What to Expect When You File a Personal Injury Claim—Part Two

Personal Injury Claim—Part TwoOnce the complaint and answer have been filed, and the discovery process has been finished, you’re still a ways away from opening statements at a trial. The court will now work to either avoid a trial or to make the trial as efficient as possible. That’s generally accomplished through a series of motions and motion hearings. There are generally two different types of motions—dispositive motions and evidentiary motions.

Dispositive Motions

Dispositive motions take two forms—motions to dismiss a lawsuit, and motions to throw out some claims made by an injured party. Based on evidence gathered during the discovery phase, attorneys for the injured party may conclude that one or more of the defendants have not provided any evidence that will support a defense. Accordingly, rather than go through a trial where that will be the likely or certain outcome, the plaintiffs may ask the court for “summary judgment,” a ruling in their favor that obviates the need for a trial. In addition, if the plaintiffs can show that there are no genuine issues of material fact, a similar motion can be made.

Attorneys for the defendants can make a similar motion, based on allegations that the injured party has not provided evidence that will prove all the required elements of the case. In addition, if the plaintiff has included multiple claims in the lawsuit, the defendants can ask the court to limit the scope of the lawsuit by dismissing those claims that are not supported by the evidence.

Evidentiary Motions

During the discovery process, the rules of evidence are somewhat different than they are at trial. For example, at a deposition, a witness can provide testimony that would not be allowed at trial—it may be hearsay, speculation, or simply irrelevant. The purpose of the discovery period is to gather as much evidence as possible. However, at trial, it’s important that the jurors don’t hear or have access to evidence that is inappropriate, as it can taint the verdict (and it can’t be unheard). Accordingly, any known disputes regarding the admissibility of evidence are usually addressed before the trial, before a jury has been called. Introducing any evidence that the court has previously ruled to be inadmissible can be grounds for a mistrial, and even for disciplinary action.

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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 .

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What to Expect When You File a Personal Injury Claim—Part One

Personal Injury Claim—Part OneWhen you have been injured because of someone else’s carelessness or negligence, you have a right to seek compensation for any losses you’ve suffered. You may be unable to work because of your injury, so time can be of the essence. Unfortunately, if you can’t get the outcome you need from insurance providers or through a settlement, there’s a process you must go through before your case can go to trial.

Preparing and Filing a Complaint

To initiate a lawsuit to protect your rights, you must file a complaint in the appropriate court. Before you think of doing this, you should hire an experienced personal injury attorney, someone who knows the law and the rules of procedure. Pursuant to what is known as the “statute of limitations,” you must file a lawsuit within a specific amount of time after your injury (or after you should reasonably have discovered your injury). If you fail to do so, your claim may be barred. Once you have filed your complaint and served a copy on any named defendants, they will have a specific period of time (usually 30 days) to respond to the complaint—to file an answer, in appropriate legal terminology. If the defendant does not file an answer in a timely manner, you can ask the court for a default judgment.

The Discovery Process

Once the complaint and answer have been filed, the court will establish a discovery schedule. “Discovery” is a legal term for the gathering of evidence. There are generally three ways that evidence is obtained:

  • Through depositions—Oral testimony, given under oath, in response to questions from attorneys for all parties. Deposition testimony is typically transcribed by a court reporter, and may also be videotaped.
  • Through interrogatories—These are written questions submitted by one party to another, and must be answered in writing within a specified period of time. The court will customarily set a limit on the number of interrogatories.
  • Requests for production—The parties can request that other parties produce copies of any documents or other evidence relevant to the case.

It’s not unusual, prior to or at the meeting to establish the discovery ground rules, for the judge to encourage or even require the parties to engage in good faith efforts to settle, so the case does not have to go to trial.

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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 .

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Consequential Injuries and Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Consequential Injuries and Workers' Compensation BenefitsOne of the common misconceptions, when you’ve been hurt on the job, is that you can only receive benefits for injuries directly caused by the accident, that your injuries must be substantial, and that they must be obvious. To the contrary, there are times when a seemingly insignificant work-related injury can lead to more serious health problems, ones not directly caused by the accident, but which would not have developed if the accident had never occurred. These are known as “consequential injuries” and will qualify you for workers’ compensation benefits.

Understanding Consequential Injuries

A consequential injury is one that is not directly caused by an accident, but which would not have happened “but for” the accident. Many consequential injuries involve soft tissue or connective tissue, including tendons, ligaments and muscles. For example, you may slip and fall on a slippery floor at work, twisting your ankle. The twisted ankle readily apparent—it may be swollen and you may even see something on an x-ray.

However, you may change the way you walk because of the ankle sprain. Changing your gait may lead to muscle pain in other parts of your body, including your other leg, your lower back and your hips. If the pain or discomfort from those “consequential” injuries makes it difficult or impossible for you to work, you can seek workers’ compensation benefits for those injuries.

Another common “consequential injury” is infection. You may sustain lacerations or abrasions in a work accident, then develop infection in the area of the cut. If the infection prevents you from working, you can qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for the disability and any attendant medical expenses.

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.

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Can You Seek Workers’ Compensation Benefits If You Are an Independent Contractor?

Can-You-Seek-Workers'-Compensation-Benefits-If-You-Are-an-Independent-ContractorIn today’s working world, with the proliferation of telecommuting and working from home, more and more workers are considered independent contractors. It’s a fairly common approach by employers, often an attempt to minimize costs by avoiding tax liabilities, as well as workers’ compensation requirements. However, you won’t be considered an independent contractor just because your employer says you are one, even if you entered into a written agreement. To the contrary, if you are injured on the job, the determination of whether or not you qualify for workers’ compensation benefits will be based on a number of tests, including:

  • The extent to which the company exercised control over your time, assignments, equipment and location—the greater the degree of control, the more likely you will be considered an employee
  • How you were paid—if you were paid per job or assignment, you may still qualify as an independent contractor. But if you received an hourly wage or a salary, you will likely be construed as an employee and eligible for workers’ compensation
  • Whether you provided your own work materials and equipment, including computers, desk , office space and supplies

Contrary to popular belief, there is no requirement that you be on the company payroll to qualify for workers’ compensation, or that the company withhold taxes for you or pay workers’ compensation insurance premiums for you. There’s also no requirement that you maintain an office, locker or similar space at company offices.

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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.

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Wrongful Death Claims—What Damages Are Available?

Wrongful-Death-Claims—What-Damages-Are-AvailableWhen your loved one dies because of the carelessness or negligence of another person, no amount of compensation can bring them back. But you have a right to hold the wrongful party accountable for your losses. What does that include? This blog provides an overview of the damages (monetary compensation) available in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Under Pennsylvania law, the basis for a wrongful death action must be similar to that which the deceased would have had if he or she had survived—it’s essentially a personal injury claim on behalf of the decedent. As a general rule, the wrongful death action is filed by the executor or personal representative of the estate.

Accordingly, the types of damages available are similar to those that would be appropriate in a personal injury claim. Specifically, Pennsylvania allows the executor to seek compensation for the estate for the following losses:

  • Lost wages or income—The estate can seek compensation representing lost income, calculated to the time of retirement
  • Medical expenses—This covers any medical costs incurred by the deceased because of the accident and before death
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Estate administration costs—Any expense associated with settling the estate through the probate court
  • The value of lost household services, such as child-rearing, cooking and cleaning
  • The loss of society and comfort, as well as moral guidance and companionship, including loss of consortium (intimate relations)
  • Compensation for pain and suffering (of the deceased as a result of the accident)

Certain damages are available regardless of whether there were any surviving children, parents or spouses—these include out-of-pocket losses, such as medical and estate administration expenses, as well as funeral and burial costs. Damages for loss of society and comfort, for guidance, and for support are only available, however, if there were dependents living at the time of death.

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.

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The Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury

The Statute of Limitations on Personal Injury Claims in Pennsylvania

The-Pennsylvania-Statute-of-Limitations-for-Personal-InjuryIf you have been injured in Pennsylvania because of someone else’s wrongful act, you have a right to seek monetary compensation for your losses. But you can’t wait too long to do that—like all other states, Pennsylvania has a written law that requires that you file your lawsuit within a specific period of time. This law, known as the “statute of limitations,” serves a number of purposes. First, it ensures that your case is litigated while memories are still fresh and minimizes the risk that witnesses will move away or die, or that evidence will be lost or destroyed. In addition, it provides a benefit to the defendant, making certain that there’s an end in sight, so that the wrongdoer doesn’t have to live the rest of his or her life worrying about whether a lawsuit will be filed.

Statutes of limitation are state laws and vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and even vary based on the type of legal action. The statute of limitations for a criminal offense may be significantly different from the statute for a personal injury claim or a breach of contract action. Under Pennsylvania law, the statute of limitations (the time within which you must file your lawsuit) is two years from the date of your injury. Accordingly, if you fail to file a complaint during that period, you will likely lose your right to compensation forever.

Like many other states, Pennsylvania recognizes an exception to the running of the statute of limitations, what is known as the “discovery rule.” The discovery rule says that the statute of limitations does not start to run until the injured person either knows, or should reasonably know, that he or she has a personal injury claim. For example, if you use a prescription medication, but side effects don’t show up for five years, you can argue that the statute of limitations does not start to run until you learned of the side effects.

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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.

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Is Your Injury Work-Related? Part Two

Is-Your-Injury-Work-Related-part-twoTo qualify for workers’ compensation benefits in Pennsylvania, you must show two things—that you have been hurt and that you were "working" when you sustained the injury. In an earlier blog, we looked at whether injuries suffered while on a break or traveling for the company were covered by workers’ compensation. This blog looks at other situations where your employer might argue you were not actually working—injuries at a company event and injuries caused by your own wrongdoing.

When You Are Hurt at a Company Outing or Event

It’s pretty common for most companies to have team-building or company sponsored events, such as golf tournaments, softball games or similar activities. If the company organized and sponsored the event, you will generally be considered to be working if you are injured at the outing. There may be exceptions, though, if your conduct at the event is unreasonable. For example, if you consume too much alcohol and fall down, hurting yourself, you may not have a valid workers’ compensation claim, unless the company paid for the booze.

Injuries Caused By Your Own Misconduct

Though workers’ compensation is typically a no-fault benefit—the benefits are available regardless of the worker’s negligence—you can be denied workers’ compensation if the injured was caused by your own intentional act. You can’t recover workers’ compensation for self-inflicted injuries. However, just because your conduct was a violation of workplace safety rules or other guidelines, you won’t necessarily have your claim denied. If your actions were merely careless or negligent, you will likely still have a right to workers’ compensation.

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.

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Is Your Injury Work-Related? Part One

Is-Your-Injury-Work-Related-part-oneIn Pennsylvania, to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, you must meet only two requirements—you must have suffered an injury that keeps you from working, and the injury must have been sustained on the job. If you are clearly involved in tasks associated with your job—running a machine, working at your computer or loading goods, there’s often little question whether you were working at the time. But there are situations where your employer may argue that you weren’t hurt while in the course of employment. This blog addresses two of those situations—when you are injured on a break and when you are hurt while traveling for your employer.

Injuries You Suffer While on a Break

Federal labor laws require your employer to provide you with regular breaks, including lunch breaks. What happens if you slip in the break room and sprain your knee? Or if you fall and hurt yourself while out to lunch? The answer depends.

As a general rule, if you suffer an injury in a company cafeteria, lunch or break room, you will qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, even if you were on a break (and even if you had punched out for the break).If you leave your employer’s premises to go to lunch, you no longer qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for any injury suffered, unless you can show that you were acting on behalf of your supervisor or the company at the time. For example, if your boss asks you to pick him up some lunch, you may qualify for workers’ compensation for injuries suffered while on that assignment.

Injuries Sustained While Traveling for Your Employer

You can’t generally recover workers’ compensation benefits for injuries suffered on your way to or from work, unless you deviated from your route to perform some work-related task—your boss asked you to stop and pick up light bulbs or bagels, for example. If you are on a business trip, you can recover workers’ compensation benefits for injuries suffered, provided the activity you were engaged in was not strictly personal. If the injury occurred on your way to or from a conference or meeting, or while you were getting something to eat, you are probably covered. But if you went to the nightclub and slipped on the dance floor, you are probably not covered.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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