May 2021 Update

May 2021 has been filled with trials and advanced litigation for the attorneys of Cornerstone Law Firm. On the civil side, attorney Joel Ready spent time litigating a partnership dispute in Lehigh County court, giving advice to several businesses to avoid personnel and human resources litigation, promulgating discovery in personal injury cases based in Berks County and preparing for a summer of trials. A number of Cornerstone Law’s criminal clients were able to obtain trial dates this month, allowing them to finally pursue their innocence in a proceeding before a jury.

On the transactional side, several businesses hired Cornerstone Law Firm to draft contracts and to create new bylaws and other operating agreements for their businesses and nonprofits. These ranged from employment agreements to more complex inter-business cooperation agreements, and also agreements to resolve potential areas of dispute between rival businesses.

Attorney Crossett has been involved in several mediation for personal injury clients, obtaining settlement for car accident victims and those injured in other accidents. Furthermore, Attorney Crossett has finalized complex land deals this month for clients with conflicting real estate claims.

At Cornerstone Law Firm we are happy that the world is slowly getting back to normal, and we are looking forward to the nice weather in the summer months!

Slander on Facebook

The new age of social media has made it possible to communicate with a broader audience than ever before. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and many others, it is now possible for us to gather all of our professional and personal acquaintances into one place and communicate with them simultaneously.

But, as anyone who has ever spent time on a social media platform knows, for all its benefits, social media has also created a monster. Fake news and slander can spread very quickly, and when someone speaks out of turn or speaks ill of someone else, those statements can be spread far and wide. Here are three things to consider in weighing whether you have a claim for defamation based on someone’s comments on the internet. 

1. Is the Post Clearly About You? 

One of the first elements you’ll need to prove in establishing a claim for defamation, is that the speaker or writer was talking about you and made clear to his audience that he was talking about you. Vague statements about a group of people or even generally about certain types of behaviors will not typically satisfy this requirement.

Obviously, if the person uses your name or posts a picture of you in conjunction with a defamatory message, then this element is satisfied. Even without a name or picture, if there’s no way that a reader would mistake the message as being about anyone else, then this element will be satisfied. Furthermore, even if part of the audience doesn’t get that the message is about you and part of the audience does, that should still be enough to satisfy this requirement. The fact that some people wouldn’t have known this was about you while others did may affect the amount of damages you’re entitled to, but you’ll still have a valid claim under those circumstances. 

2. Is it a Matter of Opinion? 

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution broadly protects speech in the United States. Accordingly, courts are weary of punishing negative speech when it is clearly just a matter of opinion. If someone says that they don’t like your cooking, your politics or your religion, then it’s not defamation—it’s merely a matter of opinion. This doesn’t mean that someone can’t talk about religions, politics or some other disputed issue without making a defamatory statement. It simply means that it has to be more than a mere dispute over an opinion. 

For a defamatory statement to be actionable at law, it must have been about a matter of fact which was known to be untrue by the person who posted it and made with malice. For example, courts have found that statements alleging someone had a sexually transmitted disease, that someone committed a crime or that someone was otherwise of questionable moral character, have all been found to be defamatory statements. So, before you go rushing off to file a lawsuit over a statement made online, ask yourself, “Was this a matter of opinion, or was this a malicious false statement?”

3. What Damages Have You Suffered? 

The hardest part of any defamation claim is proving one’s financial damages. Even where a statement is false and made with malice and is clearly directed at you, the statement is only defamatory if you suffered damages of some kind. To put it differently, if someone posted a message online and only one hundred people read it and all hundred people commented back to the post and told them that was a terrible thing to say and that it was wrong, then there aren’t any damages. You haven’t been hurt by the statement that’s been made. Perhaps your feelings have been hurt and there’s been some sort of emotional toll on you, but the reality is that no one believed the false statement. 

Of course, this isn’t how the world works and unfortunately, even people who should know better often believe malicious statements that are made on the internet. But you will still need to prove how you were damaged by people believing that statement.

It has probably affected your personal life and your emotional wellbeing, perhaps causing you loss of sleep or even requiring you to go see a psychiatrist. Have you lost your job? Have you missed out on a higher paying opportunity at work because a manager seems to have believed what they read about you on LinkedIn? Did you face disciplinary action at a school when a Dean was handed printed materials said about you online claiming that you did something that you didn’t?

All of these would be examples of how your damages might accrue. Of course, there are many other ways that you can prove damages, but the point is that you have to have some. How have you been damaged by the defamation in your case? This is an important factor in determining whether to go forward with a suit. 

Call Cornerstone Law Firm Today

If you believe that you have been defamed by either slander or libel, you should call the Cornerstone Law Firm. Our attorneys have expertise in handling and defending against these types of claims, and we know the ins and outs of what you have to prove under Pennsylvania law in order to be successful.

Injured in a car accident in Berks County, Pennsylvania? Here’s what to do

Injured in a car accident in Berks County, Pennsylvania? Here’s what to do

When you have been injured in a car accident in Berks County, what steps should you take to protect yourself? Dealing with an insurance company can be very difficult and having your case prepared properly is very important. Here are three steps you should take if you have been injured so that you can set up a proper claim with your insurance company.

  1. Get all medical treatment your doctor suggests

The first and most important suggestion that anyone should consider when they are injured in a car accident is to get the medical treatment that their primary care physician tells them to get. This may mean an initial ride to the hospital and treatment in an emergency room, but also can include follow up rehabilitation visits and meetings with the orthopedic surgeons or other doctors and specialists. It’s tempting to try to be tough in situations like this, and it’s also natural to be concerned about the medical bills that might result. If you’ve been injured in a car crash, you should know that your car insurance includes personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.

Pennsylvania state law requires your insurance to cover at least $5,000.00 of medical bills. Depending on your particular policy, you may have even more coverage than that. And because this PIP coverage is given greater buying power under state law, this represents a lot of medical treatment. So, if your doctor tells you to get counseling, see a rehabilitation specialist, or suggests any other course of treatment, do it and make sure to submit the bills to your car insurance company. This is one of the only times in life where your medical treatment will be paid entirely by someone else without a copay or any other cost to you, so there is no reason not to pursue it. In addition, pursuing this treatment will build your claim regarding your car accident.

  1. Don’t speak to an insurance adjuster without legal advice

The requirements of politeness often make people think that they have to speak to an insurance adjuster who calls them shortly after an accident. This is not the case. An insurance adjuster, even for your insurance company, may not have your best interest at heart. They may call you and ask you how you are feeling, all as part of trying to get a statement out of you that can be used against you later. There is really no need to correspond with your insurance company until your treatment is complete or until the statute of limitations on your case is about to run out. For this reason, it’s important that you speak with a lawyer before you take the call from an insurance adjuster. A personal injury attorney in Berks County can help you to determine whether speaking to an adjuster is in your best interests or not.

  1. Know your rights

The most important thing you should remember after a car accident is to know your rights. You have a right to be compensated for the injuries that you suffer. This compensation can include pain and suffering that you have experienced as a result of the accident, lost wages, and of course, any medical bills your PIP coverage did not take care of. In other words, it’s not just about getting your medical bills paid. It can also include your lost wages and the trouble you’ve had getting back to work. All of these should be factored into an appropriate settlement.

  1. Conclusion – Call a Reading, PA Personal Injury Lawyer Today

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we help people who have been injured here in the Berks County area with their injury claims, ranging from car accidents to wrongful death. Our office is in Blandon, just outside of Reading and we help people throughout the county to gather what is necessary to present their claim and to make sure they’re getting the best settlement possible. If you have a question, call us at 610-926-7875 for a free consultation about your injury case.

Four steps to take when you’re served with a false Protection from Abuse Petition

Four steps to take when you’re served with a false Protection from Abuse Petition

Protection from Abuse Petitions, or PFAs, are the mechanism that Pennsylvania uses to protect someone claiming to be the victim of domestic violence. Some states refer to this as a “restraining order,” but in Pennsylvania, the concept is strictly limited to former or current sexual partners or members of the same household. Furthermore, to obtain a PFA, someone has to show that they are afraid of imminent harm at the hands of the defendant. If you’ve been served with a PFA Order and told not to contact someone, here are four things you need to consider immediately in preparing to defend yourself.

  1. Do not contact the person who filed the PFA

First, it is important for you to know that a Protection From Abuse Order is first entered against you “ex parte.” This means it is ordered by a judge without you present or knowing about it. Under Pennyslvania law, you will almost always first hear about someone’s allegations that you abused them from a Sheriff serving you with an order. Shockingly to most defendants, this Order is entered by a Court before you ever have a chance to defend yourself. It is vital that you not contact the person alleging abuse, as this is illegal pursuant to the Court Order. Unfortunately, many PFA defendants make that their first course of action. It’s natural to think this is a misunderstanding that can be cleared up, or to confront the person about what’s in the PFA. It’s natural—but it’s also illegal, and will land you in hot water. This is true even if the victim contacts you and says it was a mistake to file against you. Don’t respond to them: call an attorney.

Until your hearing, you are legally prohibited from contacting the person who filed the PFA against you and doing so is a criminal offense. You can be charged with an Indirect Criminal Contempt, which is a misdemeanor, and which can come with jail time. In other words, you can end up in jail for violating a PFA based on false facts. Your violation of the PFA is an independent crime known as Indirect Criminal Contempt in Pennsylvania. Your first call should be to a PFA attorney—not to the alleged victim.

  1. Determine your goals—and the other person’s—in formulating a response.

PFAs are usually not filed in a vacuum. They often precede a divorce or custody action. Is the person filing the PFA against you doing so out of spite or are they hoping to get you out of a house so they can change the locks? Do they really believe you’ve been emotionally abusive, or is this a cynical ploy on their part? Is the goal to make it hard for you to move forward with custody? Understanding what the other side is attempting to do in filing a PFA is vital to determining your next steps.

As discussed below, a PFA can be consented to in some situations, meaning you might wish to agree to the entry of an order prohibiting you from contacting this person. This is especially true if basic agreements in a parallel criminal case or custody action can be resolved as part of such an agreement. In other situations, consenting to a PFA would be disastrous. The goals of the parties are a major piece to determining your next step.

  1. Gather your evidence

A challenge to defending against false PFAs is in the very nature of the charge. It usually comes down to “he said, she said” in court, and it requires showing that the person claiming abuse is lying or grossly exaggerating. What evidence can you produce to show this is false? Was the argument legally caught on video in the house? Sometimes surveillance footage from a doorbell or security system is available. Did the alleged victim text you about the argument later? In some cases, an alleged victim has written a narrative about what happened for a third party, clearly stating there was no physical abuse. This can be important as well.

Of course, sometimes, there is no “hard” evidence about the alleged assault. It really is one person’s story against another. Having an experienced trial attorney on your side becomes even more important in these cases. Poking holes in a story without hard evidence is a challenge, but it can be done.

  1. What do you get if you “win” or “lose?”

Perhaps the most important issue is understanding the legal standard required of someone requesting a PFA and understanding what you get when you “win” or “lose.” If you prevail in defending against a PFA, no one is required to reimburse you for legal costs, and the PFA petition is dismissed. It can be refiled upon a showing of a new instance of abuse—but not for the matters in the original PFA.

“Losing” on a PFA is more serious in that it results in the entry of an order against you to prohibit you from contacting the alleged victim. It can also have a negative impact on your custody case, if one is ongoing, and potentially can be factored into a divorce decree in certain circumstances.

But PFAs can also be entered by agreement, and usually do not carry similar penalties. A PFA can be entered without a judge finding wrongdoing where both parties agree that they don’t object to an order prohibiting one person from contacting the other. In some cases, both parties consent to PFAs between each other. Sometimes PFAs are a mechanism to ensure that both parties feel that they can move on with their lives without constantly fighting over whether their communications cross the line.

But this doesn’t mean that consenting to a PFA is a good idea. Depending on your divorce, custody and financial situations, PFAs can have profoundly negative impacts on your life. A good PFA lawyer can help you decide whether consenting to a PFA with certain agreements can be better than fighting over the PFA, or whether it is a bad idea.

Conclusion: Consult with an experienced PFA lawyer

Having a PFA entered against you can be a serious problem, and can create issues for you and your family. Understanding what your options are in defending a PFA can put you and your family in a position to ensure that you aren’t harmed by the entry of a Protection From Abuse Order. If you’re local here in Berks County, call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss you Protection From Abuse Order and how we can help you.

January 2021 Update

Attorney David Crossett has continued working through personal injury claims for car accident victims in Reading, Pennsylvania this month. Speaking of clients who are concerned about whether their car insurance was sufficient during a car accident, Attorney Crossett explains: “Clients who are ‘limited tort’ should not assume their insurance will not cover their injuries, especially when the injuries are catastrophic. We don’t want to see clients give up their rights in those situations.” Attorney Crossett’s work has also included mediation with judges in attempts to help clients resolve their conflicts outside of court.

Meanwhile, Attorney Joel Ready has been handling a number of civil rights matters, including for violations of the 1st Amendment. “Harassment claims, in particular, bring an important legal issue into the crosshairs,” Attorney Ready explains. As part of his work in this area, Attorney Ready appeared on WFMZ to speak about the First Amendment’s application to private life and employment issues.

Finally, Tim Crossett, Cornerstone’s Firm Administrator, has been working on the launch of the all new web-show, “Business in Berks,” a series of interviews with local business owners about the challenges of 2020 and beyond. The show goes live in February on our youtube channel.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys and staff are hoping that 2021 is more pleasant for the world than its predecessor! We look forward to helping you in the coming year.

The Importance of Putting it in Writing

One of the most common causes of legal disputes is the failure to get an agreement, however small, in writing. Today, on the Cornerstone Law Blog, we want to tackle why it is so important to put your thoughts in writing when you and a friend or business associate are agreeing to a contract.

To begin with, it’s important to note that agreements are typically binding even if they are not in writing. Contrary to popular belief, most oral agreements are legally enforceable — if you can prove them (although there are exceptions, such as when dealing with land, with contracts for goods over a certain price, and in certain industries such as home improvement).

So why is it important to get your agreement in writing if it can be enforced even without a written document?

Why get it in writing?

  1. The most important reason is it is hard to prove what an oral agreement was for.

    Unscrupulous parties can lie about what was agreed to, and even when everyone is being honest, people’s memories tend to fade surprisingly quickly. Relying on someone else’s memory to agree with your own is a recipe for disaster in enforcing your contracts.

  2. Misunderstandings are harder to smoke out and deal with when a contract is not written down.

    It may sound funny, but there have been many lawsuits litigated over something as simple as the meaning of “here.” If someone agreed to bring a product “here,” where is “here?” If the agreement was made over the phone, one person may have assumed that “here” meant someone’s home, when in fact they meant their business some many miles away.
    Sometimes this type of disagreement can be cleared up easily, but in other cases it can be a mistake that can cost substantial sums of money.

    The point is this: without putting something in writing and taking the time to clarify simple points of misunderstanding, you can end up in a contract dispute that neither party brought about by their malice or ill will.

  3. It helps you to think about things that you weren’t really considering when you first made the contract.

    If two people get together and agree orally to a “handshake deal,” they may not be thinking about questions such as, “What happens if a pandemic shuts down the world and one side can’t deliver the product because the government won’t allow it?”

    And what happens if there is a good-faith dispute over the contract? Do the two of you first have to go and deal with it in front of a board of arbiters, or do you got straight to court? And which court? Where can you be sued? What do you do if a labor shortage or a war in another country suddenly makes it impossible to get the raw materials necessary to produce the product you’ve ordered? 

There are hundreds of potential questions that a good transactional lawyer can help you to work your way through. Even without the involvement of a lawyer, there are things you may think of as you put the agreement in writing that will help you to confront potential misunderstanding and disagreements that will cause problems down the road. 

How can you put it in writing without being overly difficult?

Sometimes business owners in particular are concerned that continually putting contracts in front of their clients or customers will cause them concern and will scare them off of working with them further. In most cases, this concern is not well-founded.

Most customers understand and even appreciate the time that you will take to put things in writing. But if they don’t or if you are concerned that the time necessary to reach a written agreement will make it difficult for you to continually get new contracts drafted, one approach is simply to put everything into an email or even a text message.

Once again, putting everything in writing will help you to confront disagreements that may arise between you and the other party. In most cases, it is best practice is to say, “Are you in agreement with all of these things?” at the end of the email (or something to that effect). Getting them to respond back will in many cases create a binding written contract between you two. 

Note: this article is not meant as legal advice.

There are specialized areas of law where a simple email or text message is not sufficient. It’s important that you talk to a lawyer about your specific concerns. But in the meantime, we hope that the tips in this article will help you in your day to day business and personal affairs to ensure that your contractual agreements are being memorialized in writing.

For help in drafting or reviewing contracts, contact Cornerstone Law Firm today.

Aggravated Assault in Berks County, Pennsylvania

Aggravated assault is one of the most serious charges you can face in Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has held that proving aggravated assault requires the government to demonstrate the mental intent to cause serious bodily injury or to use a deadly weapon in such a way as to show an intent to injure someone. In other cases, aggravated assault can be charged where there is an assault on certain protected classes of individuals including police officers. 

So, if you have been charged with aggravated assault in Berks County, Pennsylvania, what steps should you take to preserve your innocence? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Immediate Preservation of Evidence is Crucial

One thing that many people forget when they’re charged with a crime is that they should immediately begin preserving evidence that might help to demonstrate their innocence. This includes:

  • Reaching out to companies who may have surveillance footage of what happened, including the lead up to a fight. Other videos and content may exist, too.

  • You should think about whether the Facebook messages of your friends might contain DMs or other information from the alleged victim of a crime that would demonstrate that they were the ones that were threatening or instigating violence.

Working with a criminal defense attorney can help you think of ways to demonstrate your innocence and can help you to move quickly to ensure that this type of evidence is not lost. Many businesses overwrite their security footage every 15 or 30 days, so it is important to move quickly if you believe this type of evidence may exist. 

Don’t Make it Easy to Prove Your Mental Intent

One mistake that many individuals make when they’re charged with an assault is to go online, make bold statements and criticize the person who has accused them of the crime. While this sort of frustration is understandable, anything you say can be used against you.

In some cases, angry statements can help the government to show your mental intent and the anger you have toward the alleged victim. This information really shouldn’t be admitted into court in most cases, but it creates another hurdle that your legal team has to get over in order to preserve your innocence in an aggravated assault case. 

Don’t Talk to the Police

Finally and most importantly, in an aggravated assault case you should not speak to the police without first speaking to your attorney. You have an absolute right to be represented by an attorney, even during the investigative phase of an aggravated assault case. If a police agency in Berks County wants to speak with you, they can go through your attorney.

The rule about not speaking to police is true even when you are innocent! It is important that you speak to counsel before making decisions about whether to make a statement to the police of not. 

Conclusion: Talk to an Experienced Criminal Law Attorney Today

If you have been charged with aggravated assault in Berks County Pennsylvania or anywhere in Pennsylvania, it is important for you to speak to an attorney.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we can help you make decisions about your criminal case and how to handle your charges. Call us today for a consultation.

Retraction in Defamation Cases

One of the legal principles that is most familiar to the American public is that of defamation of character. Popularized through television, movies and some of the most sensational news stories covering legal events, libel and slander cases hold the fascination of the public. One major element to defamation cases is the doctrine of retraction.

What is Retraction?

Retraction is simply the “taking back” of what you have said about someone else. This happens frequently in newspapers, where the editor admits an error and retracts the statement. Frequently, this retraction is topped off by some sort of statement like “the post regrets the error.” Why did they do this?

These sorts of retractions are often done for journalistic integrity, but more importantly they are done to avoid libel suits. A libel suit is a suit for written defamation as opposed to slander which is spoken defamation. When a newspaper, a blog or any other written outlet believes they may be sued, one way they can “mitigate the damages” is by publishing a retraction. In the old days, it was required that someone who wanted to sue over defamation had to send a demand for retraction before instituting suit. This is no longer the case in Pennsylvania, but demanding retraction still makes sense, even for the plaintiff.

Why Demand a Retraction?

The main reason is that a demand for a retraction, if ignored or refused, helps to prove one of the hardest elements of a defamation case — the malice of the speaker. A defamation case requires proving more than that a person said something false.

It requires proof that:

  • The statement was false
  • It is damaging to one’s character
  • It was intentional

Accordingly, sending a demand for retraction is a way of eliminating a writer’s claim that they were mistaken about the facts that they reported, rather than intentionally lying. 

Surprisingly, this approach can still work even in the day of modern publishers when many of the individuals that someone might be wishing to pursue for defamation are either private parties or small-time publishers. A demand for a retraction provides an opportunity to frame the issue clearly before it is brought into court. And of course, in the event that they agree to retract, in many cases, the damage can be mitigated or undone.

If you believe you have been defamed by someone else or you have been accused of defamation, contact Cornerstone Law Firm so we can help you to figure out your next steps.

Attorney Crossett Wins Landlord Tenant Trial in Dauphin County

This month, Attorney Crossett successfully prosecuted a landlord tenant case in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania and finalized the eviction of a tenant who had refused to pay rent and threatened other tenants. Because every county has their own rules regarding how a trial for a landlord tenant matter is conducted, this trial was done in front of a jury.  

Landlord tenant cases have become more complicated here in Pennsylvania due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and Governor Wolf’s orders prohibiting evictions during the summer. This order did not apply to those evictions which had begun before the COVID-19 pandemic which includes cases such as this one. However, for cases which have arisen since that time, the road remains complicated.

“We pride ourselves on being able to help clients walk through the various state and federal regulations surrounding evictions during the pandemic,” said David Crossett, who represents a number of landlords of various sizes.

Contact Us

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we help clients dealing with landlord tenant issues every day. We have helped tenants who are being wrongfully evicted and landlords who needed to evict someone who is a danger to other tenants. If you have questions about your landlord tenant situation, call us today so that we can help you figure out the solution to your problems.

Resisting Arrest and Contraband Drug Charges Dismissed in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania

This summer, Cornerstone Law Firm’s Joel Ready successfully obtained the dismissal of contraband drug charges, terroristic threats, and resisting arrest charges for a client in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania after habeas corpus proceedings. 

Part of the charges were based on a claim that the individual involved had fought with an officer while he was being arrested. But Attorney Ready was able to demonstrate that the arrest was unlawful to begin with, and so the charges were dismissed. The rest of the charges were based on a claim that the defendant had intentionally taken drugs into the Schuylkill County prison in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Despite allegedly having eye-witness testimony to the defense possession of the drugs, the Commonwealth was forced to withdraw the charges this week after Cornerstone Law’s team demonstrated that there were someone else’s fingerprints on the drugs. These revelations came as a result of a discovery motion made by Attorney Ready as part of an Omnibus Pretrial Motion.

“This case illustrates the importance of defendants being willing to fight for their rights and challenge charges rather than simply taking the best plea deal available,” attorney Ready explained. 

Contact Us

Every case is different, and good results for one person don’t necessarily mean good results in your case. However, if you’re facing criminal charges in Schuylkill County or elsewhere in Pennsylvania, contact Cornerstone Law Firm to speak with a criminal defense attorney about how to deal with your case.