Pennsylvania is Closing Drunk Driving Loophole

Posted in News & Events, Personal Injury

The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed legislation yesterday to close a loophole that for years has let repeat drunken drivers legally stay behind the wheel. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association applauded the passage. “It is always gratifying when the legislature comes together on a bipartisan basis and takes steps to protect the public, and that is exactly what happened here,” said Greg Rowe, the association’s legislative liaison. Gov. Corbett’s office said he would sign the bill. Sen. John Rafferty (R., Montgomery), who sponsored the bill, said he was moved to act by an Inquirer article last month that shed light on the loophole allowing repeat drunken drivers to escape harsh punishment.

The newspaper reported that in numerous cases, prosecutors were hobbled by a 2009 state Supreme Court decision that a driver could not be treated as a repeat offender until being sentenced in a first DUI case. When dealing with chronic offenders who racked up a string of DUI arrests in a short period, prosecutors were sometimes bound by state law to accept deals that would bundle the cases and treat each as a first-time offense.Under the new legislation, judges would consider multiple cases to be repeat offenses even if sentencing had not occurred, triggering harsher penalties.

The newspaper cited the case of Villanova lawyer Joseph Lawless, who had five separate drunken driving arrests in less than a year. He registered exceptionally high levels of intoxication each time. Under state DUI changes adopted in 2003, any defendant with that level of intoxication is supposed to get 90 days in jail for the second offense, and a year in prison for each subsequent conviction. But Lawless was sentenced to 10 days in jail for each case, because each conviction was treated as a first-time offense. Under the new legislation, Lawless would have received a long sentence.

Collection Of Overdue Support From Monetary Awards / Settlements

Posted in Workers' Compensation

23 Pa. C.S.A. § 4308.1 amended the Domestic Relations Code by permitting the Department of Welfare to intercept overdue child support from lump sum monetary awards or settlements paid by insurers and worker’s compensation.  This law makes overdue child support a lien by operation of law against the net proceeds of any monetary award exceeding $5,000.00.  There is reduction to account for attorney’s fees and proportionate share of cost.

The law broadly defines “monetary awards” and applies with equal force to ANY civil claim asserted in and resolved in Pennsylvania, ANY settlement obtained before a lawsuit and ANY settlement of a lawsuit resulting from any claim for bodily injury, death or paid as an award under worker’s compensation or occupational disease. The law requires the attorney handling the claim to provide a statement including client’s name, address, date of birth, social security number and the amount of support owed or a statement that no support is owed.  This information is then used by either the attorney or insurance company to search through the Child Support Section of the DPW Website.

As a practical matter, I ask for this information in the initial interview and explain that overdue support must be paid back.  In the few situations where I have a client who has overdue support, I will compare the amount found with the client’s understanding of the amount.  If there is a dispute as the amount and it is before settlement, I will instruct my client to resolve the dispute otherwise I will pay the amount listed on the website.  If there is a dispute, this law requires the WHOLE amount to be placed in escrow with the Pennsylvania State Collection and Disbursement Unit (PASCDU) until the dispute is resolved.

Pennsylvania Taxes Law

Posted in Personal Injury

Much to the surprise of everyone following this issue in Harrisburg, Senate Bill 76 was voted out of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, September 16. Senate Bill 76 would, among other things, impose a sales tax on most legal services. This is the furthest this type of legislation has ever progressed in the Senate. The committee voted 6-5 to send the bill from committee to the full Senate but not before adopting what was described as a “technical” amendment. It now permits the taxation of legal services provided on a contingency fee basis, a subject that had been excluded from taxation in the original version of the bill.

 

If you do not want to be taxed on this, please take a moment to reach out to your state senator to ask them to vote AGAINST this proposed tax. You can use the links below to find the email address for your senator. When writing your message, please consider including the points:

  • For many, hiring a lawyer is a necessity and not a luxury item, as effective legal representation requires counsel.
  • Access to justice is a basic constitutional right and justice should not be treated as a commodity.
  • Legal representation is needed most by those with lower and moderate incomes.

 

Of course, feel free to include your own concerns or examples that are pertinent to the issue of a tax on legal services.  Even a very short message expressing opposition is important and effective!

 

Please take a moment and send an email to your state Senator.

 

Click here  to find your senator.

Click here  to find your senator’s email or mailing address.

Early Retirement and Investing

Posted in Employment, Social Security

Many individuals take an early retirement, at age 62, the youngest age at which you can currently receive your Social Security retirement benefit, thinking that they can get a better return on their money by investing the amount they receive from Social Security.  Most retirement experts do not advise this course of action.  First of all, if you take your retirement benefits before age 66 (the current “full retirement age” for Social Security) you will receive a lower amount than if you wait until age 66.  In addition, you will be stuck at this lower amount as long as you receive benefits.  Any higher return you might anticipate receiving from investing in the stock or bond market, relative to the amount you receive from Social Security, is not without risk.  If you invest in a safe asset, such as a Treasury bill, you are unlikely to get more than the approximately 3% return that Social Security incorporates when it raises your benefits as a reward for delaying in taking them.

If you wait until age 70 to take your retirement benefit, your Social Security benefit will increase by 8% for every year between age 66 and age 70 that you postpone taking the benefit.  In addition, if you continue to work beyond age 66, you will continue to contribute to your retirement fund, thereby increasing the base amount of your monthly income benefit.

Deceptive Vacation Packages

Posted in Litigation

From time to time, a “lodging package marketer” or “prepaid vacation provider” makes the news, with consumers claiming that such entity engages in tactics such as:

  • Vacation packages that are provided (often at a steep fee) ultimately do not measure up to what was expected;
  • Strong-arm sales pitches, with consumers given no time to think about or consider a package before agreeing to it; and/or
  • No right to rescind or cancel a package being provided.  Such tactics may fall under the scope of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”), enabling an aggrieved consumer to monetary relief.

At Stark & Stark, we can proceed with claims against purveyors of deceptive vacation packages to seek all available monetary relief under the UTPCPL.  If you feel that you have been victimized by such an entity, do not hesitate to contact us.

Collection on Judgments in Pennsylvania

Posted in Collections

It’s a fantastic day. Your attorney tells you that the court has awarded you a large money judgment on that civil suit that you had your attorney file years ago.

But then comes the bad news. Your attorney also tells you that the defendant isn’t opening up his checkbook to pay the judgment, and that your attorney doesn’t know (or doesn’t do as part of his/her practice) judgment collection.

At Stark & Stark, our representation does not end once judgment is entered in your favor. We will investigate collection strategies and provide you with possible choices regarding execution on your judgment, choices that could result in you realizing payment on that judgment. Whether you currently hold a judgment or expect to have one entered in your favor soon, we can help to increase the chance that your judgment does not remain a mere piece of paper.

Special Education Issues

Posted in Educational Law

With operating budgets that have been drastically cut or reduced year after year, school districts across Pennsylvania are increasingly seeking to minimize educational support mandated under federal and state law to special-needs students. The continuing rise in childhood diagnoses from autism to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to Type 1 diabetes ensures that the educational requirements of students with special needs will remain significant in the near future.

Stark & Stark assists parents and caregivers with making sure that school districts put into place appropriate protections to provide required free and appropriate public education to students with special needs, and with making sure that protections that may already be in place (IEPs, 504s) are followed in accordance with the law. Our attorneys are familiar with not only these areas, but also with the day-to-day struggles of special-needs children, bringing a unique and personal approach that other educational law practitioners may lack.

A Danger Awaits by Suspending Regulations Concerning Hours of Service for Truck Drivers

Posted in Personal Injury

The new hours of service rules took effect in July, 2013. Recently, a Senate Committee has moved to suspend, for one year, the Federal Rule that truck drivers who work the maximum of 70 hours in a week take a 34 hour break during the week which includes two consecutive nights off. Under this scheme, the earliest an operator is allowed to be behind the wheel on the road after the break is 5:00 a.m. The proposed amendment would allow the driver to not necessarily take two nights off and would allow driving at night after the required rest.

Eliminating these requirements or rescinding these requirements has been given the “front and center” position following a serious accident, which occurred on Saturday, June 7th, in New Jersey which involved a tractor trailer being operated on behalf of Wal-Mart. There were multiple vehicles involved, but as details have been released it appears that the truck driver was indeed fatigued and failed to take note of slow moving vehicles ahead of him until it was too late to avoid any impact. The tractor trailer collided with a limo bus carrying actor Tracey Morgan and six other people. Tracey Morgan was critically injured and comedian James McNair was killed. It was determined that the truck driver was awake for more than 24 consecutive hours before the incident and he has been charged with vehicular homicide and assault by auto. The accident is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, but enforcement of the hours of service rules is highly critical and relaxing any of these requirements poses a tremendous danger to the traveling public.

Family Sues over Daughter’s Soccer Injury

Posted in Personal Injury

During a preseason soccer scrimmage at Downingtown High School East, an incoming freshman going for a header collided with another player and fell to the ground in tears.  After that, her coach did something that used to be routine, but has increasingly come under scrutiny: He put her back in the game, according to a lawsuit filed by her family last week in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia against the district, the coach, and others.

The suit says the girl, now 16 and identified as M.U., suffered a traumatic brain injury that made her miss most of freshman year and that continues to cause headaches, fatigue, anxiety, and other symptoms two years after the collision on Aug. 20, 2012.  The soccer player experienced headaches, dizziness and vision problems.  She also missed almost 80 days of school.

Pennsylvania, like most states, has a statute – called the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act – that limits when school districts and their employees can be sued for actions taken in the performance of their everyday duties. Sean Fields, a staff attorney with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said that usually meant that coaches or other school supervisors couldn’t be sued in a state courtroom for negligence.

Lawyers sometimes turn to the federal courts in school sports-injury cases because the federal laws are somewhat different.

Philadelphia Court Upholds $7.8 Million Verdict in Parx Jockey Death Case

Posted in Personal Injury

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Albert J. Snite has denied Defendant, Parx Casino and Racetrack’s motions for post-trial relief following a $7.8 million verdict awarded to the widow of a horse jockey who was killed when he was trampled by a horse at the racetrack. On the morning of May 30, 2010, jockey, Mario Ramiro Calderon of Croydon, Bucks County, was exercising his horse, Cassidy Blue, when a chicken entered the track and frightened the horse causing it to buck and throw Calderon off the saddle. Calderon’s foot remained caught in the saddle and the horse repeatedly kicked him in the head and chest.  The jockey was pronounced dead approximately three hours later.  Calderon’s attorney alleged that Parx created an unsafe environment by allowing chickens to roam free on the racetrack even though they were aware of at least one prior incident where a jockey was injured when a chicken frightened his horse.

Following a $7.8 million verdict entered in favor of Calderon’s widow, including $5 million in punitive damages, Parx sought post-trial relief arguing that Plaintiff’s should not have been allowed to introduce photographs and video taken over a year after the accident for the purpose of showing how chickens were able to wander onto the track. Parx argued that this evidence was not relevant as it did not accurately portray the track conditions on the date of Calderon’s incident. Judge Snite disagreed, stating that the photographs and video were relevant to show how chickens were able to get onto the racetrack and to corroborate and/or impeach the testimony of various expert witnesses on this issue.