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York and Lancaster PA Law Blog

Homeowner's Liability Insurance Claims and Pennsylvania Law

Recently, a client of ours experienced a fire at their home which destroyed a good deal of their property. This is one of many such insurance claims Trinity Law lawyers have handled for Pennsylvania residents. The homeowners, thinking they were fully covered under their homeowner's policy, filed a claim with their liability insurance company. While the company confirmed that our clients were covered for repairs and the replacement of lost property, they were shocked to learn that they would not be getting any funds to replace their lost property until they first replaced the property at their own cost and then produced receipts after which the company would reimburse them! Given the extent of their losses, this situation posed a tremendous financial hardship on the homeowners. Essentially they had to go out and pay for everything first and then the insurance company would reimburse them. Despite this family difficulty, the homeowners' insurance company took a firm stance, stating that it was a long standing and standard policy of theirs.

Pennsylvania Adoptions: Contested and Uncontested Hearings

In a previous blog, we discussed Pennsylvania adoption home studies. A home study is necessary in every Pennsylvania adoption case. Once the home study is complete and all clearances have been obtained it is then time to concentrate on the next step in the adoption process. Adoptions are either contested (i.e., opposed), or uncontested (i.e., unopposed). If the other biological parent consents to the adoption, things go a lot smoother in most cases. If, however, you are facing a contested adoption (i.e., the other biological parent does not consent, or cannot be located), you must then proceed in a different, and sometimes more contentious manner.

Bifurcated Divorce Action

Generally, a person cannot get divorced in Pennsylvania until all economic claims, such as property distribution and alimony, are resolved. However, a bifurcated divorce action allows the parties to separate the economic claims from the actual divorce, meaning that the divorce can be obtained before the economic claims are resolved. This typically allows the parties to become divorced quicker and can be beneficial because it can allow a party to remarry sooner.

To win a bifurcation case, a party must meet the following three criteria:

1) The grounds for divorce must be established;

2) Compelling circumstances must exist for entry of the divorce decree; and

3) Sufficient economic protections must be provided to the other party while the economic claims remain pending.

Access to Medical Records. What Are My Rights?

Each year I request and review hundreds of hospital and physician medical records in Pennsylvania as part of the work I am doing, be it for automobile accident victims, those who've applied for Social Security Disability benefits, etc. As you might imagine, I am often asked by clients about access to their own medical records - that is whether they can obtain the medical records on their own. There are rules that govern access to medical records, and I want to discuss the law of Pennsylvania as it relates to such access here. 

Pennsylvania Adoptions: The Home Study

If you are considering a Pennsylvania adoption, you may be asking yourself, "Where do I begin?"

The first and perhaps one of the most important steps in your adoption process will be to obtain an adoption home study. Under Pennsylvania law, adoption home studies can be conducted by a local child-care agency, a licensed adoption agency, or a licensed social worker designated by the court to perform such a study (23 PACS Section 2530).

Grandparent Custody Rights in Pennsylvania

The 2011 Amendments to the Pennsylvania Custody Act provide the framework for when a grandparent may bring an action to obtain custody rights to their grandchildren.  The Act sets forth certain requirements which must be met in order for a grandparent to sue for primary physical custody and partial physical custody.  In order to sue for primary physical custody, a grandparent must show the following:

  1. The relationship with the child began with the consent of a parent or under a court order;
  2. The grandparent is willing to assume responsibility for the child; and
  3. One of the following three criteria:
    1. The child has been adjudicated dependent;
    2. The child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity; or
    3. The child previously resided with the grandparent for 12 consecutive months and the action is brought within 6 months of the child being removed from the grandparents.

Pennsylvania Law: Guardianship, Custody and Adoption

More and more frequently today, families are finding themselves in a position where they are unable to care for their child(ren) on their own and seek help from family members and/or friends.  It is important to know what legal avenues are available to those who find themselves stepping into a parental role.  In Pennsylvania, there are guardianship, custody, and adoption options.  A brief summary of each of these legal options are as follows:

"Guardianship" of a child is appropriate when the parents are not around to care for the child(ren).   Some reasons why parents may not be around to take care of their child(ren) are  death, missing (whereabouts unknown); or they may have a serious addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Guardianships are temporary and a parent can have the child returned to them at some point.  This will allow the adult(s) who are caring for the child(ren) to make important decisions on their behalf in the absence of a parent (e.g., medical, school, and travel).

Parental Custody Rights, Criminal Acts and Pennsylvania Law

The 2011 Amendments to the Pennsylvania Custody Act at 23 Pa.C.S. Section 5329 of the Law provide that when an individual or household member of the individual has been convicted or charged with one of the listed criminal offenses or crimes, they must undergo an evaluation to determine whether they pose a risk of harm to the child. There are approximately 30 criminal offenses listed in Section 5329. These crimes range from homicide and rape to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. After the evaluation occurs, the Pennsylvania custody court will generally hold a hearing to determine whether, in light of the criminal conviction, the individual or household member poses a risk of harm to the child such that the individual should be precluded from exercising custodial time with the child. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure have recently been amended to require that both at the time a custody action is filed and by 5 days prior to trial, a party certify they have not been convicted of a crime listed in Section 5329.

Four More Clues You May Need A Lawyer (Before It's Too Late)

1. You've been thinking about getting that contract/sales agreement updated, but just haven't gotten around to it.

Similar to your Will, if it has been years since you updated your business's sales agreements, it is time to re-evaluate. Your business needs to be protected, especially in the evolving legal world. Don't continue to use the same hand-written contracts from ten years ago because that's the way you've always done it.

Auto Accident: Who Pays the Medical Bills?

So, you have been in a car crash that was not your fault and now the medical bills are piling up. The pressing question is: "Who is responsible to pay for them?"

Under Pennsylvania law, when a person buys auto insurance, the auto insurance company is required to offer and provide you with at least $5,000 of medical insurance. This is sometimes referred to as "first party benefits". Although more items are included in first party benefits; this is the most significant. The point is, when you buy auto insurance, you have to have a minimum of $5,000 of medical bills coverage. That is the law.

Unfortunately, the $5,000 required minimum for medical bills has not been increased in many, many years by the state legislature. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that a few trips to the hospital, or just one trip if the injuries are significant, could well exceed $5,000 in medical bills. So, when you buy auto insurance, you should give serious consideration to buying more than $5,000 in first party medical benefits coverage.