- Attorney Joe Michels represents many different types of clients, both businesses and individuals, in many different types of legal action. He has a sub-specialty focus on physicians, clinics, and hospitals.
- As a business litigation lawyer, Attorney Michaels can help physicians take an in-depth look at the practice they work for, help them investigate whether they are being compensated fairly, and, if not, can help them demand fair treatment and compensation.
- The best way to prevent business conflicts is by having a strong contract that protects all parties involved. However, many clinics do not offer strong contracts to their physicians. Attorney Michaels can help you understand the context of the business, and then advocate for your best interests within it.
- If your business partner breaches its contract with you, you should make sure you know all your rights and obligations as well as the details of the breach before trying to address it. Once you have a clear understanding of the situation, have asked your business partner about it, and still don’t have a satisfactory resolution, then you can pursue business litigation.
- If your business is being sued for something that happened while you were acting solely in your capacity as a representative of your business, your company will be liable, but you personally will not be liable for damages. This is the case around 90% of the time when businesses are sued. You can be held personally liable if you acted outside of your capacity as a company representative (i.e., punched a rude customer).
- Litigation is not the only answer to business disputes. The two main alternatives are mediation and arbitration, each of which, like litigation, have upsides and downsides.
My firm represents many different types of clients. Our most common types of clients include:
- High-Net-Worth Individuals
- Small Entrepreneurs
- Physicians, Clinics, and Medical Facilities
- Business Litigation Plaintiffs and Defendants
- Arbitration and Mediation Plaintiffs and Defendant
Our clients come to us with legal needs in every kind of format and with every type of case you can imagine.
For example, I have represented companies on insurance disputes worth one hundred million dollars. I also represented the HCA Hospital chain for 20 years doing peer review cases, which occur when there is a problem with a physician at a hospital facility. I have represented many doctors over the course of my career in disputes with clinics where they work or with their own partners. I’ve helped hundreds of people create new companies.
There are many types of clients who have utilized my services over the years.
What are the Most Common Disputes That a Business Litigation Attorney Could Assist With?
I’ll start with some of the common disputes that I personally assist with as a business litigation attorney.
First, it’s important to understand some basics about the medical field, which is one of my sub-specialties. Physicians in private practice are often employed or incorporated as part of a larger clinic, and they often receive payment based on their collections, meaning how much money the clinic collects for the services they provide.
Many doctors don’t realize that attorneys are necessary to really go behind the curtain, if you will, and see how much the clinic is actually collecting. We can investigate and find out whether the clinic is allocating all of that money to the particular doctor who generated it. This is something that many physicians need, but don’t realize that an attorney can provide for them.
Physicians may often also not realize that they need that sort of investigation in the first place, because it doesn’t occur to them that their clinic might not be being 100 percent honest with them about revenue distribution.
So, for example, let’s say one physician has created seven columns, or seven streams, of income. However, the clinic owner has decided that only around ¾ of those should be counted toward the payments that the doctor receives. In these cases, physicians get paid approximately 70% of what they’re entitled to never knowing they are entitled to nearly 50% more than they are paid.
As a business litigation attorney, I can conduct that “behind the scenes” investigation, and if the findings reveal that my client is not being paid their fair share, I can pursue it for them.
What Are Some Examples Of Proactive Steps That A Business Or Physician’s Office Could Take To Avoid Future Disputes?
There are several ways for a business or physician’s office to avoid future disputes.
The very best way for any business—and especially a physician’s office—to avoid future disputes is to have a strong contract with the other party.
The problem with applying that best practice about having a strong contract is that is clinics that employ 10 or 20 or even 150 doctors aren’t going to give a physician that kind of strong contract. If they’ve got 150 doctors, they want to have one contract that applies to all 150, with some minor variations between them.
I unfortunately, find it common that the contracts and agreements extended to doctors by these types of clinics don’t give the doctor the kind of insight and information that they would want about each party’s contractual obligation to one another.
I’ve found that it tends to be much easier to ask for those stronger, more insightful, and more informative contracts in smaller businesses, clinics, and organizational arrangements.
If you are a practicing physician, it is very important when you are signing an agreement to work at a clinic or for a hospital that you understand all of the issues that you’ll be facing during the course of your work, so that you can ensure that the contract sets you up for protection and success if and when you encounter bad conduct by your clinic.
Unfortunately, many doctors don’t fully understand all of those potential issues. This is where I can step in. I can help doctors to at least to ask for terms and conditions and protections that they would have not thought of.
My Business Partner Breached Our Contract. What Steps Should I Take?
If your business partner breached your contract, there are several steps you should take right away.
- Confirm the Problem: If you suspect a contract breach, the first step to take is to confirm that the problem exists, and figure out exactly what that problem is. When clients come to me saying that they think their business partner breached their shared contract, that’s what I make sure to do first.
- Understand Your Rights and Obligations: The next step that I go through with my client is a thorough examination of their rights, pursuant to the contract and the laws that enforce it. I also make sure to thoroughly examine and explain my client’s obligations, under their same contract. By the end of this step, my client will fully understand their rights and their obligations, and we will have confirmed that there’s something fishy going on with their business partner (i.e., a breach of contract).
- Try to Address the Issue: With most of these cases, I would initially recommend that my client approach their business partner. If their business partner is a company, they should approach someone in management. They should then plainly state what the discrepancy is, and ask the business partner to explain what is happening. In some cases, there really is a simple misunderstanding, or else there’s a willingness on the other side to stop breaching the contract and even to make up for the damage done, if any.
- Litigation: Unfortunately, in some cases, the disagreement cannot be civilly negotiated away, and the breach of contract remains an issue. If that’s the case, I advise my clients to start taking legal avenues to address the issue. This is the point at which we may file a lawsuit or take other legal action to get the process started.
If My Business Is Being Sued, Are My Assets And Personal Property At Risk?
If your business is being sued, your personal assets and property are not at risk in the vast majority of cases. I would say that this rule applies roughly 90% of the time.
There is another 10% of cases where your personal assets and property may be at risk if your business is sued. Those cases usually look something like the following scenario.
Let’s say you own a business, Bob’s Paint Company. You are also the main painter there. You are hired to go to a job site and do some painting.
When you arrive, you find that the customer you’re doing the work for (for our purposes, let’s call him Customer X) is a real jerk. He’s saying abusive things about your looks, your family, and your work. Eventually, he crosses one line too many, and you take one of the paint rollers and slap him across the face.
Unfortunately, that slap causes Customer X to lose his balance, and he falls down and fractures his hand. The fact that you hit Customer X with the roller while you were working for Bob’s Paint Company will not protect you individually, and your personal property and assets may be on the table when it comes time for damages.
The reason you aren’t protected by having been working for Bob’s Paint Company at the time of the incident is that your actions that caused Customer X’s injury were not actually in the course of doing your job. “Hitting extremely rude customers with a paint roller” is not part of your job description. Striking someone and engaging in violence would not be considered doing the bidding of the business.
Generally, as long as you are acting solely in your capacity as a representative of your business, your company will be liable, but you personally will not be liable for damages. However, if you are acting outside of your capacity as a representative of your business—say, by violently stopping a certain rude customer from running his mouth—then your personal property and assets may be on the table.
Are There Alternatives to Litigation? Can We Avoid Taking These Matters All The Way To Court?
Yes, there are two primary alternatives to litigation. One is mediation and the other is arbitration.
- Mediation: Mediation is a pre-litigation negotiation process. Almost all courts require plaintiffs filing lawsuits to try to mediate before they go to trial.Mediation usually involves the two parties, as well as their attorneys, and a mediator. The mediator is a third-party negotiation facilitator who is there to help the two sides cooperate to come to a mutually acceptable resolution. The goal of the mediation process is ideally to reach a resolution or settlement acceptable to both parties before having to pursue full litigation through the court.Importantly, mediators do not have the ability to make either side accept anything. All the mediator can do is make the best effort toward encouraging cooperation and advocate for a resolution. If a mediation session does not end in a resolution after good-faith effort, the parties can usually proceed to litigation.
- Arbitration: The other major alternative to litigation is arbitration. Arbitration is something of a hybrid of mediation and litigation.Arbitration involves both parties and their legal counsel presenting their side of a case before a third-party decider called an arbitrator. Sometimes, there is a panel consisting of several arbitrators who hear a case. Once the arbitrator (or arbitrators) have heard both parties and considered all the evidence, they issue a decision about the case. That decision is binding, and both parties are legally required to comply with it.Arbitration is typically much faster, less stressful, and less expensive than litigation. However, many people entering arbitration fail to understand or recognize that decisions made through the arbitration process are not appealable: Even if you have a valid reason for appealing a decision made in arbitration, it is not possible to do so.For example, I recently had clients who went through an arbitration. As it turned out, when all was said and done, they lost the arbitration (i.e., the decision was not in their favor). In this case, though, the reason they lost is that the arbitrator misapplied the law and did not allow us (as our clients’ counsel) to obtain evidence that would have proved our case. However, despite their valid reason for wanting an appeal, there was no way for us to appeal the arbitration decision once it had been made.There is a long history of cases where people have tried to appeal an arbitration award, but these cases have almost all resulted in judge after judge after judge saying there was nothing to be done. They all came to the same conclusion: while there may have been mistakes made in the case, there can be no appeal of a decision made through arbitration.The logic used in these decisions is that the decision to go into arbitration is just that: a decision, and a choice. The terms and conditions of the arbitration process include all parties giving the arbitrator the ability to make the final decision on the case.So, if you chose a bad arbitrator, or if you didn’t present your case well, or if the arbitrator misunderstood the facts, or if the arbitrator applied the wrong law, or if the arbitrator applied the right law but did it the wrong way, you have recourse. At that point, there is nothing that you can do, because decisions made through arbitration can rarely be appealed or overturned.This strong “last word” quality of arbitration makes it a favorite tool of big companies and corporations. In fact, arbitration is primarily used by big companies. It works toward their interests for several reasons.For one, arbitration is private rather than public (as, say, litigation may be). This means that the details of the individual case and the details of what the decision looked like, as well as the details of how many similar arbitrations the company has pursued in the past to date, are all protected and private.So, for example, there would be no place where you could go to find out how many arbitrations a company like Gillette has entered into, let alone how many they lost, and what the grounds were for each case. That is because an arbitration is a private meeting solving disputes, even though the decision arrived at by an arbitrator is legally binding.Unfortunately, people sometimes enter into arbitration because they are pushed to do so by big corporations, and they find that the odds are unfairly stacked against them in that context.However, even in a relatively “fair” arbitration between equals, there’s still the very real problem that arbitrators are usually not judges, and sometimes aren’t even lawyers. There’s no guarantee that they actually have the legal education, knowledge, experience, and common sense to properly interpret and understand the law in question.
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