The Latest Legal News & Industry Information

Justice Dept. Reaches Settlement
With Gaithersburg Child Care Agency

By Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
     The Justice Department recently settled a discrimination complaint against a Montgomery County child care agency after the two sides agreed to special accommodations for disabled children.
     Justice Department attorneys represented the parents of an autistic child who was expelled from Bar-T Year Round Programs for Kids.
     They said the firm violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
     The student was expelled for disability-related behavior problems that administrators said created a dangerous situation for other children.
     The parents said the Gaithersburg-based program did not consider how it could make reasonable accommodations to keep the student enrolled.
     Bar-T denied wrongdoing but still agreed to adopt a new nondiscrimination policy that would include reasonable accommodations for disabled students.
     The agreement also requires employee training, a staff member designated to handle disability issues and reporting compliance. Bar-T will pay $13,500 in compensatory damages to the parents and child.
     Bar-T is Montgomery County’s largest provider of before-school and after-school child care. It offers service at about 30 schools.
     “Through this agreement, Bar-T is taking important steps to make sure that all children in its programs, including children with disabilities, will be given the opportunity to have a positive and successful experience in a supportive after-school environment,” Justice Department civil rights attorney John Gore said in a statement.
     Stephen Schenning, acting U.S. attorney for Maryland, said the agreement with Bar-T “will ensure that its programs provide an inclusive environment for all students.”
     “Children with disabilities deserve equal opportunities to attend after school programs,” he said.
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The Wharf Opens In Southwest D.C.
With New Attractions But High Rents

By Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
     Washington, D.C.’s most ambitious real estate development in years debuted last week when retail, entertainment venues and office space at The Wharf opened their doors for business.
     The first-phase shifts The Wharf in Southwest Washington from a niche market for riverboat cruises to a major destination for residents and tourists, not far behind a walk along the Tidal Basin or a visit to the Washington Monument.
     The second-phase of the $2 billion-plus project is scheduled to open in 2022, bringing the entire development to 3.2 million square feet of new restaurants, hotels, shopping, residences and recreational venues.
     The first phase of The Wharf covers more than 10 acres along a mile-long promenade next to the waterfront.
     Its free or low-cost attractions include walking trails in the 7th Street Park, stand-up desks for laptop computers, kayak and paddleboard rentals and ice skating in the winter.
     The developers even thought of transportation options.
     It’s a five-minute walk from the Waterfront Metro station and eight minutes from L’Enfant Plaza Metro. Arrivals by boat are allowed if slips are available.
     There’s also a 25-minute water taxi ride from Georgetown. Although transportation to The Wharf is one purpose for the water taxi, it also is a tourist attraction offering views of the monuments from the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers.
     All the attractions come with a price for new residents. The Channel and Incanto apartments are good examples.
     The Channel at 950 Maine Ave. SW offers studios averaging 350 square feet and rents from $1,980 to $2,080 a month. One-bedroom apartments average 662 square feet and range from $2,485 to $3,540 a month. Two-bedroom apartments of about 1,000 square feet cost $3,700 to $5,025 a month.
     The Incanto at 770 Maine Ave. SW is only slightly cheaper. Studios of about 445 square feet cost $1,965 to $2,205 a month. One-bedrooms averaging 613 square feet rent for $2,590 to $3,060 and two bedrooms averaging 883 square feet will cost $3,810 to $4,295 a month.
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Self-Driving Vehicles to Increase
Product Liability Litigation in D.C.

By Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
     A U.S. Senate committee last week nearly guaranteed that Washington law firms will be representing automakers or car accident victims in a growing tide of lawsuits stemming from self-driving vehicles.
    The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill that authorizes automakers to start selling the vehicles, which can drive themselves without human operators. Approval by a vote of Congress is expected soon.
     Self-driving vehicles operate through a combination of onboard computers, lasers, cameras and global positioning satellites. They are supposed to eliminate human error in traffic accidents and offer greater mobility to disabled persons who are unable to drive.
     However, no one is claiming the technology is perfect. Instead, Congress hopes to reduce traffic accidents.
     Car and Driver magazine reported recently that self-driving vehicles will shift liability from the drivers to the automakers and their component contractors, which could greatly expand product liability litigation.
     Under tort law, manufacturers must exercise reasonable care in designing their products to be safe for foreseeable uses.
     Many of the definitions of what is safe for self-driving technology is expected to be defined by government standards, such as from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
     Last year, NHTSA gave a glimpse of how liability will be determined with new policy guidelines. Some of the points in the policy statement said,
• Determination of who or what is the “driver” of a self-driving vehicle in a given circumstance does not necessarily determine liability for crashes involving self-driving vehicles.
• Rules and laws allocating tort liability could have a significant effect on both consumer acceptance of self-driving vehicles and their rate of deployment. Such rules also could have a substantial effect on the level and incidence of automobile liability insurance costs in jurisdictions in which self-driving vehicles operate.
• The federal government should consider creating a commission to study liability and insurance issues and to make recommendations.
     Whatever standards the government chooses, it won’t be long before they are needed. The Senate bill expected to win final approval soon authorizes automakers to sell as many as 15,000 cars and light trucks per manufacturer in the first year after Congress approves the legislation. They could sell 40,000 vehicles each the second year and 80,000 each for every year afterward.
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D.C. Law Firms Sue Drug Companies
That Manufacture or Distribute Opioids

     The Washington office of the law firm Motley Rice recently agreed to represent two small New Jersey towns in the growing number of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies that make opioids.
     Opioids are painkillers that can become addictive with repeated use. They also can be deadly in overdoses. They kill about 20 people each month in the District of Columbia.
     In July, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a multi-million dollar program to combat opioid addiction by making an antidote to overdoses more widely available at health clinics. She also plans a public awareness campaign about the dangers of the painkillers.
     Last week, a U.S. Senate committee addressed opioid abuse during a hearing that sought solutions to the crisis.
     Some jails “have been overwhelmed by people suffering from the effects of opioid addiction,” Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said during the hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
     So far, drug companies have defended themselves against most liability claims by arguing they make or distribute opioids, such as fentanyl, but other people assume the risk when they abuse them.
     However, plaintiffs have met with success in a few cases. In one case 10 years ago, a West Palm Beach, Fla. jury awarded $5.5 million against pharmaceutical subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson. They court said the companies’ Duragesic fentanyl transdermal pain patch was dangerous and potentially deadly.

CoStar Debuts Redesigned Website
For Commercial Property Listings

     Real estate data firm CoStar is rolling out a new database this week for its listings of commercial properties in the Washington, D.C.-area.
     CoStar says it is easier to use for its subscribers and website visitors.
     The new database is a result of CoStar’s $860 million acquisition of LoopNet, a free public listing service for commercial properties. CoStar integrated LoopNet’s database with its own.
     New features of CoStar’s subscription website include a redesigned home page. It displays news stories and gives access to products and information.
     A functional change is the way landlord brokers can upload listings. Until now, subscribers had to interact with a CoStar researcher to make the uploads. Now they can upload and manage the listings themselves.
     In addition, tenant representatives can search the CoStar database instead of needing to make a separate search on LoopNet.
     “It totally compresses the timeline for when things are happening on those properties," CoStar Vice President Rob Cain said. "It really adds a high degree of efficiency and timeliness to the data."

Big Referral Fees for Little Work

   Do you know someone who wants to sell a home, office or other real estate?
   If you do, you could earn thousands of dollars with a quick phone call or e-mail. The Legal Forum pays a base fee of $1,500 for referrals to sellers’ property that sells for at least $200,000. Each $100,000 of value to the property over $200,000 gives the person making the referral an extra $100. A $700,000 dollar property value, for example, would earn a referral fee of $2,000.
   Your only obligation is to phone or e-mail Tom Ramstack with the name, address, phone number or e-mail address of the seller. In most cases, it should take no more than 10 minutes of your time.
   The referral fees are offered to anyone in the District of Columbia but only real estate licensees in other states. However, non-real estate agents can receive credits equal to the referral fee toward the purchase or sale of property in Virginia and Maryland.
   For more information, contact Tom Ramstack of The Legal Forum,, at phone: 202-479-7240 or e-mail:
   The brokerage for the Legal Forum is Fairfax Realty at 3091 Fairview Park Drive, Unit 100, Falls Church, VA 22042, phone: (703) 533-8660. 

Legal Advice

   The Legal Forum offers representation by Washington, D.C., attorney Tom Ramstack for real estate agents cited by the Real Estate Commission or who are being sued by clients. Unlike most lawyers and law firms, The Legal Forum requires payment only if the agents or brokers win at least part of the case against them.
   The Legal Forum's attorney also is a licensed real estate agent in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, who knows the legal risks of the real estate business.
   Agents or brokers who hire The Legal Forum to represent them usually are charged a fee only if they avoid a fine, suspension or license revocation. Other arrangements can be worked out if the attorney and client cannot agree on a contingency fee.
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