Puppy Lemon Law in Pennsylvania

You may already be familiar with Pennsylvania’s Lemon Law for cars, but did you know there are protections for dog owners? Sometimes known as Puppy Lemon Law, the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law includes a provision for Dog Purchaser Protection. This can be found in 73 Pa. Stat. § 201-9.3.

What is protected under Puppy Lemon Law?

Puppy Lemon Law seeks to protect dog purchasers from sellers and pet shops who try to sell unhealthy puppies. Dogs often become beloved family members, so, as a consumer, you have a right to know the health of your new dog at the point of purchase. Dog sellers are required, by Pennsylvania law, to provide you with certain records that guarantee your dog is in good health.

Health Certificate

At least 21 days before the sale, the dog seller must provide you with either a guarantee of good health that they have signed or a health certificate from a veterinarian. Both of these should certify that the dog is:

  • Free of any contagious or infectious illness,
  • Free of any congenital or hereditary defect, and
  • Free of parasitic infestation at the time of the exam.

The veterinarian must sign and date this certificate. They must also provide their name and address. If the seller opts to give you a guarantee of good health, that must include a clear statement that this does not warrant a veterinarian examination and you should be encouraged to bring your dog to a vet as soon as possible after the purchase. The seller should give this information to you verbally and in writing.

Health Record

At the time of the sale, the dog seller must provide you with a health record that contains information about the dog’s:

  • breed,
  • sex,
  • date of birth,
  • color and markings,
  • vaccinations (if administered),
  • record of known illness, disease, or condition,
  • and parasitical medicine (if administered).

The health record should also include the name, address, and signature of the person selling you the dog. They should ensure that all of the information provided to you in the health record is true to the best of their knowledge.

What happens if your dog turns out to be “unfit”?

If your puppy dies or is certified as “unfit” by a veterinarian within 10 days of your purchase date, you have a few options available to you under the law. You are eligible to:

  • Return the dog and receive a full refund (minus sales tax),
  • Exchange the dog for another dog of similar value (if one is available), or
  • Keep the dog and receive reimbursement for treatment to cure or correct the issue. The reimbursement will not exceed the purchase price (excluding sales tax).
    • If the veterinarian declares that the dog cannot be cured, you will not receive reimbursement for the cost of caring for a sick or dying animal. The only compensation you will be entitled to are a return or exchange.

Are there protections for purebreds?

If the dog is advertised as a purebred, the seller has 120 days to provide you with the proper registration and documentation to prove this. The seller may extend this time period if the dog is being imported, but they must notify you in writing and provide you with a reasonable estimate of when the documents will arrive. If you do not receive the documentation by the 120th day, and the seller has not notified you of an extension, you may do one of the following:

  • Return the dog for a full refund (minus sales tax), or
  • Keep the dog and receive a 50% refund.

Puppy Lemon Law & the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law

The Puppy Lemon Law is considered part of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. The UTPCPL is a very powerful shield to protect consumers. If you bring a claim under the UTPCPL, you will not only receive your actual damages in terms of money. You may also be entitled to receive what we call “treble damages” – meaning, three times your actual damages as a sort of punishment. And if the case is particularly egregious, involving, for example, conscious and deliberate fraud, a systemic pattern of fraud, or abuse of a vulnerable population, you may receive even more damages as punishment for the offender. Very importantly, a claim under the UTPCPL can net you your attorney’s fees in addition to all other damages, providing access to justice for those who might not be able to sustain a lawsuit on their own.

What happens when someone violates Puppy Lemon Law?

If you have been scammed by dog seller, you can take legal action against them. For help with your Puppy Lemon Law case, contact the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm. We’ll work on your behalf to get you the compensation you deserve. Call us today to get started.

Updated Dog Law in Pennsylvania

On October 23, 2023, Gov. Josh Shapiro signed into law Senate Bill 746, which increases penalties for dog owners with dogs that have attacked people or other animals. The stated purpose of this bill is to:

  • improve public safety,
  • improve conditions for dogs in kennels and shelters,
  • ensure dogs that are adopted or purchased aren’t considered dangerous, and
  • help put a stop to infectious diseases among dogs.

Changes to the dog law are set to take effect 90 days after the bill is signed.

What could this mean for you and your community?

The dog law in Pennsylvania ensures that owners of dangerous dogs are held liable if their dog attacks a person or another domestic animal. The updated dog law now requires all dogs to be licensed at the time of purchase. The seller of a dog is required to provide an application for the dog license at the time of purchase. Fees for the license have also been increased. On March 1, 2024, the fee will increase to $8.70. If the dog is spayed or neutered, the prior rate of $6.70 will apply until March 1. However, if the dog is not spayed or neutered, the new cost will apply. A lifetime dog license will also be raised to $52.70 on March 1st as well. If you are looking to purchase a license, The Pennsylvania County Treasurers Office has licenses available for purchase.

How does the new law protect against dangerous dogs?

If a person fails to license their dog, fines now range from $100 to $500, as well as court costs. The licensing requirements are geared at preventing stray dogs and illegal puppy mills. It also allows the Department of Agriculture to monitor dangerous dogs. Criminal penalties will also be increasing as well. Fines range from $500 to $1,000 for summary offenses and $1,000 to $5,000 for misdemeanors. If an owner’s dog is found to be dangerous and attacks again, owners will be required to find and pay for a kennel. The dog is to remain at the kennel during court until a final decision is made.

How does the new law effect kennel owners?

Kennel licenses are also set to increase on March 1, 2024. Kennels who decide to put a dog up for adoption or sale are now required to place the license number in the advertisement as well. Breeder information, vaccination, medical documentation and any known attack on a human or other domestic animal must be disclosed to the buyer. Any new dogs brought into the Commonwealth must be kept isolated for 14 days.

We Can Help

If you have questions about the updated law or if you’ve been bitten by a dangerous dog, call Cornerstone Law Firm today. We’d be happy to set up a consultation to discuss your matter and rights.

Common Legal Terms

Almost every field comes with its own set of jargon that really only makes sense to the people in that field. The law is certainly no exception. We’d like to demystify some of that jargon. Below is a list of 50 common legal terms you might encounter and what they mean.

Acquittal—An acquittal occurs when a judge or jury finds a criminal defendant to be not guilty.

Ad hoc—Latin for “for this purpose.” It refers to something created or designed for a specific purpose, and perhaps something done with a clear plan but specific to the task at hand, without precedent.

Ad hominem—Latin for “to the person.” It refers to an attack on an individual’s character instead of addressing an argument.

Admissible—Evidence that may be considered by either a judge or jury during legal proceedings. Admissible evidence must be relevant to the case. That means it must have some logical tendency to prove or disprove a fact at issue. There are certain categories of evidence that are never admissible. If the evidence may not be considered, it is inadmissible.

Affidavit—An affidavit is a written statement made under oath. It is often used as evidence during court cases.

Amicus Curiae—Latin for “friend of the court.” This phrase refers to someone who provides information to the court but is not directly involved with the case.

Arraignment—An arraignment is the first court appearance after a criminal defendant has been arrested. A judge will read the charges against the defendant and obtain contact information to be used for future hearings. The judge may also set bail.

Bail—Money paid to the court that ensures a defendant will appear for court dates.

Bench Trial—This is a trial before a judge without a jury. Bench trials can be faster than jury trials and, in some cases, more strategically advantageous. You may want a bench trial if the issues are novel or involve the complexities of the law a jury might not fully grasp, or if you think the jury will be too emotionally biased.

Brief—This is a written statement that details the facts and arguments of one side of a case. Briefs are submitted during a trial and attempt to persuade the court to take that side.

Burden of Proof—This refers to the obligation to produce evidence and prove a claim in court. For criminal trials, prosecutors must prove a defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means a prosecutor must show no reasonable minds could disagree that the defendant is guilty. For civil trials, plaintiffs must prove their case with a “preponderance of evidence.” A preponderance just means “greater than 50%.” In a civil case, the plaintiff must only prove it is more likely than not that their view of the facts is correct.

Concurrent Sentence—Concurrent sentences are prison sentences that are served at the same time, so that the actual sentence only consists of the longest of the concurrent sentences. Judges use this to sentence a defendant for multiple crimes as part of the same conviction.

Consecutive Sentence—Consecutive sentences are prison sentences that are served one after the other. Rather than serving simultaneously like in concurrent sentences, consecutive sentences take the total of all sentencing time. A defendant has to be paroled or complete one of the consecutive sentences before serving the next, so that a defendant can actually get paroled without serving the time on each specific count but then has to start serving the next count.

De Facto—Latin for “in fact.” This describes something that is true in practice, even if it’s not legally recognized.

De Jure—Latin for “by law.” This describes something that is legally recognized and established, even though it might not be the truth in fact.

Defamation—This refers to a false statement that harms an individual’s reputation and leads to legal claims for damages. There are two common types of defamation: libel and slander. Libel refers to false statements that are made in writing. Slander refers to false statements that are made orally.

Defendant—A defendant is the party being charged in either a criminal or civil lawsuit.

Discovery—Discovery refers to the process by which parties in a lawsuit gather and exchange evidence and information before going to trial.

Docket—This refers to a log of the history of each case tried in a court. There are typically brief entries in chronological order that summarize what happened during the proceedings.

Double Jeopardy—A legal principle that prevents an individual from being tried or punished twice for the same crime in the same jurisdiction. The protections provided by double jeopardy are meant to prevent an individual from being unfairly targeted or harassed by the legal system. There are some exceptions, like differing jurisdictions (state v. federal), mistrials, and/or appeals.

Due Process—This is the right to a fair and impartial legal process. What “process” is “due” can be complex and subtle. It will depend on how important the rights at stake in the “process” are. But almost always, due process requires notice to the person who could be harmed by the process, an opportunity to present their evidence, and a right to a neutral, impartial decisionmaker. Due process in a criminal case involves many different rights for the defendant. It can also involve civil matters such as loss of a driver’s or professional license, taxation, or changes in human-services benefits.

Ex Parte—Latin for “from one party.” This refers to a legal proceeding in which only one party is present.

Felony—A felony is a criminal charge reserved for the most severe types of crime. There are three grades (First Degree Felony, Second Degree Felony, and Third Degree Felony) that determine any jail time and/or fines associated with each criminal charge.

Habeas Corpus—Latin for “You shall have the body.” Habeas Corpus is a writ that protects an individual’s right to not be unlawfully detained. It requires the government to prove it has a right to detain a person. But after trial, the writ of Habeas Corpus disappears, and the defendant must seek relief through the Post-Conviction Relief Act procedure.

In Camera—Latin for “in private.” This refers to closed-door proceedings, or proceedings that take place in front of a judge and away from a jury or the public. These often involve the court questioning a minor or reviewing sensitive documents that might or might not need to be disclosed in discovery.

In Forma Pauperis—Latin for “in the manner of a poor person.” This refers to a legal status granted to individuals who cannot afford court fees. It is intended to ensure individuals who lack financial means are not denied access to legal rights and remedies.

Indictment—An indictment is a formal charge, often reserved for felonies, issued by a grand jury after the grand jury has reviewed a prosecutor’s evidence. A grand jury is like a trial before a trial. The prosecutor must present evidence of suspicion to the grand jury, and if the grand jury determines there is sufficient evidence that the defendant may be guilty, the case will then go to a trial.

Injunction—An injunction is a court order requiring one party to either refrain from specific actions or perform specific actions. Examples of injunctions include restraining orders, cease-and-desist orders, and requirements that a neighbor remove an obstruction that is interfering with an owner’s property.

Ipso Facto—Latin for “by the fact itself.” This term describes something that occurs as a result of an action.

Jurisdiction—This refers to a court’s legal or geographical authority to hear and decide certain cases. Without jurisdiction, no action a court can take will be legitimate or have authority. The court requires jurisdiction both over the person and over the issue, the subject matter of the dispute.

Jury—A jury is the group of people selected to hear a trial and render a verdict. Jurors are summoned from motor vehicle and voter registration lists. They will then be questioned by the attorneys from both sides and the judge to determine if any biases exist. Criminal trials typically have 12 jurors and civil trials can have anywhere from 6 to 12 jurors.

Lien—A lien is a legal claim made against an individual’s property in order to secure payment of a debt. If you sell property subject to a lien, the lien must be paid out of the sale price to clear the property for the next owner. A lien may also allow the lienholder to force the sale of the property to satisfy the lien.

Litigation—Litigation refers to a legal case or lawsuit. Plaintiffs and defendants can be referred to as litigants, and attorneys are litigators.

Mens Rea—Latin for “guilty mind.” This refers to the intent or mental state behind a criminal act. In the American legal system, a conscious intent to commit a crime with a guilty state of mind is almost always required, particularly for serious offenses. Mens rea may refer to a state of mind like intent to commit the crime, or a person causing harm recklessly or negligently. Some crimes—like murder—have complicated schemes where different mens rea lead to different levels of guilt. Others do not, such as parking, traffic, and alcohol-related offenses. It does not matter what your intent is if you are caught speeding, for instance.

Miranda Rights—Rights read to an individual who has been taken into custody before any interrogations take place. These are an extension of Fifth Amendment rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that interrogations in police custody are so inherently psychologically coercive that the individual must be given these notices to protect their right not to incriminate themself. This is actually a unique facet of the American legal system. For instance, if a person wishes to stop answering police questioning, the police must stop. This is not true in many countries.

Misdemeanor—A misdemeanor is a criminal charge reserved for crimes that are worse than summary offenses but not as bad as felonies. There are three degrees of misdemeanors that determine any jail time and/or fines associated with each criminal charge.

Nolo Contendere—A Latin term that translates to “I do not wish to contend it.” A nolo contendere is a criminal plea in which the defendant does not admit guilt but accepts punishment, saying the evidence is sufficient to convict them without admitting they did, in fact, commit the crime. People sometimes use these where an admission to actually committing the crime could lead to a civil lawsuit.

Plaintiff—A plaintiff is the person filing a lawsuit in civil law.

Plea Bargain—An agreement between a prosecutor and defendant that resolves the case without going to trial. A plea agreement will usually include a specific sentence compromised between prosecutor and defense counsel. The courts usually honor these agreements for sentence.

Power of Attorney—A Power of Attorney is a legal document that grants authority to one person (an agent) to act on behalf of another person (a principal) in legal and financial matters. These often involve people who are legally incapacitated for one reason or another, such as due to health concerns.

Prosecution—Prosecution refers to the government’s attempt to prove a person guilty of a crime at trial.

Pro Bono—Latin for “for the good.” This refers to legal work that is done for free or at a reduced cost for the benefit of society, usually by an attorney volunteering.

Pro Tempore—This is sometimes shortened to “pro tem.” It’s a Latin phrase that means “temporary” or “for the time being.”

Quid Pro Quo—Latin for “something for something.” This refers to a reciprocal exchange of something of value.

Sanction—A sanction is a penalty, punishment, or coercive measure imposed by the court when an individual fails to comply with regulations. Sanctions can range from fines, orders, and restrictions to suspensions from the practice of law, and even imprisonment.

Statute of Limitations—This refers to the time limit an individual has to initiate a legal action. In most cases, once the statute of limitations has run out, the right to sue has been lost.

Subpoena—Latin for “under penalty.” A subpoena is a legal order for someone to appear in court as a witness or to produce evidence.

Tort—A tort is a civil (not criminal) wrong that leads to a lawsuit for damages.

Warrant—A warrant refers to the authorization from a court given to law enforcement to arrest someone or conduct a search.

Writ—A writ is a formal written order issued by a court.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, We Solve Problems. If you’re in a legal dispute, call us. We’d be happy to review your case and help you pursue the best outcome possible.

Foreclosure and Rent-to-Own Agreements

Rent-to-Own Agreements have become more popular in Pennsylvania in the last several years as an alternative method of financing for buyers who are unable to get traditional mortgages. Sellers sometimes offer these agreements as a way to obtain financing without going through a bank. Under this arrangement, the owner of a property agrees to sell the real estate in exchange for a certain purchase price paid out over years with an interest rate sometimes either explicitly written out or built into a rental amount paid each month. Usually the rent-to-own buyer also pays all taxes and insurance on the property.

Rent-to-own agreements typically come with contracts laying out all of these terms and requirements for what happens when there is a breach of the agreement. However, if the buyer breaches the agreement, the seller often will sue for breach of contract or for a simple eviction instead of going through foreclosure. Here are a few things you should know about rent-to-own agreements.

1. Rent-to-own agreements are technically legal but are scrutinized by judges when enforcement is sought.

The first thing that you need to know about rent-to-own agreements if you are being foreclosed on is that rent-to-own agreements are technically legal under Pennsylvania law, but judges are often understandably skeptical of them. In other words, judges have a lot of questions about how these agreements should be enforced because they are basically an attempt to get around both the typical landlord tenant rules and the foreclosure rules by “falling into the crack” between these two areas of law. An agreement to rent-to-own makes you neither a renter nor a buyer.

However, it is important to recognize that that doesn’t make them illegal per se. They can be enforced and there still can be serious consequences for breaching the agreement.

2. Look at the contract you have first to determine what remedies you have.

As an initial matter, the first place you should start is with the contract. Often the rent-to-own contracts are not written well, and there may be ambiguity in the way the contract is construed. It is important to talk to an experienced litigation or real-estate attorney to learn more about how the ambiguities in the agreement might be construed under relevant statues and precedents. However, if the agreement lays out remedies and protections that you have as the buyer, these are some of the first protections you should be raising in pleadings or with the court.

3. Foreclosure may be an appropriate remedy for the seller.

If the seller is just suing you under breach of contract or attempting to evict you, you may have a right to insist that they go through the foreclosure process. There are strenuous protections for buyers who are being foreclosed on if they are failing to meet their mortgages. You may have a right to invoke these protections under many rent-to-own agreements. Whether you have these rights is a delicate question of law that depends on the facts of your specific contract. Therefore, it is important to consult with a lawyer if you are in this situation.

4. Do not try to handle this on your own.

There are some points in life where it makes sense to try to handle things on your own. When you are being sued, and potentially going to lose all of the equity you have built in a home, that is not the appropriate time to try to handle things on your own. Call an expert. Speak with a real estate and litigation attorney, such as those at Cornerstone Law Firm, so you can learn more about the protections that you have under the law.

Do not lose the investment that you have put out into your property.

If you have been investing in real estate for some period of time with a seller who now wants to go back on the deal, or evict you because you have fallen behind, it is extremely important that you protect your rights. Contact an attorney at Cornerstone Law Firm for a consultation on what can be done to protect those rights.

Six Dos and Don’ts when Getting Sued

Knock, knock! The Sheriff shows up at your door and hands you papers. “You’re being sued,” he quietly explains, and perhaps asks you to sign something noting you were served. As you close the door behind you, a number of thoughts may drift through your head. Questions, frustrations and bad ideas abound—but what should you do first? And more importantly, what should you not do first?

(By the way, sheriffs aren’t the only way you can be served, so if you’re not sure if you’ve been sued, call Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss your situation.) For those served, here are six things that you should and shouldn’t do when served with a complaint.

1. DON’T post about it on social media.

The first thing you definitely should not do is post on social media that you have been sued. Do not post about what happened. Do not post about the conflict that you have with the other guy. Don’t post negative things about the company/neighbor/business partner/soon-to-be-ex who filed this frivolous/outrageous/immoral complaint. Anything that you say can be used against you in a court of law—especially on social media.

When you post things publicly it is very difficult to predict how they can come back to get you in the future. It may feel good in the moment to pop off and say something, but the consequences to that decision can be significant. Accordingly, we strongly recommend against making public statements upon being served with a lawsuit.

2. DON’T call the person or lash out at them directly.

In a similar vein, calling the person, Facebooking them, or sending them a message, email or text are all bad ideas. Doing so can only be used against you in a court of law and cannot benefit you in any real way. In addition, doing so will give the adverse party the satisfaction of knowing they have gotten under your skin by suing you. Simply put, it is best to keep your frustrations to yourself when you have been sued.

3. DO begin gathering evidence to bolster your defense.

This one might seem obvious, but when you have been sued, you will need evidence to defend yourself. This means putting together all of the documents, emails, contracts and other papers and information that you have in your possession from the beginning of the conflict until now. If you are not totally sure how the conflict arose, read the complaint carefully and begin looking through your own calendar, matching up dates and times. Begin building a log of what you remember of what happened and when so that when you meet with your lawyer you can provide helpful and substantial information in your defense.

Lawsuits require that both sides be prepared to hand over significant information to the other side or the court when asked. Gathering that information and beginning to think about where relevant data may be stored will make you less stressed when given a short timetable to produce vast amounts of relevant information.

4. DON’T panic (and DO breathe).

Look, we understand. Really, we do. There is almost nothing in life more stressful than being sued. But panicking does not help anything. In fact, as research has shown repeatedly, panic can cause the brain to make very foolish decisions and can impair your ability to do higher level reasoning.

But telling you not to panic may not help you all that much. (“Great, now I’m panicking about panicking.”) So here’s a practical tip: try not to think about what the other side is going to do and what you are going to do in response. At first, it’s important to focus on the next step, which is finding good counsel and preparing your answer.

Lawsuits are a marathon, not a sprint. Try to train for them with that in mind. Just like running a race, you need to breathe and focus on each step, not dream about the finished line.

5. DO read the complaint that was served on you.

It is extremely important that you take the time to read the complaint (this is what the Sheriff handed you at the beginning). Carefully consider what has been said against you by the Plaintiff (the person suing you). Try to think about the situation objectively from all angles. Begin to go through and make handwritten notes on a separate sheet of paper about which allegations are true and which are false.

That’s right, in every complaint there are some allegations against you that will be true, even as simple as the spelling of your name or the fact that you had a contract with someone. What you are denying is what is most important. Sometimes, an answer to a complaint might mean answering 29 out of 30 paragraphs with “Admitted,” but then denying the crucial paragraph that has the fact that is not true. Accordingly, look through the complaint and try to get a good handle on what is true and what is not true. This will help when you meet with your lawyer.

6. DO call a lawyer.

It is absolutely vital when you have been sued that you call an experienced civil litigation attorney. Call someone who has the ability to walk you through the complaint and explain your options about filing preliminary objections or an answer (or a 12b6 motion in Federal Court). Getting an attorney who can walk you through your procedural and strategic options will go a long way to helping you get a better outcome in your case.

Conclusion: Contact Cornerstone Law Firm today if you have been sued.

If you have been sued, it is important to get legal help. Our attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm, LLC are ready and able to help you. Call us today for a consultation so that we can walk through your case and understand your situation more thoroughly.

Dangerous Dogs in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s Dangerous Dogs Statute aims to take the bite out of potentially dangerous encounters with canines. A common misconception about dogs is that only certain breeds of dogs pose a threat of serious bodily injury, or that a dog must be a certain size to be dangerous, but this is not the case. Just browse through the state’s current Dangerous Dog Registry, and you might be surprised to see your favorite miniature breed on that list. This is because the statutory definition of a dangerous dog is based solely on the animal’s record of interactions with people and other domesticated animals. A single unprovoked attack on a person could be enough for a judge to find a dog to be dangerous and its owner or keeper subject to a host of additional legal requirements.

How can a person be convicted of harboring a dangerous dog in Pennsylvania?

Any person found to be harboring a dangerous dog is guilty of a summary offense and will be required to take certain measures with the goal of ensuring public safety. If the owner of the dog is convicted in summary court proceedings, the owner or keeper of the dog must confine the dog as defined by the statute, which includes certain controls while outside confinement. The owner or keeper also is prohibited from selling, offering to sell, or giving away the dog. If the owner or keeper intends to keep the dog after the proceedings are completed, he or she must register the dog with the Department of Agriculture. Pursuant to Chapter 27 of Pennsylvania’s Title 7 on agriculture, this registration will require proof of the issuance of a surety bond as well as a certain level of liability insurance coverage. Additionally, the dog must be confined and controlled according to requirements of Chapter 27 for the duration of its life.

The required “bond” or insurance policy is typically prohibitively expensive. As a result, the practical effect of being convicted of harboring a dangerous dog is to have to euthanize the dog. This is obviously traumatic for many dog owners, who would do anything to keep their pet safe.

If an encounter with a dog has risen to the level of a judge finding that the animal is dangerous, the matter must be considered serious regardless of the dog’s breed, size or previous history of gentle behavior. Although proper professional training can help correct a dog’s behavior, the owner or keeper of the dog is subject to all applicable rules for as long as the dog is kept regardless of whether any other such incident occurs again. From posting clear notice on the property of the dangerous dog’s presence to microchipping and muzzling, monetary restitution to the victim is not the end of the process if your dog injures a person or another domesticated animal. That is why it is prudent for all dog owners to take prophylactic measures to ensure that these types of incidents do not occur.

What do I do if I’ve been attacked by a dog?

If you’re the victim of a dog bite, you have certain personal injury rights. You can bring suit against the owner or keeper of the dog. But Pennsylvania does not embrace a “strict liability” approach to these cases. In other words, you must prove the owner or keeper was negligent in the way they kept the dog on the occasion in question. Failing to keep a dog on a leash in a public place, failing to secure the dog behind a fence or in a home, or failing to keep the dog appropriately fed can all contribute to a negligence finding.

Conclusion

If you’ve been charged with harboring a dangerous dog, it’s important to defend the case rather than plead guilty. Defending the case can involve showing that the dog was provoked into attacking or not “at fault” in a given incident. But it’s best to keep your dog out of this situation to begin with, if you can. Keep him appropriately secured and away from tempting situations if at all possible. If you have questions, call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm for a consultation on your unique situation.

My Case is Easy: Do I need a Lawyer?

Shouldn’t law just be common sense? We hear this question all the time. If your case is easy and straightforward, do you still need a lawyer? The answer is yes. If you are going to court, you should have a lawyer by your side. But what if your case is easy? What if it’s open and shut?

Lawyers do more than “win hard cases,” or explain things that are complicated. A lawyer can help you understand the past cases that have been decided about your issue and can review the laws that the legislature has passed regarding your situation. A lawyer can also help you gather and organize the evidence that you have to make sure it is presented in a clear way.

Furthermore, the rules of evidence that govern what a judge or jury is allowed to even hear about are complex, and you need to be prepared to make sure you “get your evidence in” when you are at court.

The most important thing that lawyers do for you is to help you understand the type of judge that will be deciding your case. If your case is a jury trial, a lawyer will also have experience in knowing how juries make decisions. Although the case may seem simple to you, you may be surprised at how the other side paints it as more complicated or confusing. Having a good lawyer means having someone who can keep the case simple and explain it to the decision makers in your case.

Having a good lawyer also means having someone on your side who can show you the weaknesses in your case. No case is ever really easy—and it’s important to understand all the things that can go wrong as you proceed.

If you’re going to court, as either a plaintiff or a defendant, call Cornerstone Law Firm today to talk to one of the attorneys about how we can help you to present your case.

What is the penalty for filing a false PFA in Pennsylvania?

When someone lies in a Protection from Abuse petition, an incredible amount of consequences follow for everyone involved. The person who is named as the defendant in a PFA temporarily loses access to their guns and is often evicted from their home pending the outcome of the case. Sometimes the defendant is even evicted from a home where the victim did not live. Furthermore, the defendant named in a PFA is sometimes barred from seeing his or her own children during the pendency of the PFA.

For as long as courts have existed (and longer, of course), people have lied to get what they want. In Pennsylvania, some people have learned that they can lie on a petition and wreak these consequences on a defendant. So what are the consequences to the person who filed the PFA if what they said in the PFA is a lie? Can you pursue the person who filed and seek to have them punished for what they said in the PFA?

First, it is important to win the PFA. The initial step in seeking consequences is to win the battle over the PFA. This means going to the court appearance, hiring an attorney to defend you, and having the petition for a PFA dismissed. A good family law attorney can help you with this process and it’s important not to try it alone. If the judge does not believe your side of the story, the judge can enter a three-year PFA order against you, and at that point it will be all but impossible to pursue any action against the person who filed the PFA because the judge will have found the filing to be true.

Do not underestimate the potential danger in a PFA petition. PFAs are granted everyday in Pennsylvania, in every county, and often on nothing more than the word of the alleged victim who filed the PFA. Gathering evidence, preparing your defense, and having the right attorney to defend you are vital in this step of the process.

Review any false statements in the PFA. Once you have won the PFA action, the next possible step that you can take is to review whether there are any statements in the PFA that are factually false. It’s important to note that we are referring now to factually false statements and not merely opinions. Someone who says in a PFA, “I feel very afraid of this person,” is not likely to be prosecuted for perjury or face any other consequences. This is a statement of feeling or opinion, and even if it’s not “true,” or even if it’s not based on any objective facts, the alleged victim is generally entitled to their own opinion of the situation.

But of course, statements that can be proven to be lies or which are later contradicted under oath at the hearing can be the subject of a perjury charge. PFAs are filed under oath. The person who is sworn in and said the petition was true and correct to the best of their knowledge can face criminal charges for lying in the petition where specific facts are later disproven by video, physical evidence or by contradiction by the alleged victim at a hearing.

Consider whether the PFA petition was filed to set up custody or divorce, to lay the groundwork for a separate civil law action.  Most importantly, in considering a PFA that was filed against you, you should consult with your attorney about what other moves you believe the alleged victim is going to make in this matter. For example, did they merely file a PFA in order to surprise you with a divorce or custody petition? Did they file a PFA to put a cloud over your job or bring some sort of civil action against you claiming damages? Or was it just a moment of vindictiveness after a bad breakup? Understanding what the alleged victim’s next move is will be important in preparing to defend yourself against any other actions that they may take against you. In most cases, the best offense is a good defense: it is important that you beat the PFA charges. Whether you actually want to take action against the person who filed may depend on what other actions you think they may try to take against you. Playing this chess game can be exhausting, but it is important to think through it with an attorney who can give you good advice on your specific situation.

Conclusion: seek a family law attorney today. If you have questions about a PFA that’s been filed against you, contact one of the family law attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss your case. Our attorneys have experience defeating PFAs, walking people through custody and divorce actions, and more. Call us today!

How do I subpoena a police report?

When you are trying to get ahold of a police report after a car accident, an assault, a neighbor dispute or for any other reason, you may find that the process is very confusing. Police departments do not always produce their reports upon request, and some will tell you that you have to file a subpoena.

Unfortunately, under Pennsylvania law, to subpoena a document you must have an active case that you are a part of. This means either that you are the criminal/defendant in the case or you are a party to a civil action where you are suing or being sued. Accordingly, if you are trying to serve a subpoena on a police department, you must be a party to one of those actions. Additionally, government entities have the power to serve subpoenas in certain types of investigations, but private parties do not have similar power.

If you are not a party to one of these actions, you can consider whether you should file one in order to subpoena the documents that you need. This might mean suing the neighbor or the individual that you are in a dispute with, or in extreme cases, suing the police department if you think that you have grounds to do so. In most cases and for most people, rather than subpoenaing a police report, you should consider one of two other options.

FILING A RIGHT TO KNOW REQUEST

A Right To Know is a request under Pennsylvania law to a government entity to produce records that are in their possession. This is the state law equivalent to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA). Some states call these Open Records laws. Simply put, the Right To Know request allows you to request documents that the police may be holding onto, including police reports.

However, police departments routinely refuse to produce police reports claiming that they are part of “an active criminal investigation.” This is sometimes true, even after they have said there will be no charges from an incident. Although this is not technically correct, it often practically results in a brick wall in trying to obtain these police reports.

PAY FOR A POLICE REPORT

If you have been a part of a car accident, you may have the right to obtain the police report by paying the police department for it. In addition, there are a number of websites that offer this service. At Cornerstone Law Firm, we routinely retrieve these as part of personal injury cases for clients. The difference and the reason that you can obtain it here is because investigating a personal injury is one exception that most police departments will properly recognize as a reason to obtain a police report.

CONCLUSION

If you are trying to obtain a police report as part of an investigation or as part of a personal injury case, call the experienced attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to talk about how best to go about obtaining the police report and also to discuss whether there are any other ways to get the information that you are after. Our attorneys can help determine the best course of action and figure out your next steps.

Eric Winter joins Cornerstone Law Firm

Photo of Attorney Eric Winter

Cornerstone Law Firm is pleased to announce the addition to our team of Eric Winter. Attorney Winter is highly regarded in the legal community and has several decades of experience handling a broad range of administrative law, criminal cases, immigration and more. Attorney Winter has handled over 100 jury trials and brings his passion for courtroom justice to the team.

Attorney Winter does more hunting law than anybody else in Pennsylvania and is one of the busiest immigration attorneys in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Eric has also done extensive work in family and civil cases, including tortes such as defamation, invasion of privacy and more. Eric’s knowledge of federal firearms law also allows him to help with gun rights restoration questions and similar areas. Cornerstone Law Firm is please to welcome Eric to the team.