Category Archives: CIVIL LAW

What do I do?

Q: My uncle was here on visitor’s visa from India couple of years ago. He had a hospital ER visit which lead to 20k in medical bills. He had some sort of traveler’s insurance at the time of his treatment. He went back assuming the insurance would take care of the bills. However, insurance denied everything stating it was due to a pre-existing condition. I recently have received a court summons on his name mailed to my address. Since the defendant is not staying in US anymore and they cannot afford paying that huge amount, what can be done? Would I have any impact on all this? (Gibsonia, PA)

A: If you were not named in the suit, but it was just mailed to your address, you should have nothing to worry about. I have seen creditors send court papers such as complaints to several last known addresses of clients. This way they can claim they served the defendant and try to obtain a default judgment. It was probably the address he listed when in the hospital here. My suggestion is to mail the creditor a letter, both regular and certified return receipt mail. In the letter, tell them that your uncle does not live nor has ever resided at your address and to cease further contact at your address. Saving a copy of this document may help your uncle in the future if the creditor should obtain a default judgment. As far as your uncle is concerned, it is highly doubtful that they will serve him with a complaint in India. If he travels back to the U.S. they could personally serve him with the complaint, but that is very unlikely.

How do I request a time extension for certificates of merit?

Q: I am filing in Allegheny County, Pa. I must make a request through the Prothonotary. I’m not sure if I am to request a hearing, a judge (none assigned yet) or something else. I’ll be submitting a Praecipe but am unsure exactly what I’m asking the Prothonotary to do. (Glenshaw, PA)

A: My advice is to not handle this on your own. This sounds like a professional malpractice case and many lawyers take those on a contingency basis. The PA Rules of Procedure and the Allegheny County Rules of Court are very specific and must be strictly followed, or you can find yourself bounced out of court.

My wife, unemployed and mentally ill, is being served for credit cards. Options?

Q: My wife had several credit cards that she was paying on when we were dating. She eventually became unable to work due to her mental illnesses and has been unemployed for over a year now. As a result, she was unable to make her credit card payments.  Today, she received a notification that she has a certified letter at the post office from “Court”. She is assuming that this is serving some lawsuit against her but the largest debt she had from any creditor was less than $2000. She is mentally unable to handle stress like this. She has not been able to work for over a year, has harmed herself in the recent past, and has no property or any money to speak of. What should we do in this situation? We have asked to have the letter redelivered tomorrow. (North Huntington, PA)

A: I am sorry for your situation. However, your wife’s unemployment or mental health will not be a defense to credit card debt. My advice is if she owes the money and you can afford it, pay the credit cards that haven’t sued her yet. Perhaps you can call and negotiate a lower payoff. As far as the one who has sent her mail, you need to take the papers to a lawyer for a consultation. If this mailing from the “Court” is a Civil Complaint, you need to answer it in 20 days or she could lose by default. The attorney may advise to pay it, or may assess whether she has a defense or not. Many credit card claims are defensible, for example, there is no contract or the original contract has not been properly assigned to the present creditor. If the credit card debts as a whole are not able to be satisfied at this time, you may want to talk to a Bankruptcy attorney.

Can mom transfer $10K to me without IRS problems?

Q: I am investing my money (trying to grow it beyond being in a regular savings account) and my mom has around $10K that she would also like to add to my money but we are afraid it may raise red flags with the IRS. The transition would be from one bank to a different bank. Also, I am in Pittsburgh, she is in South Carolina. (Regent Square, Pittsburgh, PA)

A: I think you should ask the bank you plan on depositing these funds in to. My recollection is that businesses must fill out an IRS form for every check or cash in the amount of $10,000.00 or over. I believe banks only report deposits from individuals to the IRS if it is cash or of a suspicious nature. These types of deposits occur frequently and the bank doesn’t like to turn in their own good customers. Another consideration is Federal Gift Tax. This amount is under the Federal Gift Tax limit and therefore there would be no concerns regarding your mother’s income taxes. Also, you may want to consider the potential consequences of this transfer if mom needs to apply for Medicaid in the next five years. If she does, this transfer may be render her ineligible for the value of the transfer to you.

Can I object to interrogatory question as irrelevant or I have no information?

Q: I fully answered interrogatories. The defendant went to a judge and told them they wanted more information to harass me. I don’t have more information to give.  Some questions were irrelevant to the case and were excessive and abusive. The judge told me to put more information into my answers. I don’t have any more information. Can I state that? Some of the questions have NOTHING to do with the landlord tenants issues in the case. Can I still make an objection to the fact that the question isn’t relevant and creates a security issue with my job? Also, Can I server written depositions on witnesses through mail as written interrogatories? The rules say you can send written questions without notice. Do I just send them to the witness and state they have 30 days to answer? (Washington, PA)

A: You have the right to not answer a question posed through interrogatories if you have a legal basis not to. I suggest you consult with the Discovery section of the PA Rules of Civil Procedure so that you can formulate reasons to object that are legally acceptable. If you do not, you may be back in court on a contempt of court motion. As far as your objection that your answer would give rise to a security issue with your job, I suggest that you look at the rules regarding a motion for protective order. In regard to your notice of deposition, you can depose a party, or a witness, but again you must comply with the Rules of Procedure. You cannot send something called “written depositions” on parties in which you ask them to answer questions. I feel you could greatly benefit from having a lawyer.

How can I sue a car dealer?

Q: I took my car in for a transmission problem and they had the car roughly two months all work was covered under factory warranty. I got the car back and three weeks later my fiancé and my daughter were driving down the road and it caught fire and totaled the car (luckily no one was injured they jumped out of the moving car). There was transmission fluid where the car caught fire on the road. It’s in the police report also. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A:  I would make sure you notify your auto insurer asap. I would gather all evidence, police reports, your repair bills, and keep notes on all conversations with the dealer or their reps. You may want to have the vehicle sealed or kept in a locked garage by a neutral party to avoid an allegation of tampering with evidence or spoliation. Your insurer may do that for you so their expert can examine the car. They may have a subrogation claim against the dealer for what they pay out to you. Whatever you do, do not give the car back to the dealer prior to a forensic mechanical exam by your insurer or a neutral mechanic. My experience is that car dealers never want to admit fault or liability and never want to pay. Litigation is usually necessary. I would notify them but at the same time do not make any statements to them or their reps and find yourself a lawyer.

Is it illegal to prepare a legal document if you’re not a lawyer?

Q: I am going to be a law student soon and have some legal knowledge- a family friend is being taken to small claims court for a landlord tenant dispute and wants to file a cross complaint. She asked me if I can prepare it for her. I am not sure if that is impersonating a lawyer or not since I do not have a law license yet. I don’t want to do anything illegal and I tended to think I would be impersonating an attorney. However, I am not sure if there are any statues that permit someone to prepare a legal complaint for someone so long as I tell her story as it is her position and just not represent her (as obviously I cannot do that). Any advice is helpful.

A: I think you can assist her and advise her. If you never identify yourself as her counsel or as a lawyer, do not charge her a fee and never identify yourself on the document or in a court as her lawyer, I think you are safe. I have been involved with pro se litigants who have been assisted by another person, a family member or friend. I have also served on Arbitration panels and have seen the same thing. As long as this is a friend and you are not in the business of doing this, you can advise her on the contents of the document and have her sign it, I think you are distanced from the unauthorized practice of law. If you need a more definitive opinion you can call the PA Disciplinary Board and ask for the Ethics hotline.

What happens if you used your automobile as collateral and it was totaled?

Q: I took out a loan with One Main Financial with my automobile as collateral. They take the payment out of my account once a month. All payments have been on time. I was driving my vehicle and the axle broke. I had to have it towed. The shop says it’s totaled whole bottom rusted out. My Insurance Company said they can’t do anything because I was not in an accident. I called One Main. They are asking if my husband can co-sign. I said no way. What can One Main do to me? They are getting their payments every month on time. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Take your loan agreement to a lawyer for review. Until you do, neither you nor your husband should sign anything. Do not make any statements to them. The loan agreement will state what rights One Main may have. I would imagine you are obligated to pay the money regardless of the car as collateral. If they are getting paid, and your insurance company will not pay out any proceeds for them to go after, I don’t know what recourse they have.

Opposing council did not answer complaint properly.

Q: Opposing council has not answered Count 4 of my Civil Complaint as required by the Rules of Civil Procedure. They answered it otherwise. As I understand the PA Rules of Civil Procedure, a failure to specifically deny a paragraph in the complaint has the effect of an admission The Arbitration Hearing is Thursday. Do I just start by saying he has admitted Count 4, and ask for a judgment? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A:  I assume you are referencing PA Rule of Civil Procedure 1029? I doubt the board of arbitrators will grant a judgment against the plaintiff for failure to specifically answer a paragraph in a complaint. You can raise it at the hearing and make your argument however.