Month: June 2015

Lawsuit: Boeing Endangered Passengers and Attendants with Toxic Cabin Air

Four flight attendants from Alaska Airlines filed suit claiming they were exposed to toxic air in airline cabins. The suit further claims that Boeing was aware of the danger and knowingly put passengers and crew members at risk of exposure. The claim arose from a 2013 flight from Boston to San Diego that was forced to make an emergency landing in Chicago after three of the attendants on board lost consciousness and required hospitalization. All four attendants on board claim they are still suffering health effects as a result of the exposure. They allege that Boeing has attempted to conceal several occurrences where toxic chemicals from the jet engine oil mixes with air from the plane’s cabin, causing a “fume event.” Read the complaint. Boeing denies the allegations and claims their cabin air is safe based on years of air quality research showing that health and safety standards are always met.

Guardianship and Conservatorship in Virginia

Guardians and conservators are appointed to represent and protect the interests of incapacitated persons. Incapacitation means the person is unable to make decisions on their own. The incapacitated person is referred to as the “ward.” Statutory authority for these appointments can be found in Virginia Code 64.2-Chapter 20. A guardian acts to make decisions with regard to the ward’s healthcare and living conditions but does not necessarily have authority to spend money or make decisions regarding the ward’s finances. A separate appointment as conservator is required to obtain authority over an incapacitated person’s financial affairs. Without a power of attorney in place, the only way to gain authority over an incapacitated person is through guardianship and conservatorship proceedings in the Circuit Court. A judge decides whether the person is incapacitated and who should act as guardian and/or conservator. A guardian’s authority can be broad or it can be limited in nature and duration. Authority may be limited depending on the ability of the incapacitated person to take care of his own personal, health, and safety needs. The extent or limitations of authority will be enumerated in the court’s Order. Similarly, the authority of a guardian may be broad or limited in nature. The court may grant authority over all of the ward’s financial affairs or may only be permitted to exercise authority over one account for limited purposes. When a petition is filed for guardianship and conservatorship, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate the respondent’s condition and report the same to the court. The guardian ad litem is responsible for providing a copy of the petitions to the incapacitated person and advising him of his rights during the proceedings. The incapacitated person may elect to hire their own attorney to represent their interests in the proceedings. After the guardian ad litem’s investigation is complete, a hearing will be held on the petition. The respondent can request a jury trial, can present his own evidence, and has the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses. Following the standards set in Virginia Code 64.2-2007, the court will consider: (i) the limitations of the respondent; (ii) the development of the respondent’s maximum self-reliance and independence; (iii) the availability of less restrictive alternatives, including advance directives and durable powers of attorney; (iv) the extent to which it is necessary to protect the respondent from neglect, exploitation, or abuse; (v) the actions needed to be taken by the guardian or conservator; (vi) the suitability of the proposed guardian or conservator; and (vii) the best interests of the respondent. After the hearing, the court may order appointment of a guardian and conservator while giving deference to the known wishes of the respondent. The guardian and conservator must file reports each year concerning the ward’s physical condition and financial status. Appointment of a guardian and conservator essentially removes the ward’s rights to make decisions for himself, so it should only be used as a last resort when other options are not available. If you have a loved one who is incapacitated, you should consult with an attorney to determine whether guardianship and conservatorship proceedings are an option.

Emergency Child Custody in Virginia

If a child’s health or safety is at risk in their current environment, parents or other interested parties can petition the court for emergency child custody. There are specific rules that apply to emergency custody. At any time, parents, step-parents, or others can petition the court for custody of the child and must demonstrate their custody is in the best interests of the child. In an emergency situation, the standard is much different. If a child is being abused or neglected, a family member can intervene and petition the court for a temporary, safe home. This can be an alternative to placing a child in foster care. Any person with significant connection to the child can be eligible to petition the court for emergency custody. That includes grandparents and other extended family members. An emergency custody motion does not have to meet the jurisdiction requirements for a regular custody or visitation case. A petition for emergency custody can proceed so long as the child is in Virginia at the time of the petition. The child does not need to be a resident of the state. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act requires that states defer to any decisions made by the child’s home state family court. In emergency situations, another state may be able to temporarily modify an order. In order to bring a successful emergency custody petition, a family member needs to demonstrate that the child is a victim of (or at risk of): physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, or neglect. The court can remove children from homes where the custodial parent is a substance abuser or convicted child molester, even if no abuse or neglect has yet occurred. Judges will make decisions on a case-by-case basis to determine whether an emergency or immediate risk to the child exists. In order to apply for emergency custody, family members must fill out whatever paperwork is required by the local court. The hearings are expedited and may take place within a few days. Sometimes, family members will make false accusations in order to obtain temporary custody of a child. The court requires parties to provide some credible evidence of a risk to the child. That could mean bringing the child’s medical records, police reports, abuse convictions, or other relevant proof. An emergency custody motion can only accomplish one thing: removing a child from a harmful or dangerous environment. In order to obtain full custody of the child, the petitioner still needs to file for custody. The emergency order is only meant to be temporary. A full custody petition can only be brought in the child’s home state, which may or may not be Virginia. If you feel your child is at risk of abuse or neglect by their custodial parent, you should contact a child custody attorney to discuss your options.

Guardians Ad Litem in Virginia

A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is an attorney who is appointed by the court to represent the interests of a child or incapacitated person. The GAL will conduct an investigation and provide independent recommendations to the court about the client’s best interests as well as inform the court about the client’s wishes. In order to determine the best interests of the client, the GAL will conduct interviews with relevant witnesses and parties, observe the client’s interactions with others, and make reports to the court based on their findings. Section 16.1-266 provides the basis for appointment of GALs for both children who are before the court as a result of abuse or neglect. The statute calls for appointment of a “discreet and competent attorney at law.” In a suit for guardianship or conservatorship of an incapacitated person, a GAL may be appointed pursuant to Section 64.2-2003. Again, the GAL is tasked with conducting an investigation, including visiting the respondent (the person alleged to be incapacitated) and advising them of their rights in the process. If appropriate, the GAL may recommend the court appoint an attorney to represent the respondent directly in the process. Most commonly, GALs are appointed to represent the interests of children in disputed custody cases. Rule 8:6 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia defines the roles of counsel and of guardian ad litem when representing children as follows: The role of counsel for a child is the representation of the child’s legitimate interests. When appointed for a child, the guardian ad litem shall vigorously represent the child, fully protecting the child’s interest and welfare. The guardian ad litem shall advise the court of the wishes of the child in any case where the wishes of the child conflict with the opinion of the guardian ad litem as to what is in the child’s interest and welfare. In custody cases, every GAL takes on three main roles: advocate for the child, investigator, and witness. The GAL can inform the court of matters or issues not presented or argued by either party, allowing the court to have a better picture of the case. In addition to speaking with the parents and the children involved in the case, the GAL will likely interview the children’s teachers, doctors, therapists, neighbors, or extended family members. The GAL will also conduct a home visit at each parent’s home. Most children will interact more openly and discuss their thoughts or concerns more fully with a GAL at home rather than at the GAL’s office. A GAL also has an obligation to explain to the child, in terms the child can understand, the nature of the proceedings, developments in the case, and the court’s determination and its meaning. A GAL can be removed or suspended from the appointment list if they do not perform all tasks required of them or adhere to the standards set for GALs.  

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