In Our Own Words

Get to know JO partner, Tom Vetne, a little better by hearing about the reasons he became an attorney…in his own words.

JO Knows Insurance Litigation

At Jones Obenchain, we’ve been representing local, regional, and national insurers and their insureds for over 100 years. The work we do for them runs the gamut from defending personal-injury claims, to litigating employment-discrimination claims, to prosecuting and defending coverage actions and errors-and-omissions lawsuits.

All of this litigation gets us into court…a lot. In 2018 Jones Obenchain tried more civil jury trials in Indiana than all but one other firm.*

And though litigation is an adversarial process, our peers consistently rank us among the best at what we do. So do our clients, if the feedback they’ve given us on legal sites such as AVVO and Martindale-Hubbell are any indication.

But as essential as courtroom skills are to a litigation prac­tice, they’re worthless if our clients and the courts don’t want to read what we have to say. Let’s face it: there’s a lot of writing in a litigation practice and most legal writing is a chore to get through. We read it because we have to, not be­cause we want to.

So our litigators emphasize writing in plain English and using cutting-edge tech­nology in the documents we prepare to make them a pleasure to read. What does that mean, exactly? It’s not unusual to see photographs, hyperlinks, and video embedded in our briefs and motions. These add visual interest to the text and corroborate the arguments without sending readers to riffle through mounds of exhibits.

Not only are plainly written, visually appealing documents easier for clients to read and understand, they help persuade mediators and judges about the merits of our clients’ position. That means we’re often able to bring cases to a successful resolution before we ever step foot in a courtroom.

*Source: 2018 Indiana Jury Verdict Reporter.

Reopening Your Business: 10 Things to Consider for At-Risk Populations

As restrictions lift and America reopens, businesses need to keep in mind how drastically the landscape of in-person work has shifted. Customers and employees alike have new and different expectations of employers and how the workplace should safely operate. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently released new guidance that lays out the potential risks of compelling workers who are 65 or older to stay home to protect their health.

Even when you have your employees’ best interests at heart, the EEOC says procedures that single out older employees could violate age-bias laws. This is true even though the Centers for Disease Control identifies people over 65 as high-risk for Covid-19. With this in mind, we’ve outlined 10 things to consider when creating return-to-work policies.

1.Facilitate an open dialogue with all employees about returning to work.

First, you should talk to all of your employees about the reopening process, or at least provide a way for all employees to voice their concerns. This way every employee feels heard and it will give an overall sense of what they are feeling—particularly older employees—in creating reopening procedures. Some employers have done this in the form of a survey, which acts as an age-neutral way to assess the general climate and potential challenges to reopening.

2. Employers can’t force employees to continue to telework based solely on age.

Even though employers may desire to protect high-risk employees by forcing them to maintain a work-from-home status, this could form the basis of an age discrimination lawsuit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Of course, you should be aware of any high-risk employees, but it is critical that new policies are not solely based on a worker’s age.

3. Employers are not required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees based on age.

While it does protect older employees from age discrimination, the ADEA does not require employers to reasonably accommodate employees on the basis of age, even for those employees who are older and at a higher risk of incurring severe illness due to Covid-19. But it is advisable to adapt to employees’ needs, especially older workers who may express concern or apprehension at returning to work. But, the Americans with Disabilities Act does require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee with a disability or certain medical conditions.

4. Set clear, age-neutral policies for employees.

The best way to avoid an age discrimination lawsuit is to communicate clear, age-neutral policies about returning to work and any new workplace procedures. Even well-intentioned age-based policies could be perceived as discriminatory. Be sure to outline what precautions are being taken to protect the health of employees and facilitate a process for employees to express their concerns.

5. Businesses are free to be flexible with older employees.

Though you may not create policies solely based on age, the EEOC noted that employers may still provide flexibility to employees over 65 without legal consequences. But if a business does provide extra accommodation for an employee over 65, the ADEA does not prohibit these actions if it means that other employees who are also protected by the statute (like those age 40-64) receive less favorable treatment in comparison.

6. Offer telework as an option when able.

To ensure that no policies are based on age—but also to continue to prioritize employee health—you can offer telework as an option, not a requirement, for all employees. This may incentivize those high-risk employees to continue to work from home, without specifically singling out those employees as beneficiaries of the policy.

7. If telework is not an option, accommodate in other ways.

Some jobs may not allow for telework, like working as a cashier or retail associate. In these situations, it’s best to try to accommodate the employees’ needs. This could mean furnishing them with additional personal-protective equipment, relocating their workspace to a low-traffic area, or altering work hours to limit contact.

8. Be aware of employees who are eligible for paid leave.

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, under the Families First Coronavirus Act, may provide employees with paid sick leave options if the employee is, for example, experiencing symptoms and being tested for COVID-19.

9. Certain cities and states have protections that cover a larger group from age-based discrimination.

The ADEA protects all workers over 40 from age-based discrimination, but some cities and states have laws that extend to protect all adults. Of course, this widens the pool of people who could potentially file an age discrimination lawsuit. Be sure review local and state laws to ascertain if any of these statutes apply to you.

10. Coordinate with local health authorities.

As every locality and region in the U.S. faces unique challenges, coordinating with local health authorities can ensure that you best meet the needs of your employees based on the particular circumstances of your community.

There are many moving parts to organize when reopening your business. Despite benevolent intentions to protect older employees, employers must be sure to adhere to the EEOC’s guidance to avoid an age discrimination claim. This ranges from creating age-neutral policies to adapting to local and state laws.

Unique challenges need unique solutions. In these stressful and unprecedented times, we know that the health and safety of your employees is a top priority. That’s why the attorneys at Jones Obenchain, LLP are here for your legal needs.

JO Knows Appeals

An appeal typically begins when legal proceedings in a trial court end, for example by a jury verdict or summary-judgment order. If a party isn’t satisfied with the trial court’s decision, the party can appeal the decision to a higher court. The appellate court’s job is not to retry the case. It doesn’t hear testimony or decide the facts. Instead, it will consider whether the trial court properly applied the law, and has sufficient evidence to justify its ruling. If the trial court got the law right, the appellate court will uphold the decision; if the lower court was wrong, the appellate court will reverse the decision and send it back to the trial court often for further proceedings.

Because appeals are done almost entirely through written submissions, our appellate attorneys have developed a unique, easy-to-understand writing style that has been praised by judges, clients, and other attorneys. We carefully format our briefs and submissions to reflect the same attention to detail and thoroughness we apply to researching and writing substantive legal arguments. And—when it’s appropriate—we add pictures, insert boxes, graphs, and even hyperlinks to help judges understand our arguments.

Judges read thousands of submissions a year. Almost all of them look alike and read alike. Our briefs—with their sharp layout, clear prose, detailed research, and well-organized arguments—stand out.

Last Minute Tax Filing Tips

This year’s extended tax deadline is only two days away and many folks are working hard to meet that deadline. The IRS has a recent publication that provides some helpful tips for those feeling the pressure to get their taxes on file. You can see all the last minute filings tips by visiting: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/taxpayers-can-get-last-minute-filing-tips-on-irsgov. Remember tax help is available 24 hours a day at IRS.gov.

National Sugar Cookie Day

National Sugar Cookie Day falls on July 9 each year. Sugar cookies are classic and unbelievably delicious. Originating back in the 1700’s in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, sugar cookies were initially referred to as Nazareth cookies. A couple-hundred years later, traditional sugar cookies are now a treasured staple in many households. Sugar cookies are a popular treat for numerous different occasions, including Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, and birthdays. Treat yourself to a sugar cookie today to celebrate!

Meet Our JO Team

Jones Obenchain Partner, Tom Vetne, enjoys challenging his clients’ preconceived notions of who lawyers are and what lawyers do. Tom focuses his practice on litigation and appeals. Unlike other “trial” lawyers, though, Tom actually tries cases. Get to know Tom better and realize what he can do for you by visiting http://jonesobenchain.com/team-member/j-thomas-vetne/

Happy July 4th Weekend

America’s first Continental Congress voted to declare America’s independence from the British monarchy on July 2, 1776, and the Declaration was ratified two days later. The Declaration was published in newspapers and read to the public on July 4th. The attorneys and staff of Jones Obenchain wish you and yours a safe and Happy Independence Day!

JO In Action – Janet Horvath

Jones Obenchain partner, Janet Horvath believes in serving her community. One of ways in which Janet gives back is by serving on the Board of Directors of REAL Services.

 The Mission of REAL Services is to assist in establishing a community in which those they serve can maintain their independence to the maximum degree possible and find meaning and satisfaction throughout their lives.

To learn more about REAL Services, the services they provide and volunteer opportunities, please visit https://www.realservices.org/_wp/

JO Knows Probate

Probate is the process by which a court oversees the lawful transfer of title to property under a will. It must take place in the state and county where the decedent resided when they died. Probate does not involve non-probate assets, such as life-insurance or retirement-account proceeds passing to designated beneficiaries; property owned by trusts on the date of death; or jointly owned property when the first joint owner dies. So married couples that have joint title to most of their property rarely need probate after the first spouse’s death.

The word “probate” often engenders fear. But probate is not a scary process. The court is there to oversee the job your personal representative does and to make sure the instructions in your will are followed. Your lawful debts will (and must) be paid. Your heirs have comfort in knowing that the court will hear them if they have questions or objections. And probate is not unduly lengthy; usually six months or so is enough to wrap things up. And it is not a great expense. In fact, many people will spend more money trying to “avoid probate” than probate actually costs.

While placing an asset (like an investment account or a vacation home) in a trust will avoid probating that asset, it is almost impossible—and probably foolish—to try to make everything you own a non-probate asset. Under Indiana law this is unnecessary, because no probate estate need be opened if the value of the probate assets is less than $50,000. So you don’t need to put your refrigerator, lawn mower, golf clubs, or clothing into a trust.

Rather than probate avoidance, a better goal is probate management. Monitor the way your assets are owned. Create joint ownerships, designate beneficiaries, and use a trust in sensible ways. But don’t go overboard. For example, while making cash gifts to children and grandchildren can have many benefits, be sure that you keep enough resources available to provide for your own care and comfort.