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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

Texting While Driving in Pennsylvania: Understanding the Law

In conversations with friends and family, especially those with teenage or young drivers, a common question comes up: what exactly is the law in Pennsylvania in regards to texting and driving?

Make no mistake about it: Pennsylvania takes texting and driving very seriously as it has become a major epidemic in this state and, indeed, this country. In fact, in Pennsylvania there is a specific Anti-Texting Law codified at 75 Pa.C.S.A. 3316 which reads as follows: “No driver shall operate a motor vehicle on a highway or traffic way in this Commonwealth while using an interactive wireless communications device to send, read or write a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion. A person does not send, read or write a text-based communication when the person reads, selects or enters a telephone number or name in an interactive wireless communications device for the purpose of activating or deactivating a voice communication or a telephone call.”

An “interactive wireless communication device” is understood to mean a cellphone/smartphone, personal digital assistant, mobile computer or any similar device which can be voice communication, texting, e-mailing, browsing the Internet or instant messaging. It is important to note that this law is not intended to impact the use of GPS systems.

The crime is a summary offense with a penalty of a $50 fine, plus court costs and other fees. A conviction under this statute will not cost the driver points on his record and will not be recorded on the driver record (unless you’re a commercial driver).

15866-a-teen-girl-texting-while-driving-pv
Texting While Driving

IMPACT: The Anti-Texting Law allows law enforcement officers to stop any driver that they observe using a cell phone for “text-based communication.” However, it should be emphasized that this law does not proscribe a driver in Pennsylvania from using a phone or other device to place, receive, or engage in a phone call. What does this mean? That an officer must differentiate between actions that often appear similar, which opens the door for a defense to the officer’s initial stop which should be considered if this initial seizure led to more serious charges (like a DUI).

If you have been charged under the PA Anti-Texting Law, an experienced criminal defense attorney can explain to you your rights and help you prepare the best possible defense. The legal team at Howland Hess O’Connell is available to assist you in handling this matter. A free and confidential consultation is one phone call away at 215-947-6240, or visit us online 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.

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.

What You Should Know if Charged with a DUI/DWI

DUI PIC

Getting arrested and charged with a DUI is an incredibly stressful experience, but it happens. In fact, approximately 1.5 million people are arrested annually for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That means that one out of every 121 licensed drivers is arrested each year for drunk or impaired driving. So while this behavior is certainly not condoned or encouraged, the facts are that you or someone you know may be facing a charge of a DUI/DWI. Here are some important things you need to be aware of as you face the reality of a DUI/DWI charge:

    1. Charges for DUI or DWI are not limited to Operating Cars: If you think the State can’t convict you because, although drunk or high, you weren’t driving a car, think again. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, golf carts, dirt bikes on the road, and scooters are all considered vehicles. Even a bicycle, when being operated on a public road, is considered a vehicle for DUI purposes
    2. DUIs and DWIs Aren’t Limited to Alcohol and Illegal Drugs: If you are operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs to the point of impairment, you can be arrested for DUI/DWI. Regarding drugs specifically, it’s not just illegal drugs like cocaine or marijuana that can land you behind bars. A person can be arrested and charged for DUI for the presence of prescription or over-the-counter drugs in their system if such drugs rendered them incapable of safely operating a vehicle.
    3. There’s a Chance You Will Lose Your License: Your driver’s license may be suspended not only for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but also for refusing to submit to a blood alcohol concentration test. If your license has been suspended in Pennsylvania, contact Michael Cassidy or Dennis Meakim at Howland, Hess, O’Connell to find out what you’ll need to do to get that license reinstated.
    4. Be Open to Making a Deal with the Prosecutor: If you’ve been charged with a DUI, chances are you’ll be approached by a prosecutor to make a deal. While you and your attorney must approach this interaction carefully and not give away too much leverage, being open to a compromise may sometimes be your best bet.
    5. Your Social Media Profiles are Likely Fair Game: In preparation for trial, the prosecution is likely to scour your online presence to find evidence which might point to your use of alcohol or drugs, especially on the night in question. While no attorney can or should advise a client to delete photos or any other evidence, it is in your best interest not to post publically about your arrest or the events leading up to it.
    6. Owning Your Guilt Can be in Your Best Interest: If you’re guilty and don’t have any viable legal defenses, you should consider cooperating with the prosecution. By “playing ball”  and taking affirmative steps to indicate you are serious about ensuring you’re never in this situation again (like attending alcoholics anonymous, for example), your sentence may be reduced considerably. A defense attorney familiar with the position of the prosecutor and judge assigned to your case is in the best position to guide you through that decision.

If you’re facing a charge for DUI or DWI, the attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell are prepared to guide you through the murky waters which often accompany such a charge. both Michael Cassidy and Dennis Meakim are recognized in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for their skill in handling criminal law matters, including DUI.

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 and O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.