AMM Blog

Welcome to the AMM Law Blog, a tool to help you keep up to date on current legal developments over the broad spectrum of our practice areas.  We welcome your comments and suggestions to create a dynamic forum that will be of interest to readers and participants.

Most people believe that they have plenty of time before they have to start considering their 2016 taxes to be filed in 2017, and for most, the tax return process is not something they just can’t wait to get started.  That being said,  if you are separated or in the process of a divorce, now is the time to start thinking about your tax filing status for your 2016 income tax returns.  Some thoughtful planning and discussion now can go a long way in avoiding stressful emergency issues in the weeks leading up to April 15th, and instead provide adequate time to address and resolve any concerns.  If you are separated but not divorced by December 31, 2016, you have a few different options of how you can file your taxes: married filing jointly, married filing separately or perhaps even head of household.  You cannot file single if you are not divorced in 2016.

The reason to start thinking about your 2016 tax filing status now is that if you want to file as married filing jointly, your spouse must agree.  Now is the time to speak to your accountant to determine the most advantageous tax filing status.  You should also decide if there are any concerns that you have that would prevent you from choosing one of the options.  If you and your accountant determine that married filing jointly is the best option, and your spouse disagrees, you will have time to involve the attorneys and work towards an agreement as to tax filing status.  In many cases, an Agreement to File Joint Income Tax Returns/Tax Indemnification Agreement is the best way to proceed in order to set forth each spouses’ responsibilities in terms of preparing and filing the returns, addressing any taxes due or refunds that might be received, and to protect you from any potential tax liability related to your spouse.

You can set yourself up for a less stressful tax season in 2017 by starting the discussion now. 

Admittedly, insurance is an important part of any business plan.  Protecting against a catastrophic loss occasioned from outside factors renders the premium cost a reasonable and justifiable expense. But it is important to understand that commercial general liability insurance is not a substitute for performance, nor will insurance provide any benefit with regard to a myriad of potential claims which commonly arise in the ordinary course of business.  It is important to understand what protections are acquired and the scope of the coverage.

For example, commercial general liability insurance provides no coverage for any breach of contract claim.  Generally, the insurance benefit applies only to an “occurrence”; which, under Pennsylvania law is defined as an “accident”.  If your business fails to perform on a contract, or deliver on a promise, there has been no occurrence, and therefore no coverage will generally apply. 

Further, most basic commercial general liability policies provide no coverage for “your work” meaning no coverage is provided with respect to the products you manufacture or the things you build.  For example, if your business is engaged in the design and construction of a manufacturing line and that manufacturing line malfunctions causing damage only to itself, no coverage will apply.  In contrast, if the manufacturing line were to malfunction causing damage to the property where it was installed, those damages may be covered.  Similarly, if the manufacturing line were to malfunction causing a loss of product, those damages may likewise be covered.     

As with any contract, the scope of commercial general liability coverage and exclusion is defined by the terms of the policy.  Under Pennsylvania law, as the policies of insurance are drafted by the insurers and offered to policy holders without modification, the provisions of those policies are interpreted in a light most favorable to the insured.  Traditional common law precedent relating to contract interpretation are also applicable.  

Many particular risks which may be excluded from coverage under a basic commercial general liability policy may be subject to additional coverages available by endorsement.  Although tedious, review of the often complicated and lengthy provisions of the policy of insurance with the issuing agent is the only way to gain even a rudimentary understanding of coverages.  Even then, a professional review is often worth the investment.   There is simply no substitute for an understanding of the relationship between the business risks and the provisions of the commercial general liability policy and an analysis of additional risk that may be insured by endorsement to the policy.     

Employers have been working to comply with new overtime rules issued by the United States Department of Labor that raise the salary level in order to meet certain exemptions from overtime rules before a December 1, 2016 deadline.  Those rules require that in addition to meeting certain requirements with regard to an employee’s duties, the employee must also earn a minimum salary of $47,476.  The old rule required that the employee earn a minimum salary of $23,660.  The dramatic increase in the salary requirement caused employers to reevaluate classifications and to generate new policies regarding overtime and work hours.

 On November 22, 2016, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction, temporarily barring the Department of Labor from enforcing the new overtime rule.  The order will remain in place pending a full hearing on the issue.  While the order is temporary, as a prerequisite to entering the order, the Court was required to find that there was a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of the argument that the DOL exceeded its authority in promulgating the rule.  So, there is some indication that the Court may bar enforcement of the new rules permanently. 

 For now, employers are temporarily relieved of the obligation to comply with the new rules by the December 1, 2016 deadline.  Because the outcome is not guaranteed, employers should have their new policies ready to go, but do not need to implement them on December 1.  It is simply too early to say whether employers should “shelve” those new policies.  We will have to wait for the Court’s final ruling.   Stay tuned to this space as the case unfolds. 

Patricia Collins is an employment and litigation Partner at Antheil Maslow & MacMinn, LLP and chair of the labor and employment practice group.

The law requires drivers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and New Jersey to maintain a certain minimum level of liability coverage with regard to any automobile.  That coverage serves the important function of providing a fund from which an injured person may recover for injuries caused by the negligence of the person securing the coverage known as the “insured”.  Liability coverage also serves the equally important role of protecting the insured’s personal assets by providing a monetary barrier between the claims of an injured person and the personal assets of the insured  

Some other provisions of an automobile policy which get far less attention, however, are also designed to protect the insured as opposed to someone injured by the insured’s negligence.  Policy provisions such as “stacking”, the limited tort option (known in New Jersey as the “verbal threshold”) and uninsured/underinsured protections are critically important to the insuring relationship and may be the difference between a successful recovery and a recovery which is not enough to satisfy your own medical bills, even if you are involved in an accident caused by the negligence of someone else.  “Penny wise and pound foolish” is a dangerous proposition when it comes to automobile coverage.

We recently and successfully tried a week long jury trial in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas where the predominant issue in the case was the clients’ election of the limited tort option in his auto insurance policy. By choosing the limited tort option, the client had relinquished his right to bring suit against anyone whose negligence may have caused him to be injured,  unless the accident resulted in a “serious impairment of a bodily function”.  In our case, the client had suffered a mild traumatic brain injury – a concussion.  Unlike the majority of individuals who suffer such injuries, our client did not recover as expected, and continued to suffer mild neuropsychological deficits such as difficulty in word finding and rapid processing of information. Notwithstanding those deficits, the client was able to return to his normal occupation.  Because our client had chosen the limited tort option, the tortfeasor’s insurer refused to make any offer of settlement whatsoever based on his neuropsychological deficits, offering only to satisfy the client’s lost wages.  Our negotiating position on behalf of our client in settlement discussions was clearly disadvantaged since the insurance company knew there was substantial potential that the very specific and nuanced nature of the injury would be difficult for a jury to grasp, and might lead a jury to conclude the client had not suffered a “serious impairment of a bodily function”.  While we were successful at trial, the matter is one which should and would have been resolved in settlement but for the election of limited tort coverage by the client.  Had our client invested in full tort coverage, he would have been spared an emotionally taxing and all-consuming trial on merits and damages.

On October 4, 2016, Governor Wolf signed into law new legislation that will change the separation requirement from a two year waiting period to one year.  The law goes into effect on December 3, 2016. Under current law, the Divorce Code provides that in cases where only one party desires a divorce, that party must wait two years from the date of separation before they can move the matter forward.  At that two year mark, the party who is seeking the divorce can move the matter forward without the non-consenting party’s agreement.  The longer waiting period  has often  led to cases dragging on for too much time, which can lead to more animosity between the parties.  For children involved in the separation, this has often had a negative impact.  As a result of the passage of this new law, the hope is that cases will resolve much more quickly.

It should be noted, however, that at the one year mark from the date of separation, the case is not resolved, but rather at that time the case is permitted to proceed.  It is by no means a guarantee that the process will not be lengthy from that point forward.

 Stay tuned for updates as we see how the law is applied by the courts.

The Pennsylvania legislature recently enacted changes to the state sales tax code that affect computer software providers and their customers. These changes went into effect on August 1, 2016.

Under the Pennsylvania Tax Reform Code of 1971, a tax is imposed on the sale of “tangible personal property”, which is defined generally as “corporeal personal property” along with a non-exclusive list of various types of property. In 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the term “tangible personal property" includes canned computer software and that the licensing of such software is subject to the tax. In so holding, the Court rejected the argument made by the taxpayer (Philadelphia-based law firm Dechert LLP) that canned computer software consists of intangible intellectual property rights that are not subject to the tax. The Court noted, however, that fees paid by Dechert for software maintenance and support services did not represent the payment for the transfer of tangible personal property and were likely not taxable (though for whatever reason Dechert did not make the distinction and so it was not part of the Court’s holding).

The Pennsylvania General Assembly apparently disagreed with the Court’s categorization of maintenance and support. While the amendment in question was ostensibly intended to just capture digital downloads of property already subject to the tax (e.g., games, apps, video streaming, canned software, etc.), the language adopted by the legislature arguably broadens the scope of the tax. The definition of “tangible personal property” was modified to include video, books, apps, music, games, canned software, and other items “whether electronically or digitally delivered, streamed or accessed, whether purchased singly, by subscription or in any other manner, including maintenance, updates and support”. The highlighted language contradicts the Supreme Court’s commentary in Dechert that software maintenance and support, as services, are not subject to the tax. Nevertheless, the General Assembly has spoken and prudent software vendors should collect sales tax not only on the price of the canned software package itself, but also on digitally or electronically delivered maintenance, update and support services, at least until the interpretation of this provision is clarified by the Department or through the courts.

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has published a summary of this and other changes that are part of the recent amendment to the Pennsylvania tax code: http://www.revenue.pa.gov/GeneralTaxInformation/TaxLawPoliciesBulletinsNotices/Documents/State%20Tax%20Summary/2016_tax_summary.pdf

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