Q: I was a member of a cult for decades. They practice shunning and have split up many families over the years. I have created a website to warn potential visitors and current members about the church. I signed a NDA while I was there. I am wondering if that is enforceable, what the line is between stating facts, vs slander/libel and are there any limits on my speech. I am commenting on their 4 churches in PA, OH, and ME. (Cranberry Twp., PA)
A: The Non-Disclosure Agreement must be read. Truth is generally a defense to a libel or slander suit. However, if the NDA is restrictive enough, you could be liable for any sort of disclosure. Some of these cults have lots of money and pursue legal action against former members aggressively.
Q: My father in law was getting evicted from his apartment he asked if he can stay with us we told him no we don’t have the room. He asked can he store his stuff in our basement we said sure. So, we started moving his stuff in as we were doing this he offered my son his bed and his dresser, so we took the items. We let my father in law stay one night because of the weather and he had nowhere to go. One night turned into 40 nights and then we put our foot down said you gotta go, in so many words. He moved out and he bought the house next door to us and demanded his bed and dresser back. We told him no, in no in so many words, because we can’t afford a new bed and already threw the old one out. Now he is suing us for 2,300 dollars. Does he have a case? He never paid rent and there was no agreement for rent. (Elizabeth, PA)
A: Anybody can sue anybody. It doesn’t mean they will win. No attorney will take the case (I can think of one who would). Will he go to the District Justice Office and sue? Probably not. If he does, will the DJ award him money or the bed to be returned? Probably not. He has no written agreement, it would be your word against his that it was a gift versus conditional loaner furniture.
Q: My husband’s parents paid for his last two years of college out of pocket when their college savings fund ran out. Three years later, while we were planning our wedding, they claimed he had verbally agreed to start paying them back once he was married and settled. Out of a sense of honor and duty, we’ve been sending them $100 a month in the three and one-half years since then, mostly to pay them back for his cellphone bill, car insurance, and health insurance costs they incurred on his behalf after he’d gotten a full-time job but while he was still on their plans (he was unaware of this agreement, as well, until they wrote up a “bill” that they mailed to him). However, they’ve asked two or three times now for more than $100 a month. My husband refuses but is terrified of being sued. There is absolutely no signed document saying he agreed to pay them back. But assuming they kept all other pertinent documents (college bills, etc.), is there even the smallest, remotest chance they could sue? I believe the total was around $90,000, but they keep lowering it to make it seem more agreeable. They absolutely do not need the money; his father recently retired from a six-figure salary. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: If they pursue 90K they cannot file in Civil Arbitration and therefore would have to sue in General Docket, Civil Division. They probably do not have the skill to file a complaint on their own in the General Docket of Allegheny County. They would need an attorney. Most attorneys would decline such a suit. However, there are attorneys that would take the case if they are paid good money, non-refundable, up front. If they sue for 50K and under in Civil Arbitration, they may be able to cobble together a form complaint on their own without an attorney if they cannot find an attorney interested. In either General Docket or Civil Arbitration, the case is not good unless they have an agreement in writing or good corroborating witnesses that state your husband agreed to pay back his college tuition. I had a similar case. The parents were bitter and angry at their adopted daughter for some reason and when she left the home to go out on her own, sued her. They found a young lawyer to file an Arbitration complaint for money up front. Nothing was in writing and there was no firm verbal agreement to repay anything. The Arbitration panel was not impressed and issued an award for the defendant. I wouldn’t lose sleep over a potential lawsuit from them.
Q: A homeowner’s insurance company insuring my downstairs neighbor’s unit has summoned my 90-year-old father to court on a 4K claim of subrogation for a leak to the neighbor’s unit. Insurance paid out and is now suing my dad for the 4K when he is in a Nursing Home on Medicaid 24-hours away with 7 years of dementia. I cannot find any lawyer in the area to represent him and cannot figure out what other steps to take on the case. There are no options to pay out or settle out of court. I have presented documents proving he would not be fit to stand in court that day. Any suggestions? The court date 5 hours drive from my home and 5-hour drive from dad’s Nursing home. (Monesson, PA)
A: Is he the building owner? How can he be on Medicaid if he owns a building? Having dementia, does not necessarily mean he is incompetent or relieved from testifying. Why doesn’t he have insurance? Regardless, if your father is incompetent to testify, or just due to physical and medical reasons cannot come to court, you may be able to have his presence excused. You may be required to get a court order if you want him to be totally relieved of testifying. If you are relieved of only the duty to have him come to court, a judge may allow the insurance company to take his deposition. If you can get a guardian order or judicial determination that he is incompetent to stand trial, they he would be relieved of all testimony-deposition or trial. I would need to know many more facts to properly advise.
Q: I lost my job and suffer from medical conditions. I was behind in payments and just gave up. They took it out of my doctor’s parking lot, and I had to walk home.
A: Your options are to defend the suit if they sue you and/or try to settle with them for payments. You can also talk to a bankruptcy attorney and see whether filing under Chapter 7 is an option for you.
Q: My ex-wife asked me to watch our daughter on one of her days. We have a custody agreement in place. I gladly watched my daughter. We had bad weather, so I took my daughter home, and asked my ex to meet us there. She said ok. About 20 min later she told me to meet her at a local establishment to drop my daughter off. I told her I wasn’t going out in that weather. She came by the house ranting and raving. She took my daughter out, and called me a “p_ _ _ y”. I went out after her and told my daughter to go back in the house. I sat down, and grabbed my remote control, when she barged into my house again. She again grabbed my daughter and left the house. I walked out after her, and took my daughter by the hand while I was holding the remote control. My ex grabbed my wrist and scratched me, and then pushed me. My daughter and I came into the house. The ex said she was calling the police, so I said ok. About 20 minutes later they pulled me out of my house, pepper-sprayed me, put me in cuffs saying that my wife accused me of pointing a gun at her. I was charged with interference of child custody, terroristic threats and simple assault. The supposed gun was a remote control.
A: Most assault cases are one person’s word versus the other person’s word. Welcome to the wrongfully accused club. To have any potential civil suit, you will need to beat the criminal case. My question is, did you own a gun at the time or have one in the house at the time? My experience has been that police would have either made you tell them where the gun was or ransacked your house looking for it. Assuming they did not find a gun, your case is much stronger. You can sue, but you need quantifiable damages such as calculated lost income or provable damage to your reputation. Also, your ex will need to be worth suing to gain interest from a plaintiff’s attorney. My thought is that it is not a great civil suit but please contact a personal injury attorney for another opinion.
Q: My 70-year-old service disabled veteran father loaned money to a much younger person who he thought was a friend. That person has a failing business and asked my father for multiple loans, over a year or two, often promising to pay it back the following week. He has never paid back one penny. The loans total $23,000. At the time of the loans my father was heavily medicated for multiple health issues and was not thinking very clearly. The person that requested the loans does not deny that he borrowed the money and has even signed a handwritten document showing the total, however, he has made no effort to repay any of it. He owns a house, land, vehicles etc. that could be used to pay my father back. I’m trying to figure out to proceed. A small-town lawyer told my father that not much could be done. That even if the court ordered him to pay he still might never get it. Any advice you can provide would be much appreciated. I just don’t know where to even begin.
A: Much more information would need to be know if it would be worth suing this person or not. A lawyer would need to know if this person held any property of value in their own name. If they did, it might be worth suing to obtain a judgment. The judgment could then be executed on the property which could be seized and sold off to satisfy the debt. The problem is that many people are not worth suing because they have no property held in their name only or what they do have is mortgaged or already encumbered by a lien. For example, their house is held in husband and wife name, or their vehicles are also held with a spouse on the title. Both house and vehicles could also be encumbered by a mortgage.
Q: I was falsely accused of theft by JC Penny and the arresting cop is saying I stole 4 pairs of shoes. They have a photo of the person who did it on crime page. The person is not even me! I have proof where I was at the time. I am 6 feet shorter than the person who did this plus have piercing in my nose which cannot be removed and she don’t. I even lost my job over this! WTF? (Carrick, PA)
A: Generally, if you have proof of liability and damages, you have a law suit. You mention that you were arrested and if you can prove you lost your job. You therefore may have measurable damages. As for liability, if it was an honest mistake, the store has a defense that would weaken your case. However, if you are 6 feet shorter than the real criminal here, that is quite a noticeable difference-an obvious mistake! The case may have some settlement value. I would review this with a personal injury lawyer, one who has handled wrongful arrest cases
A: A co-worker of mine spread a nasty rumor at work that I have a loathsome disease, which is not true. She also keeps talking about my breast augmentation, to other workers and our clients. I am experiencing such distress. What are the steps I need to do to take action? Thank you.
A: You need to prove that she said this (liability) and damages that you have suffered. Your damages need to be quantifiable, meaning you may need to prove that you treated and incurred costs of therapy or suffered some type of measurable damage to your image in the work environment or in the public eye. You may want to see if your employer has an option. If it is a bigger company, the HR department may mediate this and take action against the person. The only way to determine if you have a case is to sit down with a personal injury lawyer or employment lawyer and go over all of the facts.
Q: Should I take my ex stepfather to court for past unpaid medical bills? I have a past due med bills that the insurance company had written a check for and then sent to the primary name on the insurance (ex- stepfather) that never paid the bill but cashed the check. There is now at a debt collector on my credit, calling me at home and at work. Am I responsible to pay or is there anything I can do to make him pay?
A: Nice guy. There are questions I would need answered before offering my opinion. For example, was he viewed as your legal custodian at the time? Were the checks made out to him with the express purpose of paying your bills? If so, this would make him a guardian/fiduciary of the funds and he therefore misappropriated them. You may have grounds to file a civil suit against him. I would first notify the insurance company and also provide them written notice of what happened. If they don’t seek the money from him, and continue to pursue you, you may have a problem. If they sue you, take the papers immediately to a lawyer. A lawyer can cross-claim against your ex stepfather and bring him into the suit.