Answers to Some of Your Legal Questions
If you are under arrest, you should always ask to speak with your attorney as soon as possible. All police questioning has to stop when you ask for your attorney, so you should ask as soon as you realize that you are under arrest. If you are unsure whether you are under arrest, ask the officer: “Am I free to leave?” If the answer is “no,” then you are under arrest.
You must be very direct in asking for your attorney. You should say something like: “I want my lawyer.” If you are too vague, you might not be afforded your full constitutional rights. Therefore, do not use weak language like: “I think I might want to talk to my lawyer soon if that’s okay.” Say it like you mean it! “I want my lawyer!”
When the police say, “you have the right to remain silent,” they mean it! After you have asked for your attorney, do not say a word until you have spoken with your attorney. The officers might seem friendly for trying to strike up conversation, but they are likely trying to get you to say something that can be used against you. You can make the job easier on your attorney by saying nothing – no exceptions!
First, take a breath and believe that everything will be okay – where there’s a Will, there’s a way.
Try to gather as much information as possible about the arrest and write it down – it will be useful when you call an experienced attorney such as Thomas A. Will, Esquire. The following questions may help:
- What is the name, birth date, and Social Security number of the arrested person?
- What crimes has he or she been charged with?
- What law enforcement agency made the arrest?
- Where is the arrested person being held?
- Has bail been set, and if so, what is the amount?
- What are the circumstances of the arrest?
Additionally, make sure your loved one knows to remain silent until they consult with an attorney, and to ask for their attorney as soon as possible.
While most Public Defenders in Pennsylvania are excellent, hard-working, and determined individuals, the truth is that the Public Defender’s Office does not always have the time or resources that could make a difference in your case. Hiring a criminal defense attorney like Thomas A. Will, Esquire gives you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that a team of professionals is at your service. Our dedicated staff works tirelessly to ensure that every angle of your case is explored – if there is an argument to be made, we can find it. And, while jail time is inevitable in some cases, our team will always work to find you the best deal possible and minimize the impact it has on your life, no matter the circumstances.
In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the severity of a sentence depends on a number of factors. The law establishes a “Basic Sentencing Matrix,” which is a chart used by judges and attorneys to formulate an appropriate sentence based on the severity of both present crimes and past convictions.
Most crimes come with both an “Offense Gravity Score” and a “Prior Record Score.” The Offense Gravity Score is only used when analyzing current crimes, while the Prior Record Scores for all past convictions are added together separately. You then find where your Offense Gravity Score and Prior Record Scores meet on the grid to find the appropriate sentence.
For example, say that Tom is found guilty of committing an Aggravated Assault against Nick, and he wants to know what kind of sentence he can expect. Tom knows that Aggravated Assault comes with an Offense Gravity Score of 11.
Last year, Tom was convicted of Criminal Mischief for Damaging Property, which carried a Prior Record Score of 1. Ten years ago, Tom was convicted of Theft of a Motorized Vehicle, which also carried a Prior Record Score of 1. Therefore, Tom’s total Prior Record Score is 2.
To find an appropriate sentence for his Aggravated Assault, Tom would take his Offense Gravity Score of 11, and compare it against his Prior Record Score of 2 on the Basic Sentencing Matrix. Tom therefore knows that he can expect a sentence of 48-66 months of incarceration.
While the law is formulaic with respect to sentencing in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, an experienced attorney can still help to mitigate the amount of time served by getting creative with the Sentencing Matrix. Count on the experience of Thomas A. Will & Associates to find you the best solution for your case, taking into account both the present and future implications.
204 Pa. Code § 303.16(a). Basic Sentencing Matrix
We have handled so many different types of Personal Injury cases that it would be hard to list them all. From ordinary and complex vehicle accidents, to pedestrians falling into manholes, we are experienced in handling all sorts of civil matters.
Don’t forget that, under Pennsylvania Law, a business might be responsible for the negligent actions of its employees. For example, if you were involved in a vehicle accident with a pizza delivery driver, you may be able to financially recover from both the driver and the pizza company. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the complex subjects of who can be sued and for what reasons.
If you have been injured in any way as a result of the actions of someone else, give the professionals at Thomas A. Will & Associates a call for a free consultation. We are prepared to represent our clients for injuries stemming from the following types of situations and more:
- Single Vehicle and Multiple Vehicle Accidents
- Rear Ended
- Head-On Collisions
- Commercial Vehicle Accidents
- Commercial Vehicles
- Construction Vehicles
- Company Vehicles
- Big Rigs
- Mack Trucks
- Impaired/Distracted Driver Accidents
- DUI for Drugs, Alcohol, or Both
- Texting and Driving
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Pedestrian- and Bicyclist-Involved Accidents
- Parking Garage Injuries
- Malfunctioning Gates
- Mechanical Arms hitting Pedestrians on the Head/Face
- Hazardous Conditions
- Commercial Premises
- Slip-and-Falls on Wet Floors
- Loose Wooden Pallets
- Residential Premises
- Icy Sidewalks
- Artificial and Hazardous Conditions
Insurance companies, like most businesses, do not exist to lose money. By and large, most civil matters settle before the case even makes it to trial, and the reason is simple: it is usually more expensive to try a case in court than it is to settle out of court.
Therefore, since so many cases settle out of court, insurance companies often try to barter the final settlement number down, while your attorneys will try to negotiate for more money. Insurance companies often employ any number of strategies to keep that settlement amount down, including a total denial of liability. Sometimes an insurance company will even deny liability just to see if you hire a lawyer – if you don’t, it could mean more money in their pocket.
Call or email our law firm immediately! Don’t make any statements or acknowledge that an accident was your fault, especially if you know it wasn’t. We lean on our years of experience to assist people just like you who can so easily become the victim of a bullying insurance company without even realizing what is happening. Don’t let the insurance companies try to strong-arm you into accepting liability! If you want someone to fight for your rights and to tell your side of the story, call Thomas A. Will & Associates first for a free consultation.
We would love to help! We are absolutely empathetic to the amount of paperwork and confusion that comes with a car accident. As well, our clients often complain that they cannot make heads or tails of paperwork that is written in “Legalese.” At Thomas A. Will & Associates, we take pride in translating Legalese for our clients. We feel that explaining the law helps empower you to know how – and why – your case is proceeding according to plan.
The difference between our firm and some other personal injury firms is this: WE CARE! Our attorneys and staff personally respond to your written or telephone inquiries to answer your questions. We want to speak to you about your rights and how we can help you.
We are a small firm, and we are small for a reason. We try to keep the attorney/client relationship as personal as possible! We want you to bring your troubles to our legal “family,” and we want to give you the kind of personal experience and service that you can expect from a small firm. We want you to have direct contact with the attorney who is representing you. We want to be there by phone, email, or in person to answer your questions. We want to help you seek medical treatment and ensure that your vehicle is fixed. Help us help you by contacting us today!
(1) Medical Benefits – coverage for all reasonable and necessary medical treatment and rehabilitative service, with limits up to at least $100,000;
(2) Extraordinary Medical Benefits – reasonable and necessary medical treatment and rehabilitative services which exceed $100,000, the coverage limits of which must be from at least $100,000 to $1,100,000.
(3) Income Loss Benefits – includes 80% of actual loss of gross income. $2,500 per month to a maximum benefit of at least $50,000 must be made available;
(4) Accidental Death – the available death benefit paid to the insured’s personal representative must be up to at least $25,000;
(5) Funeral Benefits – $2,500.
Pennsylvania has a modified “no-fault” system. Therefore, any person who suffers injury arising out of the “maintenance or use” of a motor vehicle is entitled to recover first party benefits from the applicable insurance coverage in a certain order of priority. Regardless of who was at fault, the first party benefits typically apply to all injured parties. The priority is as follows:
- For a named insured, the policy on which he is the named insured;
- For an insured, the policy covering the insured;
- For the occupants of an insured motor vehicle, the policy on that motor vehicle;
- For persons not occupying a motor vehicle, i.e., pedestrians, the policy on any motor vehicle involved in the accident. 75 Pa. CS. 1713(a).
Legal matters can be long and tedious, sometimes stretching for years on end. We are often asked how much longer a case will take, and the answer depends on a number of factors, including (but not limited to): the severity of the injuries; the number of parties involved, the length of time that you seek medical attention for your injuries; the responsiveness of the other party (or parties); the amount of evidence that we can obtain; and, the strength of the evidence. Rest assured that we take near-immediate action whenever possible and constantly update our electronic calendar. We never prioritize big-ticket cases over other cases, and every client is given the individual attention that they deserve.
In most circumstances the client receives their money at the conclusion of their case. Getting the client paid is the end that we are all working toward. We realize that every client would prefer to get paid sooner than later, and we do our absolute best. However, we ask for some patience on your end, as every case is different and some cases resolve more quickly than others.
Sometimes we are asked to help the client with a few dollars for their personal expenses before their case resolves. The Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorneys from advancing money to the client (except in some situations related to paying court costs). We simply aren’t allowed.
However, we are able to work with third-party lenders in limited circumstances when the client has a strong case and requires an advancement for expenses – the lender then receives reimbursement when the case concludes. Call us today to ask one of our professionals whether this type of service might be available in your case.
For Personal Injury cases, we NEVER charge a fee unless we make a financial recovery on your behalf. Our fee is “contingent,” meaning it is only collected if we settle out of court or win in court. You have everything to gain by calling us today!
For some other types of cases, we may ask for a “retainer.” A retainer is a fee paid in advance to an attorney that the attorney uses over time for his or her services. A retainer is sort of like a security deposit – though the attorney holds onto the retainer, the retainer still belongs to the client until the attorney earns it or uses it for legitimate expenses. In the meantime, we are required to hold your retainer in a special bank account, separate from our own funds. We then give the unearned remainder of your retainer back to you at the conclusion of your case.
As a rule of thumb, save every piece of paper you get in the mail or otherwise!
You should bring all documentation in your possession that is connected to the incident, including: photographs, paperwork, documents, letters from the insurance companies, police reports, police report numbers, contact information for any person involved, as well as any and all witnesses.
You should also bring a copy of your auto insurance policy (or at least the “Declarations Page”). You can typically obtain a copy of this online, or through your insurance agent if you have one.
Some cases make it all the way to trial without settling, and this could happen for a few reasons. Sometimes the parties are too far apart in negotiations for a case to settle out of court. Other times a party might decide that it would be more worthwhile to fight the lawsuit than pay a settlement. And, sometimes a party genuinely believes that they did nothing wrong and would prefer to litigate the matter – and they are legally entitled to have their day in court.
The good news is that, in many cases in Pennsylvania, only a jury of your peers can answer the question of what your case is truly worth. Juries oftentimes decide that a plaintiff deserves more money than the defending party was prepared to offer as a settlement amount. Civil defendants typically prefer to stop that question from getting to a jury by settling the case out of court, but not always.
The law firm of Thomas A. Will & Associates is ready to be there with you for the long haul. Our experienced attorneys are no strangers to the courtroom, and are in and out of courthouses nearly every day – we simply don’t shy away from a fight. Therefore, have no anxiety if you get word that your case is ready for trial. You’ll even have a chance to be present to see the action.
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident, it is most advantageous to contact an attorney as quickly as possible. Under Pennsylvania law, a “Statute of Limitations” limits the time that you have to file a lawsuit, and for most Personal Injury cases the Statute is 2 years. In most circumstances, a lawsuit can never be brought after the Statute of Limitations has run. 2 years may sound like plenty of time, but don’t forget like to leave time for investigation and settlement negotiations.
Your attorney can also help with questions that you may have concerning your medical treatment and bills. As well, under the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys are not allowed to directly contact people who are represented by an attorney. Therefore, you can protect yourself from being questioned by the other side’s attorneys by hiring Thomas A. Will & Associates today – when you do, they’ll have to deal with us instead.
Though our office is located in Pittsburgh (Allegheny County), we handle cases all over Western Pennsylvania in counties including: Armstrong County, Butler County, Blair County, Bedford County, Beaver County, Bradford County, Clearfield County, Centre County, Cameron County, Cambria County, Crawford County, Dauphin County, Erie County, Fayette County, Forest County, Greene County, Huntingdon County, Indiana County, Jefferson County, Lawrence County, Mercer County, Somerset County, Westmoreland County, Warren County, and Venango County.
Workers compensation and Social Security Disability
Call our firm immediately. We will advise you that you must notify your employer of the injury. You should also tell your employer if you need medical attention. They may refer you to a Panel Physician. An experienced workers compensation lawyer can help you understand the process and your rights in Pennsylvania and file your claim.
If your employer and its insurance company deny coverage on the claim, you may file a claim with Pennsylvania’s agency. There is a time limitation — all workers compensation statutes restrict the amount of time you or your dependent has to file a workers compensation claim. If your claim is for a job-related disease, the time limitation period begins when you learn you have the disease.
Yes, and that is why it is possible to receive both Social Security Disability and workers compensation. And, workers compensation could determine you are not disabled and Social Security could determine that you are. Further, insurance companies could define disability in other ways. Attorneys knowledgeable in this complex area can work with you to explain the differences in easy-to-understand language and help you file all appropriate claims to receive the compensation you deserve.
After your divorce, you might find it necessary or desirable to modify one or more of the stipulations in your divorce decree, property settlement, or custody and support arrangements. You must follow proper procedure if you want that modification or set of modifications to be valid. An experienced family law attorney can work with you to ensure your desired changes are valid, and to negotiate a great outcome with the other side.
Pennsylvania law follows the concept of Equitable Distribution of the Marital Assets. This means that the court will divide Marital Property in such percentages and in such a manner as the court deems fair after considering all of the following, relevant factors:
(1) The length of the marriage.
(2) Any prior marriage of either party.
(3) The age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties.
(4) The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party.
(5) The opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income.
(6) The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.
(7) The contribution or dissipation of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker.
(8) The value of the property set apart to each party.
(9) The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage.
(10) The economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property is to become effective.
(10.1) The Federal, State and local tax ramifications associated with each asset to be divided, distributed or assigned, which ramifications need not be immediate and certain.
(10.2) The expense of sale, transfer or liquidation associated with a particular asset, which expense need not be immediate and certain.
(11) Whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.
With certain specific exceptions, Marital Property is generally defined as all property acquired by either party during the marriage and the increase in value of any nonmarital property acquired prior to the marriage. This means that nearly all property that two spouses obtain from the time they are married to the time they are separated is considered Marital Property, and therefore subject to Equitable Distribution.
Though the law sets forth specific factors for Equitable Distribution, the factors are not so specific that every case gets a cookie-cutter result. In fact, the law gives courts great discretion to divide the Marital Assets in a fair manner, so long as the above factors are considered. An experienced family law attorney can assist you in navigating these muddy waters and putting the best arguments forward.
As well, sometimes letting an attorney handle the negotiations with the opposing party can help things to go more smoothly. While you might find it impossible to have a reasonable discussion with your ex about who gets the family dog, family law attorneys engage in these sorts of discussions all the time. Hiring a family law attorney means that you can take the backseat on these emotionally-taxing discussions. While the judge often gets the final call, you can rest assured knowing that your attorney will work their hardest toward your desired outcome. Count on Thomas A. Will & Associates to be your champion in these difficult battles.
If a person is behind on alimony or child support obligations, they may be subject to garnishment of their wages. Garnishment means that Pennsylvania will automatically take a portion of the paycheck of the person who owes alimony or child support, before they even receive their paycheck. You are then paid by the state in installments for what you are owed. However, the percentage of a person’s wages that can be garnished depends on the extent to which they are already supporting the child, and the amount of time that they have failed to remain current on their payment obligations.
As well, in certain circumstances you can petition for the court to find the delinquent payor in contempt. However, this is oftentimes not the favored method for judges who prefer that opposing parties make their best efforts to get along and settle matters amicably. Many judges are lenient regarding contempt, and will find contempt primarily in circumstances where the obligated party has repeatedly shown zero effort to make good on the owed amount. The logic follows that a person who is put in jail for failure to pay arrears has no ability to be out in the world earning the money needed to pay those arrears. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” or in other words, keeping the payor out of jail is good for both the payor and the payee.
The law is complex with regard to payment of owed alimony or child support, and in many circumstances the procedure is more complex. Count on the experience of Thomas A. Will & Associates to assist you in getting the money that you are owed.
Sometimes! If both parties agree with the change to be made to a child support order, then getting the order modified could be fairly simple. However, in the more common scenario where the parties do not agree that child support should be modified, you may need to bring a Petition to Modify.
Petitions to Modify are often brought for one of two reasons: a paying party wants to pay less, or a paid party wants to receive more. However, the law says that modification must be based on some “material and substantial change in circumstances.” In other words, the law sets forth that simply wanting to change the amount of child support is not enough reason to bring a Modification. A good example of a material and substantial change in circumstances is if the party paying the child support lost his or her job, and his or her new job does not pay as much income as before. In this example, a Petition to Modify could be brought to ask the court to reduce the amount of child support owed. However, if someone purposefully loses their job so they don’t have to pay as much, the judge might order them to pay just as much as before, or more.
If you are the paying party, filing a Petition to Modify presents some risks. If the court finds that there is a change in circumstances, the court then looks to the respective net income of the parties, the child support guidelines, existing law, and the amount of time that the child spends with either party. As well, if the original support order was entered prior to January 1, 2019, different laws may also apply. This is all to say that, while the court has the ability to reduce the amount that you owe, the court can also increase the amount owed – and oftentimes this is the result.
If you are the party to be paid child support, bringing a Petition to Modify also presents its risks. The court could ultimately decide that less money is owed, instead of more. As well, if the court finds that the Petition was brought frivolously (and that there was not a true material and substantial change in circumstance), you could be ordered to pay the opposing party’s attorney’s fees.
Contact the law offices of Thomas A. Will & Associates today for a consultation of whether your support order can be modified, and whether there is any degree of risk involved.
In Pennsylvania, “full custody” is something of a misnomer because the types of custody are often misunderstood. There are two different types of custody in Pennsylvania: Physical Custody, and Legal Custody.
Physical Custody is a matter of which parent physically has the child at a given point in time. Legal Custody is more about who makes decisions for the child, such as who the child’s dentist will be, or whether the child will play on the school soccer team.
There are also subtypes of Physical Custody and Legal Custody.
A parent with Primary Physical Custody has Physical Custody of the child for a majority of the time (usually 4 or more days in a week). Conversely, a parent with Partial Physical Custody has Physical Custody for less than half of the time (usually 3 or fewer days in a week). A parent may also have Supervised Physical Custody, which means that they can have visits with the child, typically at a location in the community (such as at a diner or local park), and the visits must be supervised by a person that the court approves. Lastly, Shared Physical Custody means each parent gets about half of the time.
A parent with Sole Legal Custody exclusively makes decisions for the child, whereas parents with Shared Legal Custody must communicate with each other about decisions for the child. Parents with Shared Legal Custody are expected to cooperate.
The default in Pennsylvania is that each parent starts with Shared Physical Custody and Shared Legal Custody. This means that, until a court orders something different, both parties should get Physical Custody for about half of the time, and should respect each other’s Shared Legal Custody by cooperating in making decisions for the child.
To say that you want “full custody” is basically to say that you want “Sole Physical Custody” and “Sole Legal Custody.” While this would sound ideal to many parents, it is rare that a parent would get Sole Physical and Sole Legal Custody because there is a strong presumption against taking parental rights away from a parent. The other parent would need to be making seriously poor decisions in his or her life that negatively affect the child, and even then, that party may still get supervised visitations with the child until their negative decisions are repaired. This all being said, no court would intentionally put a child in serious danger if the danger truly exists, so getting Sole Physical Custody and Sole Legal Custody is not totally impossible in certain unfortunate situations.
Additionally, judges tend to prefer that the parties get along. Attorneys and judges alike recognize that feelings can run high between exes when it comes to the kids, but custody situations go so much smoother when each parent can take a deep breath and show that they are willing to compromise. Research shows that children benefit from having relationships with both of their parents, and Pennsylvania custody law always considers “the best interest of the child.” Therefore, even if you don’t like the child’s other parent, it is usually in your interest – and more importantly, your child’s interest – to let the child spend some time with the other parent too.
A Petition for Special Relief is a very versatile tool in Family Court. It is a section of law unique to Family Court, and can only occur where a case has commenced. In other words, it is not available to the general public, but can be brought in situations where the parties are already engaged in the court process.
The Petition for Special Relief is a means of bringing a unique or special question to the judge and asking for relief (typically in the form of an “Order of Court,” or an instruction from the judge to do something). It is often used when unusual situations arise in real life, and the law is not completely equipped to deal with those situations – in this regard, it is something of a “catch all.” The law says that, if a judge agrees with your Petition for Special Relief, they can temporarily change Physical or Legal Custody, direct that a party be brought before the court, direct that a party comply with an Order of Court, or otherwise order almost any appropriate interim or special relief. This means that the judge has broad discretion to help with special situations.
For example, imagine that Nancy and George have an existing custody case in the Court of Common Pleas. They both want more time with their two minor children. Then one day, without asking George or the judge, Nancy instructs both children to pack their bags and tells them that they are suddenly moving to another state without George. The older child becomes concerned, and gets out of earshot of Nancy to call George and explain the situation. If George acts quickly, he can ask his attorney to file a Petition for Special Relief, asking the judge to issue an Order of Court directing Nancy not to move away with the minor children. In this scenario, a savvy attorney may even file an Emergency Petition for Special Relief, meaning that, since a true emergency exists, the Petition can get bumped up the schedule and in front of a judge more expeditiously.
Unfortunately, situations similar to the above scenario occur all too commonly in custody cases. Pennsylvania law states that, once a custody case has commenced, parties are not allowed to “Relocate,” or change a child’s residence in any way which significantly impairs the ability of the other party to exercise custodial rights, without permission from the court to do so.
If you have an existing Family Division case and think a Petition for Special Relief might be right for your situation, give Thomas A. Will & Associates a call for your consultation.