Who is at fault for the accident? Whose insurance company pays?

Q: I was involved in a car accident where it was snowing badly. I was traveling around 35 on the Parkway but it was a white out. I spun out. I was on the side of the rode. Another car came along and rear-ended me. He knocked me into the guard rail and caused extensive damage to my car. The police were called, and he received a citation. My car had to be towed away. Is he responsible because he rear-ended me while I’m already off to the side of the road or am I at fault because I pulled over to the side in a white out? (Forest Hills, PA)

A: Generally, the person who hits someone from behind is at fault. If you were pulled off the road completely at a safe distance from the road way, that also puts more fault on him. You need to report this to your insurance company. Their attorney will advise you. The other driver’s insurance company may or may not offer to pay full damages. They may offer to pay 50% or 75% of the damages due to the weather conditions. Additionally, the other driver may have another version of what happened. It is hard to tell how it will settle. More information would need to be known to give you a thorough answer, but the case will probably settle.

Charged with retail theft. What do I do?

Q: I was convicted of retail theft and I was not sure of my mistake because I was very sick and lost my debit card and went back to retrieve it. Also, I have been sick for 2 weeks since the incident happened. I was on medication but was not sure what happened but was willing to pay for everything. They stopped me when leaving but the guy was not listening and told me it’s too late. I think I forgot because I was too worried about my debit card and had stress on my mind. I want the charges dropped. I don’t want it on my record and need of a defender. What should I do? It will ruin my life if I get charged. How do I get a Public Defender as I have no job right now? (West Homestead, PA)

A: Stop the drama and talk to an attorney. In Allegheny County, there is a first -time offender’s program for Retail Theft whereby you don’t admit guilt, you complete a class on the evils of Retail Theft and the charge is withdrawn. After that you can pay an attorney to expunge your arrest record, and then you will have a clean record. I do this all the time. Call a private attorney or sign up with the PD. The Allegheny County PD is in room 400 of the County Office Building in downtown Pittsburgh at the corner of Forbes and Ross St. You can go there or call. There number might be 412-350-2401. If you are computer savvy, just look them up. They require that you apply a week in advance of your hearing, so get on it. Good Luck!

Can my boyfriend just throw me out of the apartment?

Q: He asked me to move in with him. I moved out of my apartment and in with him 5 years ago. But sometimes we have issues because his grown daughter & sister are living with us. It’s been up & down putting a strain on our relationship. He has threatened to put me out if he wants to. Can he do that? (Munhall, PA)

A: If this is a lease and you are on it with him, he cannot throw you out. If he is on the lease only or owns the house, he must follow the law and evict you through the court process. If you have invested any money in his home or apartment, you may have a claim but would need to review this with an attorney.

Can my son attend the same school if I move out of the school district?

Q: For the past two years I have lived in Jefferson Hills, PA15025. I own a home in Clairton, PA 15025. How can the school district say my home is outside the district? How can I keep my son going to the same school? (Clairton, PA)

A: I would need to know more facts. I think it depends the reason you moved to Clairton, if you are saying you moved to Clairton. Are you saying you lived in Jefferson with your child and for some reason lost your housing there but have a prior address in Clairton? I am not sure if the McKinney Vento Act will apply to you. I suggest calling a child advocate at Kids Voice in Pittsburgh. 412-391-3100.

Is a quit claim deed valid if all the property transfer isn’t transferred?

Q: There is a property with right of survivorship and 3 siblings own it. One of them filed a quit claim and transferred their portion to someone without the other two knowing. I was told that that is not valid. However, is the quit claim part still valid? Will he have any rights to the property after signing a quit claim? (Murrysville, PA)

A: I think it depends how the property was titled. If it was jointly held by the siblings, as joint tenants, no one of sibling can transfer a share to anyone else without the other siblings joining in the deed. However, if the property is held as tenants-in-common, any one of the three tenants can convey his or her interest 1/3 to whomever they wish.

Will I need to go to jail for active warrant if I have no address?

Q: I went to the initial hearing at the magistrate I was pulled over for a headlight being out and had paraphernalia taken out of the car. No tests were done, so no DUI was issued. I went to the initial hearing but was told by my mother not use her address anymore. The judge got angry when I told him I was technically homeless and without an address to give him. He gave me another court date that I failed to show up at because my situation was still the same. I just want to pay a fine and be done with it all. Well, it went downtown. About a year later, I was picked up and taken to the county jail for 3 weeks. Released on ROR and they kept my prescription glasses for long distance seeing. I had an apartment I was residing at when I was arrested. I lost the place shortly after being released. I had to move my stuff and misplaced my papers with the court date. It has been 6 months roughly since I was arrested. Had they issued the fine at the initial hearing, everything would have been paid off by now. What are my options? I tried contacting a pro bono attorney and they said they cannot help until the warrant is resolved. This could be resolved without my appearance if I had a paid lawyer. (Pittsburgh, PA) A: I am not so sure it could be resolved if you had a paid lawyer. Even if you did, you would be detained at least for some period of time until the motions judge could set your bond. With a record of not appearing and having no steady address, a private attorney may not be able to get you another ROR bond. It sounds like a bench warrant was issued for not showing at your Formal Arraignment and you were subsequently jailed but given a ROR bond (released on recognizance) and then no showed again. I do not believe the Allegheny County Public Defender handles warrants. If you don’t have funds for a private attorney to turn yourself in at motions court, my thought is that you need to turn yourself in to the County Bail Agency (Pretrial Services). They will hold you in jail until they can get you before a judge to arraign you. If you received ROR once, you may not get it again. Tell the judge your circumstance and try to get an address where you receive mail before you do this.

Can I get my criminal complaint from PA?

Q: How did I obtain a copy of the criminal complaint or the accusatory instrument in the state of PA for my case which is over. I applied for NY state security guard license and the division of licensing is asking for these documents from 2010. (Buffalo, NY)

A: If this occurred after 1986 and you can negotiate the PA Uniform Judicial System website, you might be able to find your original charges. If the case went beyond the preliminary hearing to the Court of Common Pleas level, you can contact the county Clerk of Courts office and ask if they can send you a copy by mail. There may be a fee. If you were not found guilty of the offense, you can expunge it, so it disappears from all reputable criminal records repositories. Even if found guilty or you pleaded guilty to a summary offense, certain summary offenses can now be expunged.

Can an elder with mild dementia revoke her Power of Attorney?

Q: My mother signed a durable POA and a health directive just six weeks before two Drs declared her incompetent in 2016. Her agents are also her trustees. Isn’t her trust now irrevocable? These two, my siblings stuck her in a home against her wishes prematurely and are now abusing their responsibility, claiming they can as POA make trust changes and do not have to give an accounting either. Mom also signed on the directive that the agents can’t be questioned by anyone. This is horrible. Her symptoms are mild. They are acting directly against her wishes. Her trusted attorney I used to talk to has passed. I am prohibited from acting as trustee, but I have two petitions filed in pro per. I think the facility she is in is not properly licensed for her health needs. Can I file ex parte for a guardianship just related to her health and placement? I can’t afford an attorney. They have trust funds for theirs. (Oil City, PA)

A: How was she declared incompetent in 2016 and now just has mild dementia? Normally it is reversed. However, mild dementia normally does not render someone incompetent to make decisions that affect their life and to sign important documents. I would consult with her physician as to whether she is now competent. If she is competent, she can act on her own, and revoke the POA in writing. Once done, she can fire the two Agents on the POA, your siblings. As to whether the POA allowed your siblings to make changes to a trust, that is dictated by the language of the POA. Under the new POA statute, effective 1/1/2015, that power must be specifically granted in the POA document-the power to alter trusts. Even if the POA was written prior to the new statute and therefore grandfathered in, the POA should have some language authorizing such power. There are many issues here and I strongly suggest you seek an attorney to consult with. If the attorney advises that your actions may have merit in court, the attorney may be able to be paid from your mother’s funds.

Can I find out if my aunt abused her POA on grandparent’s estate?

Q: My grandparents were both part of a lawsuit. They both died from Mesothelioma and aunt was the power of attorney. My mother and her siblings have only received two small payments totaling less than $8000 each. There are 8 heirs including my mother. We’ve seen that these lawsuits have large amounts of money and we want to find out if our aunt has been stealing from them. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: You could call the law firm who handled the settlement and see if they will tell you. If they will not, you will have to do a little investigating yourself. The POA has no effect after the death of the grandparents. There is a good chance an estate was opened. You could look in the Register of Wills in the county your grandparents died to see if an estate was opened. If there was, it might list the beneficiaries or heirs. You could also check the inheritance tax office to see if there is an inheritance tax return on file. It may also list the beneficiaries. If you get nowhere, you can hire an attorney to see if he can get the information from the law firm or the company that paid. It may involve a subpoena or records request.

How can get off the mortgage?

Q: I co-signed on a mortgage and then the borrower passed away. She has kids however, but no will nor estate has been opened. Her kids are fighting over the house. How do I remove myself off the mortgage? What is the process? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: You are in a tough position. You cannot just remove yourself off the mortgage. You signed a document that holds you liable, now that she is deceased. Your options are to pay the mortgage off or somehow talk the lender in to releasing you, which they will not do unless the heirs want to assume or refinance and get on the mortgage. If the deceased person’s name is on the deed, an estate must be opened to sell that house. It is important that her children find an experienced attorney to help them establish an estate, get the house on the market and sell it as soon as possible. This will greatly benefit you as once the house is sold the mortgage will be paid off and you are off the hook. I would consult with an attorney if I were you.