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.

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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.

Halloween Tips for Homeowners

A day and night full of mischief and superstition, Halloween (or All Hallows’ Evening) is an event celebrated by children throughout the country both old and young. While Halloween should be a time filled with laughs and candy, it is important that homeowners take the necessary steps to protect the youngsters knocking on their front doors and, in turn, themselves.

halloween-hero-1-aAs a homeowner partaking in Halloween, you have an obligation to make your premises safe for visitors. By following a few of the steps listed below, you may reduce the risk that one of those ghouls or goblins morphs into something far worse: a Plaintiff.

 

  1. Take a Walk: When you get home from work, imagine the steps that tonight’s trick-or-treaters will be taking as they approach your home and walk it out. Look for any areas that pose potential threats, such as uneven pavement or dimly-lit steps. Start at the typical entry way onto your property and walk it straight up your door.
  2. Light It Up: I know, I know. Halloween is supposed to be scary, dark, mysterious. But to avoid preventable trips and falls, it’s critical that your home and property is sufficiently lit. Notice a light bulb burnt out or dimming? Change it. No street lights or inadequate lighting for your front property? Purchase a high-powered outdoor spotlight or walkway lighting to illuminate your entire home.
  3. Put the Pups Inside: Sure, it would be great if everyone (including our furry friends) could enjoy the fun of Halloween and trick-or-treating. However, this can be a shocking experience for a dog, especially one that’s not particularly fond of people to begin with. If you’re not positive how your dog will react to costumed children “intruding” onto their property, don’t risk it. Keep your dog or dogs indoors and away from the front door where trick or treaters knock and give your pup a new chew toy or bone to keep him or her occupied.
  4. Key an Eye on that Jack-O-Lantern: A true cornerstone of Halloween décor is the carved pumpkin brightened by a candle. While it is obviously advisable to use battery-powered pumpkin lights (yep, really a thing), candles are the preferred, or at least majority, choice. As with any flame, it is essential you keep a watchful eye over the lit pumpkin, and put it away from areas where children are likely to gather. An ignored live flame and children in loose fitting clothing do not make a great match!
  5. Put Away the Rake: A cluttered yard is a dangerous yard on Halloween. Remember, you’re going to be having kids scrambling from house to house trying to grab up as much candy as possible before the party’s over. Do an inventory of your front yard and any other area that tonight’s visitors will be navigating and remove items that they could trip over, like rakes, lawn furniture, hoses, potted plants or your children’s toys or bicycles.

We hope these tips ensure you have a Safe and Happy Halloween. Preparation and a heightened awareness of potential hazards can go a long way to ensuring everyone makes it home safe and sound tonight.

If you are a homeowner involved in a Halloween-related dispute, it is important you are properly represented. The legal team at Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell LLP are available to explain and defend your rights today.
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.

To Be Young Again: The Legal Impact of Your 18th Birthday

In the majority of states throughout our country, including Pennsylvania, the 18th birthday is a major legal milestone. This is the age when an individual is legally deemed an adult (though some parents might argue otherwise!).

So, what does this mean for all those seniors in high school or freshman in college celebrating their transition into adulthood? For starters, they can now vote, enter into an enforceable contract, and join the armed forces. Sounds great, right? Well, like all things in life, there are both pros and cons.

This post is going to focus on two areas of law in which this firm practices and how turning 18 changes an individual’s outlook and rights legally. This is certainly not intended to be an all-encompassing overview, but instead a starting point of conversations for parents with their children and/or consideration for those of you making the jump into adulthood.

First, we’ll review the impact that your 18th birthday has when it comes to entering into contracts. In most states, a minor (anyone under the age of 18) is deemed incapable of entering into an enforceable contract through a legal doctrine known as incapacity (this doctrine also covers the mentally ill and very intoxicated persons in most states). As a minor, an individual receives blanket protection, the strongest available defense against the formation of a valid contract. That contract is deemed voidable at the discretion of the minor (NOT THE OTHER PARTY), such that the incapacitated party (the minor) could dis-affirm the contract. If they elected to dis-affirm the contract, any obligations they had via said contract would be waived.

NOTE: There is a slight exception here for the otherwise lock-solid protection against contract formation afforded to minors. While generally contracts entered into by individuals under the age of 18 are deemed voidable at the minor’s discretion, minors may still be on the hook financially for what are deemed “necessities”. Necessities are essentially those things you require in order to live: food, clothing, housing. For necessities, the minor may still be required to pay the fair market value of the product, but that’s not necessarily the contract price agreed to originally.

Once a minor crosses the threshold into adulthood, the court system will hold him or her responsible for the promises he or she made when they entered into the contract. As an adult, you will be legally responsible for paying the contract price called for in the agreement, and if you don’t, you can (and likely will) be sued. No longer do you carry the shield of youth, and those obligations you incur via contract will be legally enforceable.

The second area of discussion is the always hot-topic of underage drinking. While you may be deemed an adult in the eyes of the legal system in Pennsylvania, you are still barred from buying, drinking, possessing, or transporting any type of alcoholic beverage (beer, wine, liquor, etc.) until you reach the age of twenty-one (21). It’s an oft-asked question: “Why can I go to war for my country at 18 years old but not have a beer?” This is an easy answer: because the law says so!

Even at the ages of 18, 19, or 20, if you are found buying, drinking, or in possession of alcohol, an officer of the law absolutely has authority to cite you for underage drinking. You’re then looking at fines and potentially jail time. Not only that, you will most likely lose your right to operate a vehicle for 90 days and this transgression will appear on your criminal record.

Parents should also be wary in this arena, as those parents who allow individuals under the age of 21 to drink in their home may be liable both civilly and criminally.

Make no doubt about it, every birthday is a special one, including one’s 18th. But it is important to be aware that the game does indeed change one you’re deemed an adult.

If any of the above legal issues apply to you or your child, the legal team at Howland Hess O’Connell is available to assist you today. A free consultation can be arranged by calling (215)-947-6240. Also feel free to contact us online to schedule a meeting today.

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.

Can a NON-DRIVING Text Sender be Liable for Text Recipient’s Car Accident?

It seems to stretch previously conceived limits of legal liability, but a recent case out of Lawrence County, PA, suggests that even if you’re not the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident, you can possibly be civilly liable for that accident when you send a text message and the recipient of your text reads and responds while driving. Notably, you don’t even have to be in the car which is involved in the accident!

The case, Gallatin v. Gargiulo, is noted for allowing claims of negligence and wrongful-death to proceed against two individuals who were texting a driver who was involved in an eventual fatal accident. It should be emphasized that the Court did not determine that these individuals are liable or that there is a cause of action for such activity, only that the Court has allowed the claims against them to proceed for a later determination.

You are likely wondering, as was I on first read, “How can this be?” How can a person who sends a text message from his couch in Philadelphia possibly be liable for an accident which occurs on I-76? Well, it’s not that cut-and-dry in terms of establishing liability on the part of the text sender. To potentially be deemed legally responsible, a text sender must know or have reason to know at the time of the accident that the person they are texting is driving and will view the text.

Is this an easy burden to satisfy? Absolutely not! It does, however, demonstrate just how far the law is potentially willing to go to combat texting-and-driving in Pennsylvania. It’s also another pocket which could be available to a victim of a texting-while-driving accident.

PRACTICAL: It’s entirely too early to know the legal ramifications of the case referenced above. However, if the Court ultimately recognizes a cause of action against those who send text messages to a driver involved in an accident, that holding would certainly alter the legal landscape of civil motor vehicle lawsuits.

If you’ve been named in a lawsuit in which your only alleged misconduct was sending a text message to a third party, the attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell are ready and able to defend you today. Call 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 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 do to After WITNESSING an Accident

You were fortunate. Whether major or minor, yours was not one of the vehicles involved in the car accident which occurred right before your eyes. However, just because you escaped property damage or injury doesn’t mean you should proceed without caution or let your emotions outweigh logic. So, with that backdrop, below are some thoughts to keep in mind if you are a witness to a motor vehicle accident.

  1. If the Accident is Major, Call 911 Immediately: You need not provide an elaborate description, and caution is advised in providing your own assessment of who was at fault unless specifically asked for this information by an officer of the law. You should keep it simple: give the operator the location of the accident, the number of vehicles involved, and (if you can determine) whether anyone is injured. They should be able to take it from there.
  2. Don’t Move Any Injured People Unless Absolutely Necessary: This is especially true if you’re not trained to handle such situations. You have no idea the extent of the injuries the person suffered in the accident, and moving them could worsen their injuries. Your kind act could end up being the reason you’re later named in a lawsuit. However, a scenario where it might be absolutely necessary to move a person might include one where the vehicle is on fire and you have decided you can approach the vehicle safely.
  3. Use Caution if Approaching the Vehicle: Unless you’re certain the scene is now safe and traffic has either stopped or a secure detour has been established around the accident, you should remain in your vehicle or a safe area. It is critical you ensure your own safety first. Failure to assess the situation could end up in more serious injuries and eliminate your ability to provide assistance. Also realize that the more catastrophic the accident appears, the more likely it is there could be flames, fire, or combustibles. Regardless of the apparent severity of the accident, you should always be aware of the risk of fire and explosion and pay special attention to the smell or sight of fire or smoke.
  4. Keep the Scene Clear: If you witness the accident or are one of the first people to arrive at the scene, a logical tactic is to pull entirely off the road and put on your flashers to make it easier for emergency personnel to locate and advance upon the scene. Even in so doing, be sure to keep a safe distance.
  5. If Possible to do Safely, Assist the Drivers in Moving their Vehicles from Traffic Lanes: If the vehicle is not so damaged as to render it completely immobile, and the driver indicates he or she is willing and able to move it, assist the driver of the wrecked vehicle in moving the car out of the traffic lane. DO NOT drive the vehicle yourself unless instructed to do so by a police officer or emergency worker. DO NOT rely on the word of the driver of the wrecked vehicle.
  6. Don’t Chase Fleeing Drivers: Whether in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, if someone is involved in a motor vehicle accident they have an obligation to remain on the scene. However, if you witness a hit-and-run accident, DO NOT FOLLOW/CHASE the driver. Do your best to get the car’s license plate number. If you can’t, pick out details about the vehicle (make, model, color, etc.) and the direction the vehicle went after fleeing the scene.

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.