When The Limited Tort Option Isn’t So Limited: Six Exceptions To Overcome Limited Tort In Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Cases

In Pennsylvania, citizens are offered a wide array of insurance options, but the two most commonly referenced are full tort versus limited tort. Which one you and your family select can have a dramatic impact on your ability to recover for losses following an automobile accident where the other drive is at-fault, or the cause of the accident.

 
Car Accident

 
The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law requires that insurers issuing private passenger motor vehicle insurance coverage offer, at a minimum, what is known as the limited tort option. While a much more cost effective option, limited tort significantly restrains those insured under such a policy to sue for anything other than economic damages (unpaid medical bills, lost wages/earnings, and property damage). What does this mean? That electing limited tort does not eliminate your right to bring a lawsuit against an at-fault driver, but it does potentially limit your recovery options.

To further explain the distinction, let’s look at this way. If you have limited tort insurance and are involved in an accident, you have the right to go after any economic losses you’ve incurred. However, many accidents also cause non-economic losses like physical injury (whiplash, back-pain, cuts and bruises, etc.). From a damages standpoint, this is known as “pain and suffering” . Limited tort coverage has the effect (at least initially) of eliminating the ability to sue for and recover damages for the pain and suffering associated with the motor vehicle accident unless your injury reaches a certain threshold.

Generally speaking, to be eligible to recover for pain and suffering damages, the injury must be considered a “serious injury”. While the definition of “serious injury” can indeed vary based on the facts of each case, it essentially includes death (obviously), a significant deformity, or a permanent or severe impairment of a bodily function.

Now with that all said, there are certain exceptions to the recovery restrictions that result from electing limited tort coverage. If you’ve been involved in an automobile accident and have limited tort coverage, but one of these exceptions apply to you, you may be able to overcome the limited tort threshold. The exceptions are listed below,  in no particular order. If one of these exceptions applies to you, please call for a free consultation at (215) 947-6240 or contact us online to schedule a meeting to learn more.

 

 

  • Victim of a DUI Accident: In the event you are involved in a motor vehicle accident with an at-fault drivers who is convicted of or pleads guilty to driving under the influence, or is placed into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), you are not restricted to limited tort despite your coverage election.

 

 

  • Vehicle Registered in Another State: If the at-fault driver’s vehicle is registered in another state other than Pennsylvania, the victim is considered to have full tort coverage.

 

 

  • Pedestrian or Cyclist: If the at-fault driver strikes a victim who is either a pedestrian or on a bicycle, said victim will not be subject to limited tort.

 

 

  • Passenger in a Non-Private Vehicle: If the victim was an occupant in vehicle that is not private (think taxi, bus, Uber, or business car), full tort coverage applies.

 

 

  • At-Fault Driver Has No Insurance: If you are a victim in a motor vehicle accident where the at-fault driver did not have car insurance, the victim can pursue both the at-fault driver and their own insurance carrier (through what’s known as uninsured motorist coverage) as if the victim had elected full tort coverage.

 

 

  • You’ve Suffered a Serious Bodily Injury: Lastly, and as outlined above, we recap the exception for a serious bodily injury. It was a coin-flip whether to categorize this as an exception or simply the law, but if you’ve suffered injuries that resulted in a serious impairment to a significant bodily function or a lasting deformity, you very well may be able to overcome the limited tort threshold.

Once more, if any of these scenarios apply to your situation, please call the experienced attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell for a free consultation at (215) 947-6240 or contact us online to schedule a meeting to learn more.
 

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

What to Know When Arrested for Underage DUI in Pennsylvania

In a previous post addressing the legal impact of reaching adulthood, we reviewed several legal issues surrounding an 18th birthday in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With school out for the summer and many college students returning home late May and remaining through August, the number of drivers under the age of twenty-one (21) naturally increases. With this increase in the number of young drivers on the road comes an increased risk of impaired driving. Setting this scene, the topic of today’s post is the effect of a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) before a person’s twenty-first birthday.
Underage DUI

DUI is one of the most common criminal charges for college-aged students (17-22) in Pennsylvania. It goes without saying that the drinking age in Pennsylvania is 21. Consumption of alcohol by anyone under 21 is illegal, and for this reason the standards are stricter and punishment often more severe for those charged with underage DUI in Pennsylvania.

For starters, while the blood alcohol content required to charge someone over the age of 21 generally begins at 0.08%, a driver under the age of 21 can be charged with driving under the influence if a chemical test shows a blood alcohol content of 0.02% or higher. Realistically, it’s nearly impossible to have just one alcohol beverage and not go over 0.02%, which is why many in the legal field refer to a charge of underage DUI as a zero tolerance offense.

As it pertains to sentencing, any driver under the age of 21 arrested for DUI in Pennsylvania is charged according to the “high” blood alcohol content rate. The impact of this categorization is that the potential punishment the underage driver faces will likely be far more severe. The potential penalties include jail time up to ninety (90) days, a $500.00 fine, and an automatic license suspension for twelve months if the driver’s blood alcohol content is 0.10% or higher. Penalties only get worse for repeat underage offenders with the potential for a multi-year license suspension and six months in jail.

In addition to the legal consequences, the collateral effects of an underage DUI conviction cannot be ignored. The damage caused by an underage DUI conviction include potential termination of an underage driver’s insurance policy (or at the very least a significant boost in the monthly premiums), significant damage to a college student’s academic standing and educational progress, and potential issues with a student’s financial aid if this student is on scholarship.

Finally, a conviction for DUI will give the underage driver a criminal record. Unless and until new legislation currently making its way through the Pennsylvania House and Senate clears, this record will be accessible by anyone who lawfully runs a background check on you, including prospective employers or administrators at colleges and universities.

If you or your child have been charged with an underage DUI in Pennsylvania, assistance from a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney is critical. As outlined above, not taking this charge seriously can have dramatic and far-reaching consequences. The Criminal Defense Attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell, led by Michael W. Cassidy, Esq., have extensive experience and knowledge in assisting clients through these matters. If any of the above information applies to you, call for a free consultation at (215)-947-6240 or contact us online to schedule a meeting.

 

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

Slow it Down in Pennsylvania Work Zones or Pay the Price!

Operation Orange Squeeze
On April 15, 2017, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, coupled with Pennsylvania State Police, launched its annual work-zone safety initiative known as “Operation Orange Squeeze”.

The maximum speed limit in work areas is forty (40) miles-per-hour. Drivers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike should be on alert whenever they see orange, whether it be cones, signs or barrels.

According to Pennsylvania Turnpike CEO Mr. Mark Compton, over the last seventy years, over 30 Pennsylvania Turnpike employees have lost their lives while on the job. In the calendar year 2015, 400 motor vehicle accidents occurred in work zones along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Finally, just over the last five years, two Pennsylvania workers were killed in accidents which occurred in work zones along the Turnpike.

In order to curb this unnecessary loss of life, Pennsylvania State Troopers will be confronting the issue of speeding motorists in work zones in a new manner. According to the commander of the Pennsylvania State Police Troop charged with Turnpike patrols, Captain Gregory Bacher, troopers will be dispatched in tandem to target speeding vehicles in work zones. One trooper will be positioned in an orange turnpike construction vehicle. Another trooper will be strategically located just outside the work zone positioned to pull over offenders and issue citations. From the construction vehicles, the troopers will be monitoring speeds of vehicles traveling through the work zones and alerting the other trooper located outside the work zone.

Now, just to give you an idea of how effective the Pennsylvania State Police have been in curbing speeding in work zones, take note of the following statistic: more than 6,000 citations were issued along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in work zones in the year 2015 alone. Furthermore, this is not the first time the Turnpike Commission and State Police have united for Operation Orange Squeeze to combat the problem of speeding in work zones. So, what does this mean for drivers traveling along the Pennsylvania Turnpike? Mainly that the two agencies are prepared and experienced in aggressively confronting this issue head on.

If caught in the “Squeeze”, motorists could face significant penalties. Fines for certain traffic violations in an active work zone, including speeding, are doubled. More importantly, if you are caught driving 11 miles per hour above the posted speed limited in an active work zone, you will lose your license for 15 days. Because this requires you to physically surrender your license to PennDOT upon being convicted, it will likely (see, definitely) take longer than 15 days before you actually get your license back and can then legally drive again in Pennsylvania.  Add to all this the fact that you also face the imposition of a 5-point penalty on your driving record, and it should be clear why speeding in a Pennsylvania work zone is such a risky (and needless) proposition.

If you are caught by Operation Orange Squeeze, the attorneys at Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy & O’Connell, LLP can assist you through the legal process and help you understand your rights and what defenses are available. Please call to setup an initial free consultation at (215) 947-6240, or contact us online.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell, LLP nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

Legally Changing Your Name in Pennsylvania

Spring has sprung and summer is right around the corner. It isn’t just baseball season, it’s also wedding season. With that in mind, today’s post describes the process for legally changing one’s name in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Name

There are a multitude of reasons why a person may wish to change their name, and this post certainly doesn’t intend to imply that marriage is the only reason. Another common reason is divorce. Regardless of the motivation, it is important to recognize that the process for formally changing one’s name in Pennsylvania through the legal system requires thoroughness, documentation and at least one court appearance.

The laws governing formal name changes in Pennsylvania can be found here. The first required step for legally changing your name is filing a Petition for Change of Name with the Prothonotary at the Court of Common Pleas in the county within which you reside. You will need to state in the Petition not only the county you currently reside in, but also any county you have resided in within the five (5) years prior to filing the Petition. This is required to allow the Court to do their due diligence and confirm that your request to change your name is not for any fraudulent purpose. Essentially, the Court wants to verify that you’re not changing your name to hide from creditors or duck any judgments previously entered against you.

Accompanying the Petition for Change of Name, you’ll need to provide a fingerprint card. You can either await the Court’s Order to get your fingerprints taken or get it done yourself and attach it as an Exhibit to your Petition. A fingerprint card can be obtained by appointment with your local police department and should be provided to Court Administration/the Prothonotary if not included as an Exhibit to the Petition. The Court will then cross-reference your fingerprints with the Pennsylvania State Police to check your criminal history (it should be noted that certain crimes could disqualify you from obtaining a name change).

There is also a filing fee for the Petition, the cost of which varies from county to county, that must be paid to the Court before they will schedule a hearing. Once you have submitted your Petition, along with the fingerprint card and filing fee, you’ll receive a hearing date scheduled by the Court along with an Order for Publication and Notice. The Order for Publication and Notice requires that you advertise you are pursuing a legal name change in two publications. You must include your current name, your desired new name, and the date, time and location of the hearing to allow anyone who might object to your name change to appear and be heard. While objections to name changes are not common, the publication requirement is a step you simply cannot miss.

The final major step is to attend a hearing in your county’s Court of Common Pleas (for example, in Montgomery County, our Court of Common Pleas is in Norristown). You will generally be provided a court date at least two months from the date of your filing of the Petition to allow you to satisfy the publication requirement. The hearing is generally very straightforward and, unless the Court determines you have an improper purpose in seeking a name change, an Order from the Court will likely be entered granting your request to change your name.

WHAT NOW: The objective of this post was to provide a road-map for the process of changing your name in Pennsylvania. The procedure and requirements will vary depending on your circumstances (for instance, a name change for a minor), and it is likely in your best interest to consult with an attorney prior to undertaking this project, which is where the attorneys at Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy & O’Connell, LLP come in. If you have any questions about the information in this article or are interested in obtaining a formal name change in Pennsylvania, the attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell are available to assist you. Call for a free consultation at (215)-947-6240 or contact us online to schedule a meeting.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell, LLP nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

Changes to Business Entity Laws Make Pennsylvania More Business Friendly

Pennsylvania has recently enacted a set of laws (known as Act 170) which modernizes the treatment of unincorporated associations (LLCs, Limited Partnerships, Limited Liability Partnerships, and Limited Liability Limited Partnerships) and makes Pennsylvania a much more desirable place for owners of these businesses to run their companies.

The new Act applies to all unincorporated associations formed on or after February 21, 2017, and to all existing entities as of April 1, 2017. The Act completely replaces the statutes governing partnerships, limited partnerships and limited liability companies. Essentially, through the enactment of this Act, Pennsylvania has adopted the most current versions of the Uniform Limited Liability Company Act, the Uniform Limited Partnership Act and the Uniform Partnership Act, putting Pennsylvania in a much stronger position to contend with ultra-business friendly states like Delaware.

There are a number of significant changes imposed by the Act, including the following:

  • Duties of Managers and General Partners: The Act establishes that LLC managers, including managing members, and LP general partners owe a duty of loyalty, a duty of care and an obligation of good faith and fair dealing to the entity and the other members/partners. Although these duties can be altered or limited through the Act by way of an operating or partnership agreement, it cannot be eliminated entirely.

 

  • Apparent Authority: Members of LLCs no longer have statutory apparent authority, which means that they are not an agent of the LLC solely by reason of being a member.
  • Distribution Tests: The new law provides two tests for measuring the legality of LLC distributions, which include transfers of cash or property to members:
    • Insolvency Test” – a distribution is not allowed if the company is unable to pay its debts as they become due; and

    • Balance Sheet Test” – a distribution is unlawful if, after the distribution is made, the company’s total liabilities would exceed the company’s total assets.

Under the Act, companies must satisfy both tests in order for the distribution to be lawful, and these tests apply to both interim and liquidating distributions.

  • Allows for the Creation of Limited Liability Limited Partnerships: A limited liability limited partnership (LLLP) is a type of partnership that is very similar to a limited liability partnership (LLP) in that it has two types of partners, general partners and limited partners. Unlike an LLP, however, the general partners in an LLLP have some liability protection. The general partners of an LLLP are not personally responsible for the debts incurred by the partnership unless they agree to be through debt covenants or other contracts. The main advantage of an LLLP is that all partners are protected by some form of liability protection, but not to the same extent of protection of an LLC or corporation.
  • Transfer of Interests and Governance Rights: Absent a provision in the partnership or operating agreement to the contrary, the only interest in a partnership or limited liability company that may be transferred is the partner or member’s Transferable Interest. The Transferable Interest is the financial interest in the entity that entitles the holder to receive distributions, but does not include any voting or management rights. Essentially, a member can only transfer economic rights (the right to receive distributions) to persons outside the business, but managing rights are not transferable unless the operating agreement provides otherwise.

 

  • Charging Orders: Under the Act, the sole method by which a judgment creditor can extract any value from a debtor’s interest in a partnership or limited liability company is by way of a charging order, which gives the creditor a lien on the debtor’s Transferable Interest in the entity. Notably, this only provides the creditor with the right to receive distributions and does not include any management rights.
  • Full Shield Protection for Partners: The existing laws on partnerships were amended to replace the former ‘partial shield’ protection for partners and replace it with ‘full shield’ protection by removing language that implied that a partner in a limited liability partnership or limited liability limited partnership could be liable for any act of a person under the supervision and control of the partner even if the partner had no responsibility to supervise or control the act giving rise to the liability.  As a result of the revised language, partners are now only liable for their own negligence or wrongful acts.

 

If you’re currently the owner or operator of a partnership or LLC in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the time is ripe to review your operating/partnership agreement with your attorney. There may be changes required or recommended as a result of the passage of Act 170, and your attorney would be in the best position to point you in the right direction. If you have any questions about the information in this article or are interested in getting more specific information regarding the impact of these changes to the business laws in Pennsylvania, the attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell are available to assist you today. Call for a free consultation at (215)-947-6240 or contact us online to schedule a meeting.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Case on Special Needs Students

The United States Supreme Court heard arguments on January 11, 2017 in a case arising out of Douglas County, Colorado that will have a nationwide impact for parents of children that have difficulty learning in the traditional school environment. In the case before the Supreme Court, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, a child was receiving instruction through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for the early years of public school education. As the child’s behavior became more difficult nearing 5th grade, the school district made recommendations that the parents thought were insufficient to properly educate the child. The parents transferred the child to a private school and sued the school district under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for failing to meet the educational needs of the child.
school

The Supreme Court has been asked to decide whether the IDEA requires a school district to provide 1) “some academic progress” that is more than simply “de minimis” (too trivial or minor to warrant consideration) OR 2) provide a benefit that is more substantial. Based upon the questions posed by the justices, it appears that there is great concern that the school districts are not being held to a high enough standard. The Court may end up struggling with the creation of a measurable guideline that can be used by all school districts for all students. The language of the law as is currently written leaves too much room for argument as to what constitutes “student progress”.

The attorneys at Howland Hess Guinan Torpey Cassidy & O’Connell, LLP remain available to assist any client who might be involved in a dispute with an individual school or a school district. Call today for a free consultation at (215) 947-6240 or contact us online.

 

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell, LLP, nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

Driving Drowsy as Dangerous as Driving Drunk?

drowsy-drivingRegardless of where you live or what type of car you drive, driving while drowsy is an incredibly risky endeavor which is seriously underappreciated by motor vehicle operators nationwide. In a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 37% of individuals polled admitted to having fallen asleep while driving. Additionally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 83,000 accidents across the country are caused by fatigued driving each year. These accidents result, on average, in over 40,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths annually.

So, with these facts in mind, let’s take a closer look at the “Drowsy Driver”.

Who fits the bill as being described as a “Drowsy Driver”? The most frequently cited example is an individual who sleeps, on average, less than six hours per night.

And when are accidents caused by “Drowsy Drivers” most common? Not surprisingly, drowsy driving accidents are most common at night, followed by mid-afternoon.

And who are the most common “Drowsy Drivers”? Shift workers are the most common segment of society to feel the effects of drowsy driving, but high school and college students are not far behind.

Many researchers who study the effects of sleep deprivation draw a comparison between being over-drowsy and intoxicated. Research has indicated that individuals operating a motor vehicle on only 4 or 5 hours of sleep are likely to experience symptoms similar to that of intoxication. These symptoms include a pronounced inability to focus, inattentiveness, delayed response and reaction time, blurred vision, impaired field-of-depth judgment, and even falling asleep at the wheel.

If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle accident where the other driver was deemed to be “drowsy” or “fatigued”, the team of lawyers at Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy & O’Connell, LLP are ready and able to fight for your rights to compensation for injuries, property damage, and medical expenses. Call today for a free consultation at (215) 947-6240 or contact us online.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell, LLP, nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.