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.

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

 

The decision to remarry is not made lightly.  Marrying a second time is oftentimes very different from a first marriage.  Parties involved in a second marriage are likely to have assets and children from a prior relationship.  Recalling the time, money and emotional energy spent during a divorce, friends and advisors might mention a prenuptial agreement.  A well-drafted prenuptial agreement can protect these hard-earned valuables.

Is a prenuptial agreement right for you?   It is if you want to avoid the aggravation and expense of litigating your future.  Protect yourself.

A prenuptial agreement is a contract between persons who plan to marry.  The agreement addresses how property is to be divided or the terms of support/alimony in the event of a divorce or the death of one of the parties.  Executing an agreement before being married in order to address what will occur in the event of divorce is not romantic, but it is smart. 

What can be expected?  What needs to be done?

Once it is decided that a prenuptial agreement is appropriate, the first step is to contact an attorney well in advance of a wedding date.  Presenting a prenuptial agreement to one’s fiancée on the eve of a wedding adds unnecessary pressure to an already stressful time.

Anticipate providing your attorney documentation of current assets, liabilities and sources of income.  To ensure that an agreement's validity cannot be challenged at later date, the parties must disclose their current financial status.  Prepare an outline of assets and liabilities and bring recent tax returns to your meeting to help make the process easier.

Reprinted with permission from the August 19, 2016 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2016 ALM Media Properties. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

The rights of shareholders to dissent to corporate actions are set forth in PA C.S.A. §1571 et seq., the Pennsylvania Business Corporation Law. Dissenters who comply with the formalities of the statute have the right to demand payment for the fair value of their stock interest at the time of the corporate action giving rise to the right to dissent – provided the corporate goes through with that action. Since a shareholder in a publicly traded company can simply sell his shares if he disagrees with a proposed corporate action, dissenters’ rights do not apply to such corporations.

What triggers dissenters’ rights?
The corporate actions giving rise to dissenter’s rights are specified in the BCL and generally involve fundamental changes to the entity, such as a merger or a change in voting rights.   When the corporation proposes to undertake such a change, a specific procedure must be followed by the dissenting shareholder.

Dissenters need not necessarily assert their dissenters’ rights to all of their shares. They must, however, assert those rights as to “all the shares of the same class or series beneficially owned by any one person.” Beneficial owners of shares should have the written consent of the record holder of the shares.  15 PA C.S.A. §1573.

Dissenters must file their dissent with the corporation prior to the vote on the proposed corporate action. The dissent must be in writing and must include a demand for payment of the “fair value for his shares” if the corporation adopts the proposed action.  Merely abstaining or voting against the change is not sufficient to invoke dissenters’ rights. Once invoked, to preserve dissenters’ rights, the shareholder cannot change the beneficial ownership of the shares while the vote is pending, nor can he vote in favor of the proposed action.

Reprinted with permission from the June 24, 2016 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2016 ALM Media Properties. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

The digital age and pervasive use of email communication gives rise to an entirely new and complex set of issues pertaining to the application of the attorney client privilege and the potential claim for waiver of that privilege.  Many commentators have addressed the use of commercial email servers and the implications of the terms and conditions applicable to such email accounts citing the potential that emails transmitted through such accounts may not be secure or protected.  The commercial provider’s right to use, retain or review the information communicated may impact on the privilege.   Even more complex are the issues that arise when email communications pass between a lawyer and a client utilizing an email account provided to the employee by the employee’s employer, or using an employer provided computer. While the law on an employer’s right to review information passing through its computer systems is continuing to develop, the application of that law to potentially attorney client privileged communications is in its infancy.   Research regarding the application of attorney client privilege to email communications exchanged through an employer’s email server reveals no case directly on point where the advice of counsel is sought regarding matters involving the employer.   

Litigants seeking discovery of attorney client communications through an employer sponsored email account cite the principles developed in cases of inadvertent disclosure and the requirements for invoking the attorney client privilege.  Pennsylvania law permits the invocation of the privilege if the communication relates to a fact of which the attorney was informed by his client, without the presence of strangers, for the purpose of securing either an opinion of law, legal services or assistance in a legal matter.   Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Fleming, 924 A.2d 1259 (Pa.Super. 2007).  In Carbis Walker, LLPv. Hill Barth and King, LLP, 930 A.2d 573 (Pa.Super.2007), the Superior Court adopted the five factor test to determine whether inadvertent disclosure amounted to a waiver of the attorney client privilege; (1) the reasonableness of the precautions taken to prevent inadvertent disclosure in view of the extent of the document production; (2) the number of inadvertent disclosures;(3) the extent of the disclosure;(4) the delay and measures taken to rectify the disclosure; and (5) whether the overriding interests of justice would or would not be served by relieving the party of its errors.

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