Steven H. Kruis, Esq.

Profile

Steven H. Kruis, Esq. has mediated thousands of matters throughout Southern California since 1993, and is with the San Diego office of ADR Services, Inc.  He settles real property, business, employment, trust/probate, professional liability, and personal injury disputes.

A balance between legal acumen and a keen understanding of people is the key to his effectiveness.  He demonstrates a passion for settling disputes and makes the extra effort to lead the parties to settlement rather than impose it upon them.  As a result, parties have reached settlements ranging from over $10 million to less than $10,000.

He graduated with honors from the University of Notre Dame in 1977 with a degree in government and international studies.  Selected as a 1978-1979 Rotary International Scholar, he studied in London, England, and subsequently received his Juris Doctor degree from the Notre Dame Law School in 1980.

Mr. Kruis began his legal career as an assistant district attorney, and then became a partner with Higgs, Fletcher & Mack LLP, San Diego’s oldest and one of its largest law firms, where he ultimately served as the firm’s managing partner.  Since 1980, and before becoming a full-time neutral, he litigated a wide variety of cases, and earned an “AV” rating from Martindale-Hubbell.

He lives in San Diego with his wife, Katherine, who also is an attorney.

Primary Areas of Focus

  • Real Property
    • Mr. Kruis was one of the original members and chair of the San Diego Association of Realtors® mediation committee, now known as the Real Estate Mediation Center, formed in 1991 to mediate commercial and residential real property matters and real estate licensee disputes. He has authored two California Department of Real Estate approved courses for real estate licensees, represented the San Diego Association of Realtors®, has been a licensed California real estate broker since 1985, and has testified in court as an expert witness on real property issues. For over 21 years, he has mediated all facets of commercial and residential real property disputes involving boundaries, eminent domain, encroachment, HOA & CC&R’s, leases, land use planning, MLS, mobile home parks, mold infestation, nondisclosure, nuisance, prescriptive easement, real estate broker commissions, specific enforcement, title (lien priorities, equitable subrogation, judicial and non-judicial foreclosure, slander of title) and view obstructions.
  • Probate and Trust Matters
    • Mr. Kruis gained expertise in the probate and trust area when he litigated will contests and trust disputes for his law firm’s estate planning practice group, and now mediates a substantial number probate and trust matters, including will contests based upon lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence, Probate Code Section 17200 claims, and claims for breach of fiduciary duty by trustees.
  • Employment
    • As a lawyer, Mr. Kruis handled ERISA and employment-related matters in State and Federal court for a Fortune 500 corporation that he represented for many years, and now mediates the full spectrum of employment disputes involving wage and hour, discrimination and harassment (based upon age, disability, gender, medical condition, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, sexual orientation), family/medical leave, Labor Code 970, retaliation, and public policy violation.
  • Professional Liability
    • Mr. Kruis mediates disputes involving the liability of professionals in the areas of real estate brokerage, insurance brokerage, financial adviser, accounting, legal, dental, medical, home inspection, and architecture.
  • Personal Injury
    • As an attorney, his personal injury experience ranged from winning a seven-figure jury verdict on behalf of a plaintiff who suffered an organic brain injury in an automobile accident to defensing a complex, seven-figure claim by plaintiffs who were allegedly exposed to debilitating doses of toxic substances. Subsequently, as a mediator he has handled all types of cases from soft-tissue to catastrophic injury, including premises liability, automobile, pedestrian, bicycle, boat, dog bite, civil assault, sexual assault, defamation, elder abuse, false imprisonment, food poisoning, industrial accident, injury to reputation, invasion of privacy, maritime, medical and dental malpractice, mold exposure, products liability, premises liability, shooting, toxic substance exposure, and wrongful death matters.
  • Business/Partnership
    • As a former managing partner of a major law firm, Mr. Kruis understands partnership and business dynamics that have enabled him to bring a practical approach to mediating business disputes including breach of contract, partnership and corporate dissolution, securities fraud, franchise, intellectual property, and unfair competition.

Recognition

  • Martindale-Hubbell Top Rated Lawyers “AV” Preeminent Rated Lawyer Status.
  • Listed in Best Lawyers in America – Practice Area: Mediation.
  • Listed in San Diego Super Lawyers – Practice Area: ADR.

Representative Cases

Business/Commercial

  • Dispute involving alleged breach of contract between hotel group and company hired to upgrade its website. Both parties made monetary claims against the other. Case was complicated by acquisition of original website development company by another company. Issues included whether successor company became a party to the original contract, quantum meruit for work performed by successor company, and appropriate remedies under theories of recovery.
  • Dispute involving joint venture to develop raw land. Issues included obligations and remedies of parties following capital call, accounting and breach of fiduciary duty of managing member, and measure of damages for breach of fiduciary duties.
  • Dispute between franchisor and franchisee over terms of contract, including franchisee’s claim that that franchisor granted rights to competing company in franchisee’s exclusive geographical territory and franchisor’s claim for accounting and additional payment of franchise fees.
  • Dispute involving misappropriation of intellectual property rights and trade secrets by former employees who left employer to start competing business and allegedly took proprietary information, customer lists, and unique customer requirements. Issues included whether information was proprietary, proof, and measure of damages.
  • Dispute involving dissolution of general partnership involving complex accounting and tax questions, division of partnership property, marshalling of partnership assets, and balancing the capital accounts of the individual partners.
  • Dispute involving security fraud case in which the investor purchased shares of stock of privately held corporation based upon allegedly inaccurate financial statements provided by the corporation and some of its officers.
  • Disputed involving claim of unfair competition between commercial real estate brokers competing in niche market of commercial tenant leases in specific geographical region. Plaintiff claimed defendant had acquired some of its proprietary information through former real estate licensee who had left employment by plaintiff to work for defendant. Plaintiff also alleged defendant was violating Business and Professions Code Section 17200 by making material misrepresentations in its advertising to clients sought by both firms.
  • Dispute involving breach of contract claim by construction project manager hired by large construction company to manage project in San Diego County. Manager claimed he had been underpaid bonuses due under the contract. The company claimed that the manager’s performance caused the project to run over-budget thereby negating any bonus payment. The mediation was complicated by the fact that both parties introduced different versions of the written contract that supported different interpretations of the bonus requirements.
  • Dispute involving claim by egg wholesaler against egg supplier for allegedly defective product -- some lots included eggs that were not as fresh as warranted. Issues included value of stale eggs, and cost to cover so that wholesaler could provide retail customers with fresh eggs pursuant to contracts wholesaler had with those customers.
  • Dispute involving sale of dry cleaning business. Buyer alleged that seller failed to disclose the presence of ground-water contamination. Issues included seller’s knowledge, buyer’s potential liability exposure to state and federal enforcement agencies, and conflicting expert testimony regarding likely cleanup protocols that could be imposed.

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Employment

  • Dispute involving class action brought by commercial airline pilots against employer for underpayment of wages, nonpayment of overtime, and related claims and penalties (improper wage statements, waiting time penalties, etc.)
  • Dispute involving claim for sexual harassment brought by former female employee against employer based upon comments by male manager about employee’s anatomy. Plaintiff alleged that she was terminated after she complained about manager’s harassment. Employer claimed the termination was for legitimate business reasons. To show pretext, plaintiff submitted declaration from former HR manager stating that manager opposed termination because it was illegal.
  • Dispute involving “whistleblower” claim by plaintiff against his former employer resulting from his termination for allegedly opposing fraudulent marketing practices of employer.
  • Dispute involving failure to engage in interactive process based upon plaintiff’s medical disability stemming from his open-heart surgery that limited the amount of time plaintiff could stand on his feet due to vein removed from his leg, which allegedly could be mitigated with use of a stool. The employer claimed plaintiff was terminated because he was unable to perform his essential job functions, and raised the defense of after-acquired evidence based upon misstatements in plaintiff’s job application and resume regarding his credentials that would result in termination of any company employee upon discovery.
  • Dispute involving PAGA claim based upon alleged failure of retail employer to provide uninterrupted meal and rest periods to employees.
  • Dispute involving claim for discrimination and wrongful termination based upon medical condition stemming from plaintiff’s thyroid cancer and resulting treatment. Issues included reasonable accommodation, engagement in the interactive process to address plaintiff’s condition, defendant’s alleged legitimate business reason to separate plaintiff from company, and plaintiff’s future loss of earnings.
  • Dispute involving claim of gender harassment and wrongful termination brought by executive director of non-profit entity against its president.
  • Dispute involving wrongful termination in violation of public policy brought by truck driver who alleged his employer terminated him when he refused to falsify his driving logs so as to comport to federal and state safety requirements that limit the hours a commercial truck driver may work before mandatory rest period required.
  • Dispute involving claim by former employee, an automobile mechanic, that employer terminated him after he suffered injury on job to prevent employee from seeking worker’s compensation benefits. Employer disputed injury occurred and claimed termination was for legitimate business reasons.
  • Dispute involving wage and hour claim brought by “handy man” for unpaid wages against owners of real property for improvements made. The case was very contentious because of family dynamics - the handy man was the father of the owners’ daughter-in-law.

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Personal Injury/Wrongful Death

  • Dispute involving pesticide poisoning of plaintiff by overspray of insecticide while helicopter was spraying lime grove adjacent to plaintiff’s home that allegedly caused her to become permanently disabled. Case involved numerous medical and psychiatric issues of causation, injuries, and damages.
  • Dispute involving traumatic brain injury of plaintiff who was negligently run over in crosswalk by van. The defense argued comparative negligence as plaintiff was talking on her cell phone at the time of the accident. The degree of plaintiff’s permanent cognitive impairment was vigorously contested.
  • Dispute involving wrongful death of police officer while on patrol when his police cruiser was fatally struck by semi-truck that ran stop sign at intersection to highway. Defense claimed that the truck driver suffered a heart attack immediately before running the stop sign. Economists differed significantly on the amount of damages attributable to loss of support for surviving spouse and children.
  • Dispute involving premises liability case stemming from plaintiff slipping on liquid in store while holding a fifteen-pound bag of dog food allegedly causing a severe case of piriformis syndrome. Issues included liability, comparative negligence, extent of physical injury, and spoliation of evidence as surveillance video was apparently lost.
  • Dispute involving two minor plaintiffs allegedly exposed to mold-infested environment when living in apartment. Plaintiffs claimed they became “sensitized” due to long-term exposure to amplified mycotoxins and dust mites thereby developing permanent allergies requiring life-long treatment.
  • Dispute involving premises liability claim against governmental entity bases upon plaintiff’s trip and fall on sidewalk that was deflected by tree roots. City brought cross-complaint against adjacent property owner for allowing tree roots to deflect sidewalk. Issues included liability, comparative negligence, allocation of liability between city and property owner, plaintiff’s reasonable and necessary medical treatment, and level of plaintiff’s permanent impairment.
  • Dispute involving motor vehicle accident on freeway causing chain collision of five vehicles ultimately injuring plaintiff. Issues included extent and value of plaintiff’s injuries as well as allocation of fault between four defendant drivers and contributions by their respective insurance carriers.
  • Dispute involving product liability claim against boat manufacturer based upon loss of plaintiff’s leg that was severed by boat prop. Defendant raised numerous defenses, including fact that driver of boat, who had been criminally prosecuted for operating the boat while intoxicated, was the sole cause of the injury.
  • Dispute involving motor vehicle collision in which plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-impacted by van driven by defendant causing plaintiff to sustained minor, soft-tissue injuries. Several weeks later, plaintiff became dizzy and fell in the shower sustaining more serious injuries. Plaintiff alleged that the medication from the first injury was a substantial factor in causing the second injury. Issues included causation, extent of physical injuries, and amount of worker compensation lien as worker comp carrier had interpleaded.
  • Dispute involving claim based upon toxic substance exposure stemming from application of insecticide by licensed pest-control operator to treat termite infestation of plaintiff’s home. Issues included causation and the extent of plaintiff’s physical injuries.

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Probate, Trust & Estates

  • Dispute involving probate of will of large estate. Decedent had been involuntary committed into the psychiatric ward of the local hospital after exhibiting psychotic behavior. Her medical chart reflected periods of insane delusions and times of complete mental clarity. Distant cousins sought her discharge, placed her in a nursing home, and allegedly caused decedent to revise her estate plan to leave the entire estate to the cousins. A religious women, her prior estate plan always included the church as a beneficiary, which challenged the new estate plan alleging that decedent lacked testamentary capacity.
  • Dispute involving Probate Code Section 17200 petition for instructions filed by professional successor trustee in intra-family dispute regarding the care of surviving co-settlor of trust. Case also raised issues regarding special-needs trust established for disabled beneficiary.
  • Dispute involving Probate Code Section 850 claim brought by former spouse against new wife of decedent, who received life-insurance proceeds after decedent’s unexpected death. Claim based upon decedent’s obligations of child and spousal support to former spouse that were to be secured (but were not) by the subject life insurance pursuant to a qualified domestic relations order.
  • Dispute involving companion probate and civil actions dealing with distribution of assets from QTIP and Bypass trusts. Primary issue was determination of assets held by trusts since decedent had made various transfers of real property that allegedly transmuted property from separate to community property and effected transfer of title into the respective trusts upon his death.
  • Dispute involving “Marvin Claim” against the estate of decedent by his long-term gay companion.
  • Dispute involving nine claimants against estate of deceased attorney who allegedly misappropriated client funds and investments. Mediation involved extensive negotiations over allocation of estate as claims exceeded value of estate.
  • Dispute involving adult siblings over the control of their mother’s conservatorship involving both her person and estate.
  • Dispute between adult siblings challenging distribution of their mother’s estate. Petitioner sought enforcement of an oral agreement – the mother’s alleged promise to give a larger share of the estate to petitioner for caregiver services at the mother’s end-of-life phase.
  • Dispute between adult sisters after the death of their father, who had established a trust for his considerable estate that included real property in various states. The non-trustee sister brought claims for breach of fiduciary duty and to surcharge her sister as trustee. The case presented complex tax and accounting issues for 1031 Exchange properties, stepped up basis issues, and other tax questions.
  • Dispute involving probate of will. While in her 80s, decedent married her gardener, who was 40 years her junior. Revisions to decedent’s estate plan drafted by attorney for gardener that left the entire estate to the gardener. The natural heirs, who had been beneficiaries in prior estate plans, challenged the will claiming decedent lacked testamentary capacity and was under the undue influence of gardener.
  • Dispute involving claims for breach of fiduciary duty after trustee sold several parcels of commercial real property. Petitioner alleged that the property was sold well below the fair market value that decreased the distributions made to the beneficiaries.
  • Dispute involving breach of fiduciary duty brought by beneficiaries against trustee for mismanagement of and misappropriation from trust estate. The trust beneficiaries were the adult children of settlor from a previous marriage. Trustee was the settlor’s second husband.
  • Dispute involving petition for accounting and to surcharge trustee for mismanagement of trust estate that included development of raw land and alleged mismanagement of investment equities.
  • Dispute involving adult siblings (brother and sister) over distribution of their father’s estate. Before his death, the father had changed the successor trustee from son to daughter out of fear the son would place him in a nursing home. Issues included occupancy of residence, claim for “back rent,” and mismanagement of assets.
  • Dispute involving will contest between nieces and nephews of childless decedent, who changed estate plan to provide larger share to nephew who cared for her. Extensive medical and psychological evidence regarding decedent’s testamentary capacity at time will codicil executed.
  • Dispute involving the interpretation of a settlement agreement reached in a previous mediation involving who would pay the fees of a special trustee and the attorney fees of her counsel to manage and distribute assets under the trust.
  • Dispute involving Probate Code Section 17200 petition for instructions filed by co-trustee in intrafamily dispute between sisters regarding care of elderly mother with cross-petition filed by other sister for accounting and seeking to surcharge co-trustee.
  • Dispute involving will contest based upon alleged undue influence of caregiver, who prevented family from contacting elderly and infirm decedent and causing decedent to change estate plan to disinherit family and leave entire estate to caregiver.
  • Dispute involving petition filed by beneficiary against her sister, the trustee and beneficiary, for accounting and to surcharge trustee for mismanagement of trust estate that included allegedly improper transfers of real property. Trust estate included vintage classic cars, the division of which proved to be the most divisive issue in the mediation. Dispute involving petition filed by beneficiaries against trustee for accounting and to surcharge trustee for alleged mismanagement of trust corpus due to failure to diversify investment assets that precipitously declined in value during Great Recession.

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Professional Liability

  • Dispute involving claim by buyer of single family residence against her real estate broker for allegedly failing to discover and disclose material defects that affected the value of the property, which would have been discovered based upon a competent and diligent inspection of the property by the broker. Issues included whether the broker fell below the standard of care, the correct measure of damages, and the cost to repair the defects.
  • Dispute involving legal malpractice claim by client against real estate attorney who drafted 130page commercial lease for space in office tower that allegedly failed to include correct total “rentable square feet” that caused client to incur significantly more rent than if lease had been properly drafted. Issues include standard of care and measure of damages.
  • Dispute involving malpractice claim against dentist for insertion of dental implants in patient that were allegedly improperly fitted requiring surgical removal and replacement. Issues included whether dentist fell below the standard of care and recoverable damages.
  • Dispute involving claim brought by lender against escrow officer for malpractice in failing to insure correct legal descriptions were included in documents that she prepared and had singed as part of loan transaction that later prevented lender from foreclosing on real property security after borrow defaulted on loan. Issues included standard of care and calculation of damages.
  • Dispute involving malpractice claim by elderly client against investment advisor for making allegedly inappropriate investments for plaintiff in light of her age. Issues included whether the defendant fell below the standard of care and the measure and amount of damages.
  • Dispute involving malpractice claim brought by lender against appraiser for malpractice in failing to correctly appraise real property security in loan transaction where buyer ultimately defaulted, lender foreclosed, and value of real property security was significantly less than loan balance and appraised value of real property security.
  • Dispute involving malpractice claim brought by church against architect for improperly drawn plans and specifications that led to a myriad of costs beyond initial estimate given such as windows and doors that did not fit, HVAC that was inadequate in peak heat conditions, and water intrusion problems. Issues included whether defendant fell below the standard of care, cost of repair, and other recoverable damages.
  • Dispute involving malpractice claim against veterinarian by pet owner for over-treating pet with incurable cancer, causing pet (and owner) to suffer unnecessarily, and charging inordinate fees.
  • Dispute involving malpractice claim by owner of apartment building against property manager hired to manage property. The property manager allegedly failed to properly market and rent the units, collect all rents, allowed property to suffer waste, and then failed to competently manage repairs resulting in exorbitant repair costs.
  • Dispute involving claim for malpractice against licensed pest control operator for misapplication of insecticide that allegedly made home uninhabitable for plaintiffs’ (husband and wife) four young children. Issues involved whether defendant fell below the standard of care and the correct measure and calculation of damages.

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Real Property

  • Dispute involving complex title issues involving five parties stemming from original lender’s premature and mistaken filing of reconveyance of trust deed before underlying loan was repaid. Subsequently, through a series of refinancing transactions, four other lenders made loans secured by trust deeds recorded against the same property resulting in equitable subrogation and lien priority issues between the lenders and their title insurers.
  • Dispute involving sale of single family residence in which buyer alleged that seller failed to disclose material facts that affected the value of the property. Additional parties to the litigation included the buyer’s real estate agent, the seller’s real estate agent, the property inspector, and the termite inspector. Issues included allocation of liability and the correct measures of damages.
  • Dispute involving sale of mobile home park in which buyer claimed that the seller failed to disclose known material facts that negatively affected the fair market value of the park. Issues included buyer’s duty to conduct due diligence in a commercial transaction and the correct measure of damages.

     Dispute involving boundaries of single family residence and encroachment of defendant’s improvements on plaintiff’s property. Case complicated by competing surveys creating uncertainty as to true location of actual boundary between contiguous properties. Plaintiff was unable to obtain title insurance and sell property until boundary issues resolved by way of agreed boundary settlement.

     Dispute involving claim by homeowner association of large common interest development against individual owner for violation of the “CC&Rs” (declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions) regarding improvements made by the owner to his individual property interest without prior approval of the architectural committee. Case complicated by the owner’s allegations that the recently-elected board of directors did not have authority to enforce the CC&Rs by virtue of irregularities in the voting process.

     Dispute involving commercial lease of industrial space. Lessor sought unpaid rent from the tenant, who cross-complained seeking recovery of rent previously paid because of ongoing water-intrusion issues allegedly causing mold infestation and amplification of dust mite population that made portions of the industrial space and office area uninhabitable.





     Dispute involving view obstruction of ocean view by uphill property owner claiming construction of second story by downhill owner violated view easement recorded against the downhill property. Issues included validity and enforceability of easement as well as remedies available to plaintiff.

     Dispute involving a prescriptive easement for ingress and egress to large tract of land that developer sought to subdivide. The easement traversed eight separate parcels owned by the defendants. Issues included scope of easement and burden imposed on the servient estates.

     Dispute involving claim by numerous downhill owners against uphill owner for damages caused by surface water drainage flowing downhill. Issues included whether uphill owner altered the natural flow of water, and the cost to repair extensive damage caused by flow of mud and debris following major storm.

     Dispute involving commission claim by real estate broker against seller of real property under prior listing agreement that broker had with seller. After the listing expired, the seller sold the property to the buyer to whom the broker had initially shown the property. Issues included “procuring cause” and interpretation of language in written listing agreement.
  • Dispute involving sale of mobile home park in which buyer claimed that the seller failed to disclose known material facts that negatively affected the fair market value of the park. Issues included buyer’s duty to conduct due diligence in a commercial transaction and the correct measure of damages.
  • Dispute involving boundaries of single family residence and encroachment of defendant’s improvements on plaintiff’s property. Case complicated by competing surveys creating uncertainty as to true location of actual boundary between contiguous properties. Plaintiff was unable to obtain title insurance and sell property until boundary issues resolved by way of agreed boundary settlement.
  • Dispute involving claim by homeowner association of large common interest development against individual owner for violation of the “CC&Rs” (declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions) regarding improvements made by the owner to his individual property interest without prior approval of the architectural committee. Case complicated by the owner’s allegations that the recently-elected board of directors did not have authority to enforce the CC&Rs by virtue of irregularities in the voting process.
  • Dispute involving commercial lease of industrial space. Lessor sought unpaid rent from the tenant, who cross-complained seeking recovery of rent previously paid because of ongoing water-intrusion issues allegedly causing mold infestation and amplification of dust mite population that made portions of the industrial space and office area uninhabitable.
  • Dispute involving view obstruction of ocean view by uphill property owner claiming construction of second story by downhill owner violated view easement recorded against the downhill property. Issues included validity and enforceability of easement as well as remedies available to plaintiff.
  • Dispute involving a prescriptive easement for ingress and egress to large tract of land that developer sought to subdivide. The easement traversed eight separate parcels owned by the defendants. Issues included scope of easement and burden imposed on the servient estates.
  • Dispute involving claim by numerous downhill owners against uphill owner for damages caused by surface water drainage flowing downhill. Issues included whether uphill owner altered the natural flow of water, and the cost to repair extensive damage caused by flow of mud and debris following major storm.
  • Dispute involving commission claim by real estate broker against seller of real property under prior listing agreement that broker had with seller. After the listing expired, the seller sold the property to the buyer to whom the broker had initially shown the property. Issues included “procuring cause” and interpretation of language in written listing agreement.

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