What Do You Need to Know About Magisterial District Courts?


While certain criminal matters and traffic offenses are handled in Magisterial District Courts in Pennsylvania, this post will address how such courts handle civil matters. First,  you need to know that MD Courts are small claims courts, i.e. the maximum amount of damages you can seek, exclusive of interest and costs, is $12,000. Second, you need to know that MD Courts cover geographic areas smaller than counties. Third, you need to know that that any party in DJ Court has a right to appeal a judgment to the Court of Common Pleas where the case will be tried anew. While a matter in DJ Court will likely proceed to trial much more quickly than a matter in the Court of Common Pleas, as long as the opposing party is willing to bear the expense of appealing to the Court of Common Pleas, it is easy to frustrate a final resolution of the dispute in MD Court. If you have any questions about Magisterial District Courts, please give me a call at 814-283-5788

What is the PACA?


The PACA is a federal statute, the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act. As explained by the United States Department of Agriculture “PACA protects businesses dealing in fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables by establishing and enforcing a code of fair business practices and by helping companies resolve business disputes”.

The law contains trust provisions which put sellers of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables in a priority status in the event their buyers become insolvent or file for bankruptcy protection. Moreover, pursuant to the PACA the USDA makes available administrative procedures to assist produce suppliers in collecting debts from their buyers. The PACA also provides for jurisdiction in the federal courts for lawsuits for the collection of such debts. Moreover, because of the trust provisions of the PACA, federal courts are authorized to fashion equitable remedies to prevent dissipation of the trust assets. Such remedies may include injunctions to prevent debtors from spending funds or selling other assets and/or the institution of specific claims procedures which allow creditors to present their claims to the court in an orderly and relatively simple manner, rather than every creditor filing a separate lawsuit against the debtor.

I have experience in representing both PACA creditors and PACA debtors in both administrative proceedings before the U.S. Department of Agriculture and in court proceedings in United States District Courts. In fact, I argued an appeal in a PACA case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Several of the PACA cases in which I have represented parties are described in the following published case reports:

Botman International vs. International Produce Imports
Bear Mountain Orchards vs. Mich Kim

If you have any questions about the PACA, please telephone me at 814-283-5788

Introduction to the PA Consumer Fraud Statute


Are you familiar with the Pennsylvania law which protects consumers from misleading and otherwise unscrupulous business practices? The actual rather lengthy title of the statute is the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law but it is sometimes more simply and generically referred to as the PA Consumer Fraud Statute. While the statute authorizes courts to order businesses to cease a wide variety of unfair trade practices when the Attorney General seeks to enjoin such behavior,  the statute also allows consumers to seek monetary damages if they are harmed by such practices. In fact the Court may at its discretion award the claimant triple his or her actual damages as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. The language of the statute includes a rather lengthy list of prohibited behaviors which constitute “unfair methods of competition” and “unfair or deceptive acts or practices”. You can see the full list at section 201-2(4) of the document at the following link, but some highlights are misrepresenting the characteristics of goods or services, false advertising, failing to comply with a written guarantee or warranty, and making repairs below the standard agreed to in writing. However, included in the list is a “catchall” provision which encompasses “any other fraudulent or deceptive conduct which creates a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding”. Accordingly, if you feel you’ve been “ripped off” in a consumer transaction, you may want to consult an attorney about bringing a case under the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.

Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Insurance Basics

As covered in an earlier post, Pennsylvania requires drivers who register their cars in the Commonwealth to purchase minimum liability coverage and medical benefits coverage. The liability coverage is designed to pay the damages of others whose injuries have been caused by the persons insured under the policy. The no fault medical benefits coverage is designed to pay the medical expenses of those insured by the policy. What these mandatory coverages don’t cover however is damages and expenses to the policyholder himself/herself caused by another motorist, other than the first $5,000 of medical expenses. This is where uninsured motorist coverage (UM) and underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) come into play. Although $15,000 per person, and $30,000 liability coverage is mandatory in Pennsylvania, that is no guarantee that the motorist injuring you will have such coverage. The motorist who injures you could have simply evaded the law and failed to maintain the mandated coverage. Alternatively, you could be injured by a motorist from New Hampshire or Virginia, who are apparently, at the time of his writing, not required to maintain insurance coverage, or you could be injured in a hit and run accident. Also, there is the possibility that the level of insurance coverage held by the at fault motorist is insufficient to cover your damages. Uninsured motorist coverage is designed to pay your damages if the person who has caused your injuries has no liability coverage whatsoever. Underinsured motorist coverage, on the other hand, is designed to pay your damages to the extent that the coverage of the at fault motorist is insufficient to pay your damages in full.
While persons registering their cars in Pennsylvania are not required to purchase uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, insurance companies offering auto insurance to Pennsylvania motorists are required to make such coverage available for purchase. However, an important aspect of UM and UIM coverage is that such coverage is subject to your tort selection, i.e. if you have selected limited tort and cannot recover noneconomic damages (e.g pain and suffering) because you have not sustained “serious injury”, your UM and UIM coverage will not cover such noneconomic damages. Another issue you should be aware of is that your UM and UIM coverage may be subject to mandatory arbitration, you may contractually give up your right to sue your insurance company for a court determination of the amount your insurance company must pay you pursuant to such coverage. Your policy may require you to submit such a dispute to private arbitration.
Another issue of which you should be aware concerning UM/UIM coverage is that of “stacking”. “Stacking” allows a policyholder to “stack” coverages by adding policy limits together to obtain a higher total policy limit when insuring multiple vehicles. For example, if you have 2 vehicles which are insured for $100,000 each, and the coverages are “stacked”, you will have $200,000 of total coverage available to you if you are in an accident. “Stacking” is the default position but the law allows the policyholder to waive stacking by signing a written form. Waiving of “stacking” would normally be done in order to obtain a lower policy premium.
If you have any questions about UM or UIM coverage, please call me at 814-283-5788 or email me at mel@melvinmcdowell.com.

What Automobile Insurance Coverage Are You Required to Have in PA?


The minimum required coverage to legally register an automobile in Pennsylvania is liability coverage of $15,000 for injury to one person in any one accident and liability coverage of $30,000 for injury to 2 or more persons in any one accident, together with coverage for damage to the property of others in any one accident in the amount of $5,000, and no fault medical benefits coverage for yourself and those covered by your policy of $5,000.
Think about it. This level of coverage would leave you with a high likelihood of having to pay damages out of your own pocket if you were ever responsible for an auto accident. With auto repair costs what they are today, there wouldn’t need to be much damage to the other person’s car for repair or replacement costs to exceed $5,000. Furthermore, if you were responsible for causing the accident, you could be required to pay the injured person’s lost wages. At today’s wage levels, it wouldn’t take long for lost wages to exceed $15,000; not to mention pain and suffering damages which you might be responsible to pay. The Pennsylvania Department of Insurance offers a brochure answering frequently asked questions about automobile insurance:

Q & A About Auto Insurance in PA

When Is Limited Tort Not Limited?


In an earlier post, I discussed how generally those motorists subject to limited tort may only recover for pain and suffering and other non monetary damages when they have sustained serious injury. However, there are exceptions to the general rule. Persons subject to limited tort may recover such damages in the following cases:

  • Whenever the person at fault is convicted of or has accepted ARD for DUI.
  • Whenever the person at fault was operating a vehicle registered in another state.
  • Whenever the person at fault intended to injure himself or another person.
  • Whenever the person at fault has failed to maintain the legally required auto insurance coverage.
  • Claims against persons in the business of manufacturing, designing, repairing, maintaining or servicing vehicles when the injury arises out of a vehicle defect caused by an act or omission of that business.<
  • If the person injured was injured while the occupant of a vehicle other than a private passenger vehicle.

Of course,  a judgment against someone, no matter how large, is of little value to you, if you can’t collect the judgment. That’s why you should give serious consideration to the level of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage you should obtain, a subject to be covered in a later post.
If you have further questions, please call me at 814-283-5788

Full Tort versus Limited Tort Auto Insurance – What does it all mean?


The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law requires auto insurance companies in Pennsylvania to offer their customers the choice between full tort insurance and limited tort insurance. What’s the difference? Full tort will cost you more but in the event you are injured in a motor vehicle accident you will be permitted to seek full compensation for your injuries from another motorist who was at fault, including pain and suffering damages and other non-monetary damages, regardless of the severity of your injuries. Limited tort will cost you less but you will be permitted to recover pain and suffering damages and other non-monetary damages only if your injuries meet the definition of serious injury (with exceptions to be explored in later posts).  In either the case of full tort or limited tort you may seek compensation for medical expenses and other out-of-pocket expenses. Future posts will address the issue of what have been considered serious injuries by Pennsylvania Courts. In the meantime, if you have any questions concerning these issues, please contact me.
Election of Tort Options – PA Statute

Drones and Privacy Concerns


I received a suggestion to post concerning drones and privacy concerns. The following articles give a good overview but the issue can be particularly fact sensitive and dependent on particular state law. If you would like to consult me concerning remedies available to you as a result of the invasion of your privacy in Pennsylvania by a drone, please give me a call at 814-283-5788.

When your neighbor’s drone pays an unwelcome visit
An Update On Drone Privacy Concerns

Pennsylvania Inheritance Taxes

I received a suggestion for a post about rates for Pennsylvania inheritance taxes. It depends on the relationship of the beneficiary to the decedent. The differing percentages are set forth in the following linked page from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue web site. If you have any further questions, please ask.

Inheritance Tax