you avoid hurt feelings, protracted and unpleasant negotiations and even litigation. 

Here are some of the factors you will want to discuss with your legal counsel.      

Business Start-up Legal Checklist

Anyone who has started a business can tell you that they were surprised at how many legal and regulatory hoops they had to jump through just to open their doors. My husband and I experienced this first-hand when we opened a coffee shop and retail business in Greenville. We’re both lawyers, and we still found the process daunting. 

When you start a business, be sure you have the right people in place to help you. A lawyer will be one of them, and here’s a checklist that will help new entrepreneurs stay out of trouble and increase the chances of getting their business off to a trouble-free start. 

Be Careful What You Sign: Red Flags in Commercial Contracts

When businesses sign a contract, they’re usually focused on the opportunity it represents – a new customer, a better supplier or a partnership that expands their reach. Unfortunately, when we, as lawyers, see some of these same contracts, it’s after the air has gone out of such expectations and a deal has soured. 

While our best advice is to have every contract reviewed by your attorney, we realize that most businesses aren’t going to do that for every agreement. If there is a lot of money – or risk – involved, consider asking your attorney to review a contract – a process that usually isn’t time consuming for legal counsel familiar with your business. 

However, in those cases where you choose not to make a call to your attorney, here are some things to watch for based on our experience. 

Why You Must Update Your Will

Our first advice on wills is to make sure you have one. And once you have a will, review it periodically and consider whether it needs an update. While wills never expire, your life circumstances do change, and a will that hasn’t been updated will complicate matters for your family when you are gone, and ultimately, may not reflect your wishes. 

Here’s when you should review your will.

How to Pick a Lawyer

Just as we all need a family doctor who we can rely on, every small business eventually finds that it needs a relationship with a lawyer. As with the family doctor, many small business owners find it beneficial to develop rapport with one lawyer as a point of contact. While the relationship attorney may sometimes direct the client to someone with specific experience, it’s reassuring to begin the conversation with someone who understands your business and industry – and remembers the names of your kids.

I frequently go shopping for other lawyers myself, so I have some experience in this area. In my case, I’m usually looking for a lawyer or firm in another state who can handle a matter for a client. Even as a lawyer, it’s not always easy to judge if another is going to be a good fit, so I understand how business owners may find it difficult to pick an attorney. Here’s my test for picking a lawyer. 

LLC or Corporation? Which Is Right for Your New Business?

For most entrepreneurs, the choice of business entity comes down to an LLC or corporation, since both insulate personal assets from liability claims. LLCs, S corporations and C corporations all have advantages, depending on your business goals. 

Generally, the comparisons among the three will center on taxes, operating flexibility and treatment of investors and shareholders. 

Here’s a quick overview of these three alternatives that will give you a starting point for considering your options before you talk to your attorney. 

All Businesses Should Have a Document Retention Policy

Technology has made it easy for us to electronically store documents that would have required warehouse-size space in paper form. Now, businesses wrestle with the question of what they can safely get rid of, and what they must retain. This is especially a problem for small businesses, which may not have the luxury of designating someone to supervise document retention.  

Guns and the Workplace in South Carolina

Guns are a tough issue for many business owners. They may own guns and support the Second Amendment, but as business owners, they recognize that when employees bring guns to work, potential liability is created. And while some employees may feel like their Second Amendment rights are limited by workplace policies, most will understand their employer’s concern for dangerous accidents – and resulting lawsuits – that can occur when employees are permitted to carry concealed weapons. 

Don’t Let Hackers Cripple Your Business

Some of the biggest names in American business were the victims of data breaches last year, but hackers didn’t limit their attacks to companies such as Target, Home Depot and eBay. If trends hold, almost half of American businesses each year will have sensitive data stolen, according to the Ponemon Institute, which studies cybersecurity. 

Don’t Automatically Include Arbitration Clauses in Commercial Contracts

For years, mandatory arbitration clauses have been almost automatically included in many commercial contracts, because they’ve been regarded as cost-effective detours for matters that might otherwise work their way through the courts. Over the last few years, we’ve adopted a more critical view of arbitration, and now regard it as a good strategy for some clients, but not for others.

How to Write a Workable Non-Compete Agreement

Employers invest time, training and trust in key employees, and they don’t want to see them walk out the door and help a competitor. Non-compete agreements can protect your investment in employees – but only if they’re written with reasonable restrictions. 

Criminal Background Checks are a Minefield for Employers

A big issue that will continue to vex hiring managers this year is criminal background checks of job applicants. Employers should be cautious in how they use background checks while we wait for the courts to clarify an area of the law that is fraught with peril.

Tis the Season for Retailers to Know their Premises Liability Risks

Nothing says Happy Holidays like the hustle and bustle of Christmastime commerce. Crowded stores, congested parking lots and package-laden shoppers are a welcomed tradition to retail outfits that realize roughly twenty percent of annual sales during the holiday season. But with all the hustle and bustle also comes the increased risk of incidents: the combination of lots of shoppers and lots of merchandise means a greater chance of spills and tumbles (of products and people). The last thing stores want to do is curb retail activity, but how do they keep tabs on potential dangers that could lead to customer injury and legal liability? 

Is Your Business Serving Up a Liquor Liability Cocktail?

As the holidays approach, it’s a good time for South Carolina businesses with liquor permits to review their liquor liability policies – both their insurance policies and their employee protocols. South Carolina courts have recently been cracking down on those that serve liquor to people who are intoxicated. Now more than ever there are practical, ethical and legal considerations for ensuring you are careful who you serve and how much.