“Legal Issues that could arise this summer”
June 4, 2012
Summer is finally here! This is the time for us to be attending family reunions, graduation parties, barbeques, and pool parties.
This is also the time when those of us in the legal profession have friends and family members asking about a variety of topics from laws affecting their graduating senior, to estate planning for an elderly relative they just saw at a reunion.
Here are some common questions and answers to issues we are all facing this time of year.
Q: I’m planning my son’s graduation party for next month, and I’ve promised him a big blow-out for all his friends to enjoy. As long as I keep an eye on the kids there’s no problem if I serve beer is there?
A: Pennsylvania, like many other states applies a “social host law” to people who decide to serve alcohol at a private party. Basically the law states that if you serve alcohol to a minor and the minor injures either him/herself or someone else, the host can be sued and may have to pay damages to the injured person.
Parents who allow minors to drink in their home can also be charged with furnishing alcohol to minors – a charge punishable by at least a $1000 fine and up to a year in prison.
Even though a minor is a legal adult at age 18, HE/SHE IS NOT OF LEGAL DRINKING AGE. Not only will you be charged as an adult, you will face adult penalties as well.
Under Pennsylvania law, if a minor is found to have ANY measurable amount of alcohol (.02 BAC) in his/her system, he/she will be charged with an underage DUI, and he/shewill lose his/her license for at least 90 days.
Q: After years of saving for it, we finally put in a pool and are having our family and friends over to celebrate. We’re going to call our insurance company to let them know, but is there anything else we need to do?
A: Pools raise their own set of concerns for the homeowner. Mostly take a common sense approach – pools always attract children -- so treat them as if you know you are always going to be having children on the property.
- Install a fence around the pool.
- Have a gate lock and an alarm that will alert you if anyone enters the area.
- Ensure that no one swims alone.
Your responsibility to others who may be injured on your property depends on why the person is there. A guest at a party is a licensee – someone who is invited onto your property for a non-commercial purpose. That being said, you are responsible if you know or should have known about a dangerous condition and couldn’t expect the persons to recognize the danger for themselves and you don’t exercise reasonable care in rectifying the condition or notifying people of the risk.
Q: Our good family friends have offered to take our daughter and son camping with them out of state. They will have their insurance cards with them, so that’s taken care of, but is there anything else we need to do?
A: A little planning goes a long way. Make sure that the people caring for your children have a valid power of attorney to be able to get the child medical treatment in the event of an emergency. Also, if going to another state and engaging in boating activities, check what their requirements are; each state’s laws are different.
Q: My daughter is off to college and we’re looking for both an apartment and a car to get her back and forth. What things do we need to know?
A: A lease is a legally binding contract which gives you certain rights as well as obligations. Make sure you read and understand the lease. It should contain a detailed description of who is responsible for maintenance of the property, the consequences for failure to pay rent, etc.
Ensure you note and document (take pictures) when you move in and when you move out as well.
Parents – also keep in mind that if you are co-signing the lease with your child you may also be sued in the event the lease is broken or the premises are damaged in any way.
DO NOT BUY A CAR “AS IS.” “As-Is” means “with all faults.” This means that the buyer has absolutely no recourse should something go wrong.
Be wary of extended warranties and service policies as well. Read the fine print to ensure that the warranty covers as many components as possible and that the deductible on the service policy isn’t so high as to make the warranty pointless.
Work with a reputable dealer and have a mechanic look over the car to ensure there aren’t any underlying problems you may have missed.
Again parents should keep in mind that if they co-sign on a lease or for a loan to purchase the car they will also be sued in the event that their child doesn’t make the monthly payments.
Q: I just saw my grandmother at our family reunion and she seemed distant. My uncle (her son) showed up with a new car and was bragging that my grandmother had given him Power of Attorney and that he was “managing her finances” now. When I spoke to her she says she just doesn’t know where her money has gone. I think he’s taking advantage of her - what can we do?
A: A Power of Attorney is a powerful document which unfortunately is easily abused if not drafted correctly. Powers of Attorney can be as specific or as general as you need them to be and can include clauses which require a third party to review and/or give their consent before any major financial or legal transactions take place.
If a Power of Attorney is being abused, it can be revoked. A document will have to be drafted by your grandmother in which she revokes the power and then this document will have to be given to anyone that the Power of Attorney has dealt with on your grandmother’s behalf. This is something that you will want to have an attorney handle to ensure that no further detrimental actions are taken.
If you need a lawyer, you can call the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555 or you can visit PittsburghLawyerFinder.org, the association’s new, free online service.