Understanding a Real Estate Deed

Real Estate Deed

If you are buying or selling real property, your agent has probably talked to you about “conveying a deed.” There are a number of different types of deeds—warranty deeds and quitclaim deeds are the two most common. What is a deed and how do you determine which is appropriate for your transaction?

A deed is simply a legal document that transfers ownership—right to possession and enjoyment—to land. The deed provides a legal description of real estate, and identifies who is buying and who is selling the property. At a minimum, it must be signed by the person who seeks to transfer or convey ownership.

The most common type of deed is the warranty deed. A warranty deed provides legal assurances that person passing the title knows of no liens or encumbrances, or any adverse claims to the property. If such claims arise, the seller must typically compensate the buyer for any losses. The warranty deed may also make representations about other aspects of the property, such as zoning eligibility, the presence of mineral or other rights, and any potential environmental issues.

In many instances, a seller will transfer ownership through what is known as a “quitclaim” deed. Unlike a warranty deed, a quitclaim deed makes no guarantees that the person transferring it has free and clear title. Quitclaim deeds are common when there’s a known “cloud” on the title—the transferor knows that someone else has made an adverse claim to the property, and is conveying the property with that lien or encumbrance attached. Quitclaim deeds are frequently used by family members conveying property, as well as in divorce proceedings. A quitclaim deed can also be used by the person holding the lien to release any claim to the property.

Contact Our Office

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we have protected the rights of individuals throughout Delaware County since 1980. We offer a free initial consultation. To schedule an appointment, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online

Personal Service | Dedicated Advocacy | Cutting Edge Technology

What to Expect at a Real Estate Closing

Real Estate Closing

You’ve made an offer on your first home and it’s been accepted. You’ve started planning your move and your agent has given you a date for “closing.” What does that mean and what should you expect at that meeting?

What Is a Real Estate Closing?

Real estate transactions are, by their nature, highly complex and document-driven. In addition to the buy-sell agreement, which sets forth the obligations of both parties, you’ll have a mortgage (unless you pay cash), a note, title documents, a deed and perhaps an easement or restrictive covenant. The closing brings all the parties together at the same time, so that all contingencies can be immediately addressed and resolved. There’s a simultaneous exchange of documents, so that all parties’ interests are protected.

The closing will typically take place at either a title office or at the office of one of the real estate agents involved in the transaction. All documents required to complete the transaction will be part of the closing package and the parties will sign those documents in the presence of a notary. The seller will receive a check for the purchase price less any amount still owed on a mortgage, as well as any other obligations the seller has agreed to pay. The buyer will receive the deed to the property, though the buyer’s lender may have a lien on that deed.

As a general rule, a closing or settlement statement is prepared in advance, identifying what funds will be exchanged and who will receive what. You should have the opportunity to review the closing statement in advance, so that any discrepancies can be resolved before the closing.

Contact Our Office

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we have provided thorough and effective legal counsel to clients throughout Delaware County in Pennsylvania since 1980. We offer a free initial consultation. To schedule an appointment, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online.

Personal Service | Dedicated Advocacy | Cutting Edge Technology

Understanding a Personal Injury Claim—The Standard of Care

When you have been hurt because of the wrongful act of another person, you have a right to pursue monetary compensation, also known as “damages,” from the at-fault party. Though you can file a personal injury lawsuit based on intentional acts, most actions to recover damages are based on a legal theory of negligence. To succeed on a negligence claim, you must show that the at-fault party “breached” a duty of care, that the breach “caused” your injury, and that you suffered actual loss. This blog looks at the first element, the duty of care.

The Legal Duty of Care in a Personal Injury Case

Personal Injury Claim—The Standard of CareMost personal injury claims are governed by what is known as the “common law,” from opinions written by judges over centuries. Through the common law, courts have established a standard of care to which all persons must adhere. That standard of care requires that, in all things you do, whether driving a car, maintaining property, or designing or building a product, you must exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would. That, of course, begs the question—what is a reasonable level of care.

Unfortunately, the law does not specifically define what constitutes a reasonable level of care and only provides some guidance—reasonable care is that care that would be exercised by an “average person of ordinary prudence.” As a practical matter, the determination of what amounts to reasonable care, and whether the defendant breached that duty, is the responsibility of the finder of fact, typically a jury (the judge will be the finder of fact when there is no jury). Accordingly, what qualifies as “reasonable care” can vary on a case-to-case basis.

Showing that the defendant breached that duty won’t be sufficient, though, to merit a jury award. You must next show that the defendant’s breach caused your injury.

Contact Our Office

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we offer experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel to individuals in Pennsylvania. To set up an appointment for a free initial consultation, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online.

Personal Service | Dedicated Advocacy | Cutting Edge Technology

Should You Set Up a Trust?

Set Up a Trust

If you’ve started to plan for the orderly distribution of your estate in the event of your death, you’ve probably wondered about whether or not a trust is right for you. This blog helps you understand what a trust is, why it can benefit you, and its advantages and disadvantages.

To understand the benefits of a trust, you need to have a basic understanding of the probate process. The probate process seeks to ensure the orderly distribution of property that you own upon your death. There are two primary ways that you can have the use of property, but not own it at the time of your death—through re-titling assets and through a trust. If you change the legal title to property, such that you own it jointly with anyone else, the property automatically passes to the joint owners at the instant of your death, and any property interest you had is extinguished.

A trust works a little differently. In essence, a trust is a separate legal entity, into which you can transfer property. When you transfer property into a trust, you relinquish ownership of the property, but have use and enjoyment of it as set forth in the terms of the trust. Typically, you’ll have what is known as an “inter vivos” trust, one that becomes effective while you are still living. Any property that you put in the trust during your lifetime stays in the trust when you die—accordingly, there’s no need to address the ownership or distribution of the property when you die, as you don’t own it.

The obvious advantage to putting property in trust is that you avoid the probate process, which can be expensive and time-consuming. As a general rule, you’ll pay a bit more up front for the preparation and execution of the trust, but it’s usually far less than the estate would pay if the property went through probate.

Contact Our Office

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we have protected the rights of individuals throughout Delaware County since 1980. We offer a free initial consultation. To schedule an appointment, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online.

Personal Service | Dedicated Advocacy | Cutting Edge Technology

The Responsibilities of Property Owners in Pennsylvania

Property Owners in PennsylvaniaIn Pennsylvania, as in other states, there’s a duty with respect to the maintenance and care of residential and commercial property. The duty is typically imposed on anyone who has the power or authority to control the conditions of the property—that could be the owner, a landlord, a tenant or a property manager. When there’s a breach of that duty, any lawsuit for injuries is typically filed under a legal theory of “premises liability.”

The Duty

The general duty owed is to reasonably monitor and maintain property so as to minimize the risk of injury to anyone legally on the property. Accordingly, the owner/tenant/landlord/property manager may not simply wait until a dangerous condition is discovered. The property must be reasonably monitored for potential problems. This doesn’t mean that there’s an absolute duty to prevent any accidents—only that there must be reasonable efforts to discover any potential problems.

Once a dangerous situation has been discovered, there’s duty to do one of the following:

  • Fix the problem so that it no longer poses a risk of injury
  • Prevent access to that part of the property that poses the danger
  • Reasonably warn visitors of the danger present

The Nature of the Visitor

The duty owed will vary, based on the nature of the visitor. There is no duty owed to anyone who is illegally or wrongfully on the property—a trespasser. The only exception is for man-made or artificial features on the property that may attract a child or minor.

If the visitor is an invitee—someone who is expressly or impliedly “invited” on to the property for the benefit of the property owner— the duty is the highest possible under the law. This includes a customer who enters commercial property to obtain goods or services.

If, however, the visitor is a licensee—someone legally on the property, but there for his or her own primary benefit—the duty is slightly less. With a respect to a licensee, a property owner is only responsible for any danger that either was or should have been reasonable discovered and which the visitor could not have reasonably discovered on his or her own.

Contact Our Office

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we have provided thorough and effective legal counsel to clients throughout Delaware County in Pennsylvania since 1980. We offer a free initial consultation. To schedule an appointment, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online.

Personal Service | Dedicated Advocacy | Cutting Edge Technology

Understanding a Personal Injury Claim—Actual Loss

Personal Injury Claim—Actual LossIn earlier blog posts, we discussed the standard of care in a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence, and we looked at the causation requirement. Even if you meet both of those tests, you still won’t be able to recover financial compensation unless you can show that you suffered actual losses. That may seem redundant or obvious—if someone causes you to suffer personal injury or property damage, there’s always loss, right? Not necessarily.

What Qualifies as an “Actual Loss”?

The courts typically ask a number of questions to assess whether you suffered compensable losses:

  • Did you have any unreimbursed medical expenses? You can’t recover twice for the same injury…if your health insurance or motor vehicle insurance policy covered your medical expenses, you can’t ask the defendant to pay them. If you do, the insurer may ask for the return of any reimbursements or paid medical expenses.
  • Did you lose any income, wages or other compensation? If you didn’t, you don’t have a claim for lost wages. If you received some form of compensation through a short term disability policy, you may still be entitled to lost wages, as those policies typically only pay a portion of your lost income.
  • Did you experience any ongoing pain or physical discomfort because of the accident? You are entitled to damages for pain and suffering, particularly if the pain prevented you from engaging in activities that would have been a normal part of your life.
  • Did you suffer any loss of companionship or consortium (intimate relations with a spouse or partner) because of injuries suffered?
  • Was there any damage to your property that diminished the value of the property?

Contact Our Office

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we have protected the rights of individuals throughout Delaware County since 1980. We offer a free initial consultation. To schedule an appointment, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online.

Personal Service | Dedicated Advocacy | Cutting Edge Technology

Understanding a Personal Injury Claim–Causation

In an earlier post, we addressed the standard of care in a personal injury claim and explained how a successful claim requires a showing that the defendant failed to meet (or breached) the required duty of care—to act as a reasonable person would. Once you’ve demonstrated that the defendant breached that duty, you must next show a causal link between the breach and your injuries. As the laws of personal injury have developed over the centuries, two types of cause have been identified, both of which must be shown for your claim to prevail—actual cause and proximate cause.

Actual, or “But For” Cause

Personal Injury Claim--CausationA demonstration of actual cause requires that you show that the accident, and subsequent injury, would not have occurred in the absence of the defendant’s breach of the duty of care. It’s usually not difficult to show—a car runs a stop sign, you slip on a wet or slippery floor, a product malfunctions and you are injured.

Proximate cause, on the other hand, can be much harder to prove. Essentially, “proximate” means “close to,” and a showing of proximate cause requires that you demonstrate that the wrongful act and the injury suffered were so closely related that it would be reasonable to expect that the breach of duty—the wrongful act committed—would result in the harm suffered. Essentially, the requirement of proximate cause says that the court won’t hold a negligent person responsible for every injury that resulted from a wrongful act, but only those that are reasonably foreseeable.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose that you run a stop sign or red light because you were looking at your phone. You hit another car, causing both property damage and personal injury. It’s certainly reasonable to expect that, if you fail to stop at a light or sign, there will be traffic coming the other way and that you may collide with another vehicle. But let’s take it a little further. Suppose the car you strike careens through the intersection and hits a fire hydrant, causing the fire hydrant to send water cascading down the street. The water causes a flood, which damages a number of signed first editions at a home near the scene of the crash. Would that be reasonably foreseeable? A jury would have to make that decision.

Let’s assume that you’ve been able to show a breach of duty and meet the causation requirements of a personal injury claim. You must still show that you’ve suffered actual loss.

Contact Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we have fought for the rights of individuals throughout Delaware County since 1980. We offer a free initial consultation. To schedule an appointment, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online.

Personal Service | Dedicated Advocacy | Cutting Edge Technology

Slips and Falls on Ice and Snow—The Hills and Ridges Rule in Pennsylvania

Slips and Falls on Ice and Snow

The winters in Pennsylvania can be dangerous, both on the roads and on the sidewalks and walkways. Snow and ice can build up pretty quickly, and you can easily lose your footing, leading to serious injury. What’s the responsibility of a property owner in Pennsylvania to keep sidewalks, driveways and other thoroughfares free of ice and snow?

First, it’s important to understand that there’s no absolute duty in Pennsylvania to keep pathways cleared of ice and snow. Given the climate in the state, that’s generally considered an unrealistic expectation. What has evolved, though, through the opinions of judges—the common law—is what is known as the “hills and ridges” rule.

The Hills and Ridges Rule

According to the hills and ridges rule, a property owner in Pennsylvania will only be liable for injuries suffered in a slip and fall if the following criteria can be shown:

  • There was an accumulation of ice or snow in ridges or in elevations that unreasonably obstructed pedestrian travel and constituted an unreasonable danger
  • The property owner knew or should have known about the accumulation of snow or ice
  • The accumulation of ice or snow was the actual cause of the slip and fall

With this rule, property owners are virtually excluded from liability for injuries sustained due to black ice or freshly fallen snow, as it would be unreasonable for them to know about or anticipate every potentially dangerous situation. However, if a landowner has prior notice that a particular spot is more susceptible to accumulation, that can change the duty, as it would then be reasonable to expect a buildup.

There are exceptions to the application of the hills and ridges rule:

  • It does not apply if dangerous conditions were created by an artificial means—a broken water pipe, for example
  • It does not apply when the buildup resulted from the property owner’s negligence, such as a stopped up storm drain

Contact Our Office

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we offer experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel to individuals in Pennsylvania. To set up an appointment for a free initial consultation, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online

New Expungement Law Offers Opportunities for Misdemeanors in Pennsylvania

On November 12, 2016, a law enacted by the Pennsylvania Legislature went into effect allowing, for the first time, restriction to criminal records of individuals in Pennsylvania who had been convicted of 2nd or 3rd degree misdemeanors, or an ungraded offense, which carried no more than two years in prison. Previous to this, an individual would only be capable of having underage drinking or summary offenses expunged.

With the new law, there are a great variety of offenses which individuals can restrict access to as far as their prior criminal record is concerned.

The distinction made by the Legislature is that application may be made for what is known “limited access” to criminal records. While the criminal records of an individual would not be completely expunged, meaning that those records would be available for distribution to criminal justice and government agencies, any other private employer, educational institution, or other members of the public would be unable to obtain criminal records if such a limited access order was granted.

As indicated above, the expansion of the expungement law is limited to those who were convicted of a 2nd or 3rd degree misdemeanor, or an ungraded offense, which carries no more than two years in prison. Most importantly, an individual must be free from arrest or prosecution for ten (10) years following their conviction of the underlying offense.

Here are some common offenses that may be sealed under the new law:

  1. Simple Assault: Section 2701
  2. Harassment: Section 2709
  3. Indecent Exposure: Section 3127
  4. Criminal Mischief: Section 3304
  5. Criminal and Simple Trespass: Section 3503
  6. Theft by unlawful taking: Section 3921
  7. Retail Theft: Section 3929
  8. Resisting Arrest: Section 5104
  9. Possession/Sale/Transfer Firearms: Section 6105
  10. Selling/furnishing liquor/beer to minors: Section 6310
  11. Public Nuisance: Section 6504
  12. Invasion of Privacy: Section 7507
  13. Drug Offenses 35 P. S. § 80-113

  14. Manufacture/sale/delivery-adulterated controlled substance: (a)(1)
  15. Simple Possession: (a)(16)
  16. Possession with intent to deliver: (a)(30)
  17. Possession-small amt. of marijuana: (a)(31)
  18. Possession-drug paraphernalia: (a)(32)
  19. Vehicle Law Offenses 75 Pa.C.S.

  20. Drive w/ suspended license and/or under influence of controlled substance: Section 1543(b)
  21. Driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance (DUI): Section 3802

If you have an interest in determining whether your prior criminal conviction may be sealed under this valuable Pennsylvania law, please contact our office.

Man Sues Philadelphia Restaurant after Sign Falls

personal injury

A man who was injured last summer when restaurant sign hit him on the head has filed a personal injury lawsuit against the restaurant and its owners. Keith Blackwell, a resident of Philadelphia, brought the legal action against the eatery, saying he had suffered “painful and permanent” injuries, including post-concussive syndrome, cognitive impairment, spinal cord injury, and lacerations and contusions to his head and body.

According to the complaint, Blackwell was a patron at the restaurant on July 22 when the restaurant’s sign fell and hit him on the head. He has alleged that the owners of the restaurant negligently failed to maintain the premises so as to minimize the risk of injury.

Under Pennsylvania law, the owner of commercial or residential property has a duty to monitor and maintain the premises so as to minimize the risk of injury to anyone legally on the property. Because Blackwell was on the property in the ordinary course of business—he came there to eat—his legal status would be that of an “invitee.”  An invitee is defined as a person who enters the property of another at the express or implied invitation of the property owner.

In Pennsylvania, a business or property owner has a specific duty to invitees:

  • To exercise reasonable care to discover any condition that poses an unreasonable risk of danger
  • To take reasonable steps to protect invitees from that danger

There is a caveat—a property owner will only be liable if the danger is one that the property owner could not reasonably expect that the invitee would discover on his or her own.

Contact Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we have fought for the rights of individuals throughout Delaware County since 1980. We offer a free initial consultation. To schedule an appointment, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online

Personal Service | Dedicated Advocacy | Cutting Edge Technology