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Lawyer must be careful when bringing pro se case with spouse (access required)

If you're an attorney and you and your spouse file a lawsuit pro se, you may have to take some extra precautions to avoid running afoul of ethics rules, especially when it comes to communicating with opposing parties. So said the S.C. Bar's Ethic Advisory Committee in response to an inquiry based on a fact pattern in which a lawyer and his non-lawyer wife represented themselves in a suit against a country club. "Situations in which a lawyer is representing himself and/or his or her spouse do arise but are not that frequent," Professor Nathan Crystal of the Charleston School of Law told Lawyers Weekly in an e-mail.

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Senator on tort reform bill: ‘We’ve got a problem’ (access required)

An amendment tacked onto a legislative proposal that would limit punitive damages in civil cases threatens to derail the bill on the Senate floor, said state Sen. Larry Martin, a key supporter of the proposed cap. The amendment would turn South Carolina away from the state Supreme Court's 2010 designation of the risk-utility analysis as the sole test for defective design in many products liability cases. In Branham v. Ford Motor Co., a split court reversed a $31 million verdict against the automaker last August and said state courts no longer would charge juries with the venerable consumer-expectations test except in manufacturing-defect cases.

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Value billing arrangements depend on lawyers and clients agreeing ‘We’re in this together’ (access required)

The much-maligned billable hour is back under scrutiny. As attorneys continue to bounce back from the blows dealt by the recession, a client-driven fee structure known as value billing is beginning to gain traction across the country. It was a "standing room only" topic of discussion among lawyers at the American Bar Association's meeting earlier this month in Atlanta, according to ABA President Stephen Zack (pictured). "When I started practicing law 40 years ago, you sent out a bill for services rendered, and then all of a sudden we got into the Holy Grail of the hourly bill, which was never intended to be the perfect solution to all issues," Zack told Lawyers Weekly.

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Justices drop inadvertence prong from plain-view exception (access required)

Deputies who broke up a dog-fighting operation after spotting dogs, spectators and a fight pit at a Clarendon County home in 2006 didn't have to discover the site inadvertently to legally seize evidence without a warrant. So said the state Supreme Court in a groundbreaking decision that did away with one of three criteria that police previously had to satisfy under the "plain view" exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. "In Horton, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the first prong of the plain-view doctrine, which is that the police officers are in a place where they have a legal right to be, and then the last prong, which is that the incriminating nature of the evidence is readily apparent. Those two prongs were sufficient to restrict the likelihood of police misconduct," said Assistant Attorney General Deborah R.J. Shupe (pictured) of Columbia.

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Senate Judiciary Committee gives nod to punitives cap (access required)

A bill capping punitive damages in civil actions was set to go before the S.C. Senate after the Senate Judiciary Committee gave it a thumbs-up. The committee voted to send H. 3375, named the Fairness in Civil Justice Act of 2011, to the full Senate with a favorable review and amendments. The proposal would limit a plaintiff's punitive damages to $350,000 or three times the amount of his compensatory damages, whichever is greater.

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Punitives cap passes House, still pending in Senate (access required)

A bill that would cap punitive damages in the South Carolina is now before the state Senate's Judiciary Committee, having won a thumbs-up from a judiciary subcommittee last week. The bill, H. 3375, named the Fairness in Civil Justice Act of 2011, passed the House of Representatives by a 100-to-11 vote on Feb. 10. It would limit punitive damages to $350,000 or three times the amount of the compensatory damages, whichever is greater. "We believe the fact that South Carolina doesn't have any caps when every other state around us does means that we're simply at a competitive disadvantage when other states are recruiting economic development head to head with us," said state Sen. Larry Martin (pictured).

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Message to employers: Ban texting while driving (access required)

Is texting while driving a mere craze or is it sheer crazy? With hundreds of people dying annually in cell phone-related auto crashes nationwide, federal authorities seem to think it's not just a craze and now have anti-texting guidelines that apply to businesses nationwide. For South Carolina employers, that means it's time to work up written policies against text messaging. The idea is to keep businesses' potential liability as low as possible, say two Palmetto State employment lawyers.

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A fresh look at the economic-loss rule in the post-Crossmann era (access required)

The recent Supreme Court case Crossmannn Communities v. Harleysville Mutual Insurance has created a stir in the construction litigation world. Crossmann appears to be an attempt to finally settle the issue of coverage under a CGL policy for damages resulting from faulty workmanship. In addition to explaining the basic holding and reasoning of the court, this article examines the connection between the court's coverage determination and the legal doctrine that separates tort and contract recovery in construction defect litigation.

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Court says expelled Sumter High students got due process (access required)

Parents who went all way to the state Supreme Court with claims of due process violations by a school district are heading back to circuit court after the justices ruled that their sons had gotten the necessary due process. Joseph and Cynthia Stinney challenged Sumter School District 17 when a high school expelled their two sons in 2003. They claimed the district violated their sons' due process rights but they never took their appeal of the expulsions as far as circuit court. Two years later, they sued the district in tort, including due process claims among their causes of action.

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