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Legal Articles

Liability in the Age of Covid-19

By: Noelle Connor, Esquire

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of life as we know it. In March 2020, when the pandemic lockdown occurred, the term Covid-19 was new to most of us. For many people, uncertainty and worry became part of daily life. In the legal arena, the Covid-19 pandemic has raised some important questions.  One question was the extent to which healthcare professionals could be held liable for Covid deaths. Another by extension, is what the standard of care is for treatment of any rare disease.

At the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals were understaffed and overflowing with patients. There were hospital bed shortages, and the medical field was working quickly to understand Covid-19 and how to slow the spread. Retired nurses and doctors were asked to return to work to help alleviate the burden on overworked staff. Because of the possible implications of a Covid diagnosis, and the threat (medically and legally) to health care workers who were on the front lines, many states, including NJ, implemented a law that immunized health care workers, acting in good faith to save lives, from negligence lawsuits related to the treatment of Covid-19.

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Spencer v. Johnson and the Potential Consequences of the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s Dicta on the Fair Share Act.

By: Robert E. Lavoie

Since the inception of the Fair Share Act over a decade ago, the act has been applied in Pennsylvania without much controversy. Then, in dicta found in the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s decision from last year in the case of Spencer v. Johnson, 249 A.3d 529 (Pa. Super. 2021), that court raised, on a seemingly sua sponte basis, the proposition that the Fair Share Act should not apply in cases involving innocent victim plaintiffs.

Examples of cases where a plaintiff may be an innocent victim include cases where a plaintiff is a guest passenger in a vehicle involved in an accident, or cases where a plaintiff struck while walking in the crosswalk with the pedestrian light in his favor, or in claims involving plaintiffs who are the victims of negligent medical care while under anesthesia. As such, this dicta could come into play in a number of scenarios going forward.

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Special Needs Requires Special Estate Planning

By Carrie A.S. Kennedy, Esquire

When your loved one, for example a child or grandchild, has special needs and receives government funding, it is especially important to create an estate plan that doesn’t jeopardize that person’s receipt of governmental benefits (such as Supplemental Social Security Income and Medicaid). Your Will should be carefully drafted to prevent that person from inheriting assets directly.  Additionally, a carefully drafted Third Party Special Needs Trust can allow for the use of funds as provided in the trust for the benefit of your loved one while preserving much needed governmental benefits.  This type of trust gives the grantor (creator of the trust) the ability to direct the ultimate beneficiaries of any funds remaining upon the passing to the special needs person.  The trust can be funded through inheritance as directed in a Will, by beneficiary designation on an account or policy or by direct gift to the Trust from a third party.  It may not be funded with the special needs person’s own funds.

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Is the Regular Use Exclusion in Vehicle Coverage Becoming a Relic of the Past?

By Jason G. Bates, Esquire

Recent decisions in Pennsylvania appear to be eroding the Regular Use Exclusion in Pennsylvania. Most automobile insurance policies in Pennsylvania contain a “regular use” exclusion to insurance coverage whenever an injured individual was in a vehicle that was regularly available for that individual’s use but was not covered by the insurance policy at issue. The rationale for this exclusion is to prevent an insurance carrier from providing coverage to an injured party where, unbeknownst to the carrier, the injured party regularly used another vehicle which was not covered under the carrier’s policy because the carrier has not been paid a premium by the injured party to cover that risk.

Historically, this exclusion to coverage has survived challenges to its validity in Pennsylvania courts and recently has continued to do so. (See Williams v. Geico Government Employees Insurance, 32 A.3d 1195 (Pa. 2011); and more recently in two unpublished Pennsylvania Superior Court cases: Rawl v. Geico, No. 1086 WDA 2019, 237 A.3d 1042 (Pa. Super. 2020)(unpublished) and Eckert v. Unitrin Auto Home Insurance, No. 1013 EDA 2019 (Pa. Super. 2020)(published)).

This seemingly secure footing for the “regular use” exclusion, came under attack by the recent case of Rush v. Erie Insurance Exchange which is currently making its way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Intentions Ambiguous in Shooting During Fistfight

By Patrick T. Casey, Esquire

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently issued an opinion on an insurer’s duty to defend in the case of Erie Insurance Exchange v. Tracy L. Moore, Harold E. McCutcheon, III, individually and as administrators of the Estate of Harold Eugene McCutcheon, Jr. and Richard A. Carly, No. 20 WAP 2018, 2020 WL 1932642 (Pa. April 22, 2020).  The court found that there was a duty to defend an insured where the acts complained of by the plaintiff were deemed potentially unintended, despite the insured’s several prior and subsequent acts of intentional violence.

The facts of the case arose from the murder of Terry McCutcheon by her ex-husband Harold E. McCutcheon, Jr. and his subsequent suicide.  Prior to these events, McCutcheon had left a note to his adult children explaining his intention to murder his ex-wife and commit suicide.  In accordance with his stated plan, McCutcheon intentionally shot and killed his ex-wife at her home.  Before he could shoot himself, however, he was interrupted by the arrival of his ex-wife’s current boyfriend, Richard A. Carly.  Carly began knocking on the door and eventually tried to enter when there was no answer.  At this point, McCutcheon suddenly opened the door and pulled Carly inside.  Continue reading

Waiver of Attorney Work Product and Attorney-Client Privilege Protections

Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Waiver of Attorney Work Product and Attorney-Client Privilege Protections

by Patrick Casey, Esquire

The attorney-client privilege and attorney work product doctrine are two well-known evidentiary protections. Although both protect otherwise relevant and “discoverable” materials from disclosure, the two evidentiary protections serve different purposes and are subject to different standards.

The purpose of the attorney-client privilege is to foster the free and open communication of information between the lawyer and client. Whereas, the purpose of the work product doctrine is to protect the mental impressions of an attorney acting on behalf of a client. Consistent with the purposes of these evidentiary protections, the attorney-client privilege is held by the client, while the work product protection is held by the attorney.

Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court clarified the circumstances under which attorney work product protection may be waived, while distinguishing such waiver from the standard for waiver of the attorney-client privilege. Continue reading

Summary Judgement affirmed in Malpractice case against NJ Insurance Producer.

Summary Judgment was affirmed by the Appellate Division in a professional malpractice case against an insurance producer in a New Jersey Superior Court case. Amelia M. Lolli, Esquire was successful in obtaining summary judgment in favor of a Camden County insurance agency in a 2014 case. The summary judgment decision was appealed by the Plaintiff and oral argument was conducted by Ms. Lolli in front of the Appellate Division in January 2019. The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of the case by the trial court and found the insurance producer did not breach a fiduciary duty to its client.

Can real estate buyer waive seller’s disclosure…Pennsylvania’s Real Estate Seller Disclosure Law

by Monica Reynolds

Can a buyer of residential real estate waive a seller’s disclosure obligations under Pennsylvania’s Real Estate Seller Disclosure Law?

The short answer is: maybe, but in any event, not absent an affirmative waiver. In Phelps v. Caperoon, — A.3d –, 2018 WL 3016477 (Pa. Super. June 18, 2018), the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently addressed the issue of whether an “as-is” clause in the agreement of sale implicitly waived a seller’s disclosure obligations under the Real Estate Seller Disclosure Law, 68 Pa. C.S. §§ 7101-7103, 7301-7314, et seq., (“RESDL”), but stopped short of giving a definitive answer as to whether an explicit waiver would be permitted. Continue reading

Pennsylvania Superior Court: No Deference Where Trial Judge Fails to Observe Voir Dire

By: Pat Casey

A common practice in many state civil courtrooms throughout Pennsylvania, certainly in its two busiest courts – the Philadelphia and Allegheny Courts of Common Pleas – has recently been found to be lacking by the Superior Court: jury selection outside the presence of a judge. When civil litigators select a jury, they use a process in which the attorneys and the court work together to search for potential hardship, bias and prejudice among the prospective jurors through a series of written and oral questions, known as voir dire (meaning roughly “to tell the truth”). Commonly in civil litigation, the trial judge does directly not participate in this process. Instead, the trial judge will delegate one of his or her staff to handle this sometimes time-consuming endeavor of narrowing down a potential juror pool of hundreds to the 8 or 12 jurors who will ultimately hear the case, along with 1 or 2 alternate jurors.

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PA Supreme Court: Minor Deviations from Underinsured Motorist Coverage Rejection Form

by Patrick Casey

Pennsylvania Supreme Court: very minor deviations from underinsured motorist coverage rejection form permitted

In Ford v. American States Insurance Company, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently clarified that “de minimis,” or minor, deviations from the underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage rejection form set out in Section 1731 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law can nevertheless “specifically comply” with Section 1731.  Ford v. American States Ins. Co., No. 13 WAP 2016, 2017 WL 694744 (Pa. February 22, 2017).

Section 1731 requires that insurers obtain the signature of any insured wishing to reject UIM coverage on a form that contains specific language dictated by the General Assembly.  Continue reading