Category Archives: CIVIL LAW

Can I sue a homeowner’s association?

Q: My basement flooded due to overflow of storm water runoff from common area hillside at my condominium. There was excessive rain that day in a very short amount of time. The local roads flooded, streams overflowed, roads were closed. Water gushed down the hillside and flooded my game room. This happened 4 times. All the time there was excessive rain. The upper side of the hillside has homes with downspouts running on to common area. Can I sue for damages to my yard and game room? I do not have flood insurance. Last issue was the 31st of October. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: I would consult with a civil litigation attorney that has handled such cases. These cases are difficult as you would have the burden to prove that either the association maintained a defective water runoff system and knew or should have known that they did. Or, if the homes on the hillside caused the runoff, whether the homebuilder is at fault because he knew or should have known that water running off his property would cause damage below. You would likely need an engineer to look at the system and write a report. Causation is the main issue. Were your damages caused by negligence or an act of nature. The fact that this has happened four times gives less credibility to an “act of nature” defense. Have you submitted this claim to your property insurance carrier? You should call them first before consulting with an attorney. Preserver your evidence. Save your photos and keep a log of all activity.

Can my roommate put video surveillance cameras in our house?

Q: I live in a four-bedroom house with three other roommates. Since they have moved in they have been a nightmare to live with. They moved all the furniture out and since that point in time installed security cameras in both the living room and kitchen. The cameras record video and audio. Is it legal for them to do this in the state of Pennsylvania? Is this a violation of wiretapping laws? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: You should consider moving out and certainly bring this to the attention of the landlord. Audio taping without your consent is a definite violation of PA wiretap laws. However, if the cameras are in plain view I do not think the video violates PA wiretap laws.

I have a civil hearing tomorrow at the local magistrates

Q: Can I go to jail because I cannot take off work to go to a civil hearing at a magistrate? I’m being taken to court by a creditor (credit card company)? (White Oak, PA)

A: The short answer is no. Generally, civil court has no jurisdiction to incarcerate people. Only in rare circumstances such as when a person is found in contempt or in family court matters involving failure to pay child support. What will happen is that since you do not appear, and have made no effort to continue the case, a hearing will go forward without you and you will be found guilty in absentia. The creditor will ask for and receive the judgment, any interest owed, plus costs and lawyers fee. You might want to call the creditor and the judge and ask for a continuance.

I received aid of execution from a Capital One card from years ago.

Q: They already have a judgement. I own nothing. I do have a bank account in me and my husband name. Car is in both names. I do not own it make payments. I have no savings account and our income tax return is in both names. Can they garnish my wages in PA or take my tax return refund? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: As long as everything you own in in both names, you are shielded by the husband and wife entireties doctrine.

Can I get in trouble for not giving presents back?

Q: My friend got me a few pieces of clothing and an Apple Watch for Christmas this past year. We’re are not friends anymore and he wants everything back and says that if I don’t he’ll press charges against me. Can I get in trouble? (Rostraver, PA)

A: They sound like gifts. Gifts are gifts and are different from loans. Gifts are unconditional. If there was no condition attached to the gifts, they are yours. The fact that the Apple watch was given at Christmas sounds like a gift. Unless he has use for your clothes or can return them, the clothes sound like a gift. I don’t know what the other person’s story is, but as you describe it, they sound like gifts. Nonetheless, if he can convince a police officer that these were stolen, or on loan, you could be charged, but I don’t see it happening. If you are contacted by police, do not make a statement and call an attorney.

Can you change a contract after one party signs?

Q: I went into a vehicle purchase agreement with someone. After I signed the contract, the buyer wrote something in blue ink after one of the terms and then signed it. I did not agree to the new term. Am I bound to the original terms or is the new term binding? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: One party cannot unilaterally amend or add new terms to a contract after both parties sign it. It is considered a counter offer, which must be accepted or rejected by the receiving party. If you did not agree to this amendment of the contract either verbally, or by signing or placing your initials near the amended or added term, you did not consent. I would reject the term in writing and make sure the document is given to the other party and you keep a copy for your records. Some people in this situation would write next to the term, “this additional term dated _____ is rejected”, and date and sign or place their initials next to it the added term.

Can I file a civil suit for denial of police report?

Q: The Police took a dog out of my home and are refusing to give me a report concerning the seizure of my animal. Can I sue them? (Turtle Creek, PA)

A: No, you cannot. There are privacy rules in PA regarding the dissemination of police reports, and the laws are strict. If this dog was removed from your home by Animal Control due to abuse or neglect, you will be receiving papers in the mail. When you do I suggest taking them to an attorney.

I bumped car his at 3 mph with no insurance.

Q: I was at red light. The light changed, and I drifted into car in front of me who started moving and then stopped. There was no visible damage to his car and none to mine at all. called. The police who said to stay in car until they got there because he was so mean to me. Now he is calling me to find out how I want to handle THE DAMAGE to his car. He had mentioned he was in a prior accident two months ago and lady hit him and gave him wrong info and “he isn’t going to get taken again”. I only drifted into him. I am totally afraid of him. I did not have the insurance at 12:00pm. I just went home and paid the premium. I forgot to pay it. If he was in accident before. There was no police report even written and the police had to get his information for me. (McKeesport, PA)

A: You need to verify that you had or did not have motor vehicle insurance. Just because you missed a payment or two does not mean they terminated your coverage. Call to be sure. If you are insured, report the accident and give them the information. They will handle it. If you are certain you did not have insurance at the time, you need to get ready for his potential claim. Gather your evidence. Make a written log of events, get the police report, log or accident report. If possible without trespassing or creating a disturbance, photograph the back end of his car. If he sues and you are not insured, do not ignore the papers that come in the mail. Take them to a lawyer and see if one can defend you at a reasonable cost.

Can Discover card sue me, get a judgment, and lien my house?

Q: What exactly can they do? Wise to attend the magisterial hearing sans defense? It is an unsecured debt. I have no viable defense I’m aware of. The magistrate may have mercy as she knows me. The attorney for Discover is from NY. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Once an award is obtained from the District Justice, it can easily be turned in to a judgment. Once it is a judgment it acts as a lien on all real estate you own. It is possible that the company will go further and execute on personal property (cars, namely) or real estate (your home). Often there are defenses to these credit card law suits. I would review the paperwork with an attorney. The attorney from New York will likely have local counsel represent the company.