Posts

Wrongful Death

When a loved one passes away because of someone else’s negligence, it can be very hard to decide what to do next. Nothing can ever replace the individual that you’ve lost in your life, but you are entitled to compensation for the enormous financial expense occasioned by someone’s sudden passing. If you have lost someone you love, here are some factors to be considered to determine if you have a valid wrongful death action.

Negligence and Recklessness

wrongful death

The first factor that needs to be weighed is whether the loved one’s death was the result of someone else’s negligence or recklessness. If someone you love was killed in a car accident because of someone else’s mistake on the road, or killed because of faulty repairs or on the premises of a business that did not take reasonable care in maintaining its premises, then these are classic examples of negligence which has caused the injury that your loved one suffered.

Negligence is defined under Pennsylvania law as failing to take the same reasonable care as the average reasonable person. Recklessness is found when one is aware of a risk but intentionally disregards the risk.

Wrongful Death v. Survival Action

There are two types of actions that the law of Pennsylvania recognizes when someone has been wrongfully killed. The first is called a “survival action,” and the second is called “wrongful death.” A survival action deals with the pain and suffering and bills that the individual accumulated during the time that they survived after the injury that ultimately led to their death. Sometimes, this can be a substantial period of time. In other instances, such as a sudden car crash, this amount of time was brief. Understanding the legal validity of this claim can help to predict the outcome of a settlement or lawsuit.

Wrongful death has to do with the loss that those left behind have incurred as a result of their relative’s death. These two distinct claims allow for different types of damages and also, by law, may be distributed to different family members.

Compassionate and Caring Lawyers Can Help You Recover

At Cornerstone Law Firm we don’t take lightly our responsibility when we’re retained to help a family grieving the loss of a loved one. We know that in this time you need compassion, care, and to be listened to. We understand that not every family wants to pursue damages to the full extent of the law. We understand that no one who is grieving wants to chase other people for money. Frequently, we’ve found that the relatives of victims of wrongful death just want closure, but simply want to know their options. We’re here to listen to you and to work to obtain the result that you want in your case.

If you’ve lost a loved one in an accident or because of someone’s reckless or deliberate act, please call the Cornerstone Law Firm so that we can discuss your rights with you in a free, no obligation consultation. If you retain us, we don’t get paid until you get paid. Call the Cornerstone Law Firm today.

 

 

What do I do if I get a traffic ticket?

If you’ve been pulled over and given a traffic ticket, or if you’ve received a traffic ticket in the mail, you should think carefully about your options before pleading guilty to it. When you plead guilty to a traffic ticket, you will incur all of the fines, penalties, points and license suspensions that go along with it. So, here are a few things to consider when you see those blue lights in the rear-view mirror.

  1. Fines…and other coststraffic ticket

If you get a traffic ticket, you know there’s a fine. That’s really what a traffic ticket is. Traffic tickets in Pennsylvania are almost always “summary offenses,” meaning they can be resolved by simply paying your fine. Indeed, most traffic tickets in Pennsylvania are just fines, without any additional points or other complications (although some come with other penalties as discussed below).

But there can be other costs to a traffic ticket when you plead not guilty, including minor court costs and other fees. Regardless, pleading not guilty is your chance to challenge a ticket, and you should carefully weigh this option before simply paying the ticket. The fines on a traffic ticket are always the smallest cost in the long term, which leads us to number two.

  1. Points on your license

The bigger concern when you have a traffic ticket is how many points it will put on your license. In Pennsylvania, once you’ve reached 11 points, your license is suspended, and once you’ve reached six points, you have to pay fees and take a special exam (which, if it’s half as bad as it sounds, is a fate worse than death).

More relevantly, for most Pennsylvanians higher points means higher insurance premiums. Insurance companies take points into account when deciding how much to charge you for your premiums. So, if your traffic ticket comes with points, you want to carefully consider whether you can afford the long-term insurance costs that the ticket will bring. Sometimes a ticket with lower fines and points will end up costing you far more than a ticket with a higher fine and no points.

  1. Your license may be suspended

In some cases, tickets can bring about an automatic license suspension. Worst of all, they may not tell you that until after you’ve plead guilty and it’s too late to do anything about it. PennDOT assesses the suspensions automatically and does so after the fact. So, you won’t know about a suspension in some cases until after it’s too late. Your license can be suspended for relatively small matters such as speeding in a work zone, or allowing someone else to use your car without a license.

Call for a free consultation with a traffic lawyer today

Whenever you’ve received a traffic ticket, it’s important to discuss your matter with a traffic ticket lawyer. Attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm can help you determine whether there’s a way to fight your traffic ticket at the Magisterial District Court or a higher court, or whether it can be negotiated to something that doesn’t carry points or a license suspension.

We’ve helped many clients to avoid the serious ramifications of a traffic ticket and we can help you, too.
Call for a free consultation today.

What is Subrogation?

If you filed a claim with an insurance adjuster after a car accident or any other type of motor vehicle accident, there are a few unusual terms that you are going to hear. One of them is “subrogation.” You may hear about it first from the claims adjuster that you’re dealing with at the insurance company. Or perhaps you’ll get a letter from your own health insurance company saying that they’ve subrogated claims or that they believe they have a right of subrogation. So, what is this that they’re talking about, and what should you do about it? Do you need a subrogation lawyer?

subrogation

Subrogation is the right to be reimbursed

Subrogation is a strange word, but it’s fairly simple. It means that someone else has purchased your legal rights from you—even if you didn’t know it! The most common situation in which this arises is when a medical insurance provider pays for your medical care after an accident. In this situation, the medical provider or the health insurance company has a right to be reimbursed by you if you receive a settlement for your personal injury claim.

When you think about it, this makes sense. Someone who pays for your medical care generally ought to be partially reimbursed for their payments if you get paid by the person who hurt you. Similarly, if a hospital or other medical provider remains unpaid for treating you after you are injured, they are usually going to try to be first in line to get reimbursed after you are compensated for those injuries.

But having said all of that, just because someone claims the right of reimbursement doesn’t mean they actually have a right to reimbursement. This is a complicated area of the law. Subrogation is what is known as an “equitable doctrine.” The insurance company or medical provider may have a right of subrogation but that right is limited by a number of important legal principles that a subrogation lawyer or personal injury attorney can help you work through.

Your Personal Injury Claim is Affected by a Subrogation Claim.

One thing people often do not realize when they are negotiating with an insurance adjuster about their personal injury claim is that these subrogation rights of other parties have to be considered when determining the proper amount of compensation for a personal injury claim. In other words, if a medical insurance provider has already paid for your medical bills, the car insurance company involved is typically going to be responsible for providing you with enough money to reimburse them for the amount of money that they paid.

Sometimes an injured party will be negotiating a settlement and believe they are going to receive a certain sum of money from the insurance company only to find out that the entire amount of money will have to be handed over to a medical provider. This should not be the case. The insurance company is responsible for compensating you for all of the injuries you’ve suffered and to make sure that there’s money left over to compensate you for the pain and suffering you’ve experienced. This is where having an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you value your claim and protect you against third-party creditors is extremely important.

Do I Need a Subrogation Lawyer?

If all of this sounds a little bit confusing, don’t panic. An experienced subrogation lawyer can help you to figure out whether your personal injury claim is being properly valued by the insurance company when taking into account any right of repayment that a medical provider or medical insurance company may have.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys have extensive experience in the areas of personal injury and subrogation. Our lawyers know how to help you to compromise liens which may be placed against you and how to deal with those claiming a right of subrogation. They can help to defray the costs that would otherwise accrue you and they can help to maximize your recovery. If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle crash or if you’ve been injured in another way and someone has contacted you about a right of subrogation, call us right away.

What is an amicus brief?

An amicus brief is a legal document filed with a court by an organization or group that is not a formal party to an action, requesting a particular outcome. An outside group can petition the court for permission to be recognized as an amicus curiae—a “friend of the court”—who can help the court in its decision making by offering a unique perspective on a legal issue.

Amicus briefs (pronounced as “uh-MEE-cus” or alternatively, “AM-i-cus”) usually focus on a solution not proposed by either party to a lawsuit, or on a specific aspect of the proposal of one party. For example, let’s say that a dispute called Hot Dog Stand v. City reaches an appellate court over whether a hot dog is a sandwich, and thus subject to regulation in a large city. Let’s also suppose that the Hot Dog Stand owners might make two arguments: 1) that a hot dog is not a sandwich under the statute in question; or in the alternative, that even though a hot dog meets the definition of a sandwich under the statute, 2) that all regulation of sandwiches is unconstitutional under the state or federal constitution. What would a group of sandwich shops who are watching this case think? They might have a strong interest in asking the court for permission to file an amicus brief detailing the negative impact of regulations on their industry and asking the court to consider the hot dog shop’s second ruling. They might want to urge the court to rule in such a way as to help them also.

Or let’s consider a fictional case called Sultan of Middle Eastern Nation v. University in America, in which the court is considering whether a foreign ruler has to answer a civil lawsuit in the United States by a private university that claims their invention is being illegally reproduced and sold by the Sultan’s government. A non-profit group disgusted with the Sultan’s actions in his home country may file a brief detailing those abuses, urging the court to make the Sultan answerable here in America. The University can avoid bringing up an argument that will make it look like it is just crusading against the Sultan, but they may be grateful to an “unrelated” party who files such a brief, giving the court more moral support for a favorable ruling for the University.

In the legal industry, there are non-profits whose sole purpose is to advocate on specific issues, jumping into active cases to offer the court well-reasoned commentary on why a certain outcome is preferred. The Innocence Project often files amicus briefs on prisoners’ rights; the ACLU advocates for its views on the separation of church and state; the Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for broader First Amendment protections; and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund looks for opportunities to advocate for broader protections for comic book authors and artists. You get the drift.

Amicus briefs perform an important function in our legal system, giving judges a unique perspective on an issue, and offering support for the rationale of one party or another. They also give non-profits and other groups a voice in our legal system that they might not otherwise enjoy.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we offer to represent non-profits or other groups who form for the purpose of presenting an argument in an ongoing case of concern in state or federal court. Our appellate attorneys have experience advocating here in Pennsylvania state courts, and in federal courts. If you have an issue you wish to take up, we welcome you to reach out to us to discuss how we can help you be involved in an issue of public concern in the courts.

What do I do if I’m an Executor? An overview of Estate Administration

When a loved one passes away what are the responsibilities that you have as the next of kin in regards to estate administration? In this post, I want to take the opportunity to give you an overview of the process, and to help you prepare for what you’ll expect in meeting with an Estate Administration attorney.

  1. Marshalling the Assets

The first step in Estate Administration is marshalling the assets of the Deceased. They may have investments, stocks, bonds, IRAs, life insurance policies, 401ks and other retirement accounts, as well as bank accounts, trust funds, real property, personal property and other items of value. The Executor—that is, the individual charged with administrating the estate—will have to pull together information about each of these assets in order to assist the attorneys to make intelligent decisions about how to handle these matters. As part of marshalling the assets, there need to be appraisals done on certain items. Particularly where a business fixture or piece of equipment is difficult to value, appraisers will need to be brought in to give an opinion of the fair market value of such an item. This is true even of items that will be claimed by members of the family. Perhaps a ring or other family heirloom will be passed down to a daughter as part of her share the estate. Nonetheless, there will usually need to be an appraisal done to determine what portion of her share of the estate will be diminished by her taking that item of value instead of money.

  1. Filing Tax Returns

They say there are two things you cannot avoid in life: death and taxes and this is particularly true at death when you have to pay more taxes. Despite the fact that an individual has had to pay income tax their whole life, they will usually have to pay an estate tax when they pass away. Even when the estate itself is not taxed, frequently the amount that is passed to the non-spouse will have to be taxed. This includes those items of value discussed earlier. Inheritance tax must be assessed, and an Inheritance Tax Return (REV-1500) must be filed within a tight time period with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. It is important to be diligent about preparing to file the tax return. Filing a tax return within three months brings a discount on the overall tax that has to be paid. In large estates, this discount can be a substantial amount of money. Accordingly, it is important to move quickly to prepare and file this tax return.

  1. Distribution of Assets

After all the assets have been marshalled, valued and the taxes have been paid, it is time to distribute the assets from the estate. Distribution of the assets happens according to the Decedent’s Last Will and Testament, or, if there is no Will, according to laws governing intestate succession. This is the part you’re probably most familiar with, and of course, it’s the part where the Executor is rewarded for his hard work in administering the estate.

Conclusion: What to Do if You’ve been Named an Executor

When a loved one passes away, it is best not to delay decisions about the estate. Probating the Will, if necessary, and marshaling and distributing the assets must occur, and the sooner it occurs the more money that will be able to be passed to the heirs. If you have questions in regards to Estate Administration or if a loved one has recently passed away and you need help administrating their estate, call Cornerstone Law Firm and let us know how we can help you.