Thursday, November 11, 2010


Regina & Frederick Sweinberg, Jr.
My mother and my father together after the war.

Taken from something I wrote a few years ago....

My father works in the post office, as a mail handler. He is a World War II vet. He receives a small disability for what is known as shell shock, the PTSD which results when your mission is to detonate and disarm land mines. Sometimes people are maimed or killed when they miss the mark and the bomb explodes them into oblivion. My father was one of the lucky ones, although slowly becoming deaf in one ear as a result of the damage .

Emotionally was another story. He refused to talk about the war. He just said he did not like to talk about the war and left it at that. He refused to talk about the war. After he passed, my brother Boyd discovered the manuscript of the diary he had kept while traveling through Europe, only 26 years old. It was pretty long too. I guess he thought he had said what he felt he needed to in the diary. He wanted to leave it at that. He never said a word to anyone about the diary.

I include excerpts from the personal diary of Captain Frederick Sweinberg, Jr., my father, kept during his tour of duty to his country, serving in WWII, September 14,1944-August 8, 1946. He had been part of the troops that disengaged the land mines. If you didn’t do it right, you were maimed or you died. He was 26 when the war had ended and my father was coming home. He refers to my mother as Jean. Her given name was Regina. This must have been his nickname for her then as I never heard him call her Jean. It was part of my name now, Joyce Jean.    

July 25-August 2, 1946: All aboard was the cry and you can bet your boots we were all more than ready to leap on...About 3pm we shoved off and took our last look at the never to be forgotten shores of Germany. It’s hard to describe the feeling that one felt but it was just a prayer thanking God that we finally were on our way home to our loved ones....

The trip as a whole was not too bad...The chow was terrible because all company grade officers sleep in the troop accommodations and ate in the troop galley. It’s a crime they allowed such food to be served. The first-class passengers ate rather wholesomely but then we were glad to be going home and that overwhelmed any discomfort we encountered...The big day finally came when we arrived in NY harbor at dawn on August 2, 1946...Boy that NY skyline looks swell and the feeling of being on American soil again was hard to take. It is a wonderful feeling.

August 8, 1946: I sure was sweating it out until we finished processing but finally on the 8th we finished at 12 noon...I fortunately made good connections to Philadelphia in time to get the 1:30 Martz bus...Old familiar scenes were like a dream and the changes that took place seem so strange. Then about 5:15 we started to comedown the East End Boulevard and my heart pounded like the devil...I got home and just seeing mom and dad and everyone again was a thrill I’ll never forget. But then I called Jean and told her I’d be over as soon as I cleaned up and believe me I couldn’t wait. About 7pm I left to see her. Gosh, the happiest day since I left home was when I held her in my arms again and kissed the only girl I ever wanted. I wish I could find the words but they say there is no ending like a happy ending and I can that it was the happiest moment of my life-so far. I hope the Lord will never cause us to part again and we can live a bright happy future together. And so ends the story I hope I won’t have to relive again...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Somewhere Over the Rainbow...

Social Security and Retirement Benefits

Photo by Alan Larus

I have recently been exploring information on Social Security (SS) retirement benefits. Although I am years away from it questions about it have come up to me several times in the past few months and I did not have the answers so I decided to take a look and see what the future holds in this regard and to share it with you. The fact is, the answer is that I still don’t have the answer! But there are many options.

More specifically, the big question is whether to retire early at age 62 and what the consequences of that decision might be in regard to your benefits. In reality, most people are putting off their retirement in a bad economy, working simply to pay the bills, with little thought to something called early retirement. In fact, a large percentage of the American population has little or no private retirement savings. In 2008, 64% of Americans relied upon SS as their primary source of income and 33% relied upon SS as 90% of their income. In short, most Americans will depend to a large extent upon their Social Security benefits someday to make ends meet. For them, waiting until the end point age of 70 is inevitable, as they need to make as much money now as they can, because they have no savings to fall back on to tide them over and they will need the largest possible SS benefit they can receive to pay their bills.

Still, if you were considering it, there are many variables which affect this decision and no clear cut answer. The wisest approach short of hiring a financial planner for a fee only basis to assess your situation is to venture into the SSA’s official site where you can actually input your scenario and get projections which will help you see how much you will get and base your decision on that information. What is clear is that your monthly benefit amount is reduced if you take early retirement. Conversely, it increases by certain percentages for each year that you delay retirement up to age 70. The benefit increase stops at age 70 even if you delay taking benefits, so there is no logical reason to delay beyond age 70.

Whether you are single or married makes a difference. Whether you think you might live a longer or a shorter life makes a difference. Whether you have any private retirement savings makes a difference. Whether you intend to continue to work past official retirement age makes a difference. Once you reach full retirement age there is no limit on your income. Prior to that, there is a limit on how much you can make while you receive early benefits with an offset being taken. For some in depth thoughts on these variables, take a look at this article.

The SSA maintains an elaborate site which provides information and advice about when to retire and what your benefit will be. To determine what is considered full retirement age for you, go to  where you will find a chart indicating the full retirement age by year of birth. For example, 65 is no longer full retirement age for everyone. Instead, it is extended in increments for those born after 1938 and is now up to 67 for those born 1960 and later. Still, there is a note on this page which advises:

Note: If you decide to delay your benefits until after age 65, you should still apply for Medicare benefits within three months of your 65th birthday. If you wait longer, your Medicare medical insurance (Part B) and prescription drug coverage (Part D) may cost you more money.

This is critical since the age for eligibility for Medicare has NOT changed and remains at 65 no matter year you were born. For information on Medicare go to

There are so many issues which can affect you when the time draws near, you need to research the issues and make a decision.

If you are already there and are near retirement go here

You can also call the SSA on their hotline, although you should be prepared for a long wait to talk to a representative. 1-800-772-1213. TTY users should call 1-800-325-0778. Here is a link to the SSA’s official site where you can find the answers to questions.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Social Security Disability Offsets

Social Security Disability Offsets

Earnings from Substantial Employment

Many people think you cannot work at all when you receive Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits or you will lose your benefits. This is not true, although there are limits on how much you can earn before it affects your benefits. In most cases, your Medicare benefits will continue and you are also allowed to deduct certain work expenses from the gross income for purposes of calculating your earnings. If you are going to make an effort to work, you should review the Social Security Administration (SSA) rules very carefully. Also, before you make that effort, to see if you are able, you might want to volunteer somewhere for a short time and see if you can handle the consistent effort required.

Trial Work Period
The SSA allows you a trial work period followed by an extended eligibility work period. If you can work 9 months (they do not need to be consecutive) within a 60 month period, the trial work period ends, followed by the extended period of eligibility. There will be no loss of benefits no matter how much you make during the trial work period months. The minimum amount of money to establish a trial work month is $720 in 2010. This amount increases each year, and the specific rules vary for employees, self-employed and blind persons. Although the monthly amount of money you make during the trial work period does not matter, during the extended period of eligiblity which follows, a key factor is the amount of money you make.

Extended period of eligibility
After your trial work period, you have 36 months during which you can work and still receive benefits for any month your earnings are not deemed “substantial.” In 2010, earnings of $1000 or more ($1,640 if you are blind) are considered substantial. This amount also increases each year. The SSA will deduct work expenses from the gross amount of your earnings. No new application or disability decision is needed for you to receive a Social Security disability benefit during this period.

Workers Compensation Benefits

You can receive both Workers Compensation(WC) and SSD benefits but you cannot receive a combined benefit of more than 80% of your average current earnings as calculated by the SSA. The SSA will take the offset from your SSD benefits. If your WC stops, your SSD will usually increase.

Unemployment Compensation

The interplay between Unemployment Compensation (UC) and SSD is a complex one. People often ask if they can receive both. The general rule is that the SSA will take an offset on retroactive benefit awards for any UC you might have received while your SSD claim is pending.  Although one can be available for UC purposes for work within their limitations, in a claim for SSD one is alleging that they are unable to engage in substantial gainful employment.

Long Term Disability Insurance

Although there is no offset to your SSD if you receive Long Term Disability benefits, the LTD carrier might take an offset for receipt of SSD. This varies, so you need to check with your LTD carrier and LTD contract to find out how it might affect you.

For official information on this subject go to these links:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Pennsylvania requires at least $5,000 of property damage coverage on your auto insurance policy for property damage to another driver’s vehicle for an accident in which you are at fault. You can elect to maintain a higher amount of coverage

Property Damage Coverage:
Property damage is only available against the other driver’s policy and is based upon fault. In other words, you do not have property damage for yourself on your own policy; it is only there to reimburse someone else if you cause damage, much like liability limits for personal injuries. If someone causes you damage, you would make a claim against their property damage coverage, not against your own, as your own is not available to you as a first party benefit. (You can have collision coverage and make a claim against that coverage, which is discussed below.) The claim can be made for the fair market value of the vehicle up to the maximum of the coverage chosen by the insured driver.

Collision and Comprehensive Coverage:
These optional coverages offer you additional protection against different damage. Collision coverage applies to damage caused by an auto accident, minus your deductible. Comprehensive coverage applies to damage caused by other incidents such as theft or falling branches, minus a deductible.

If your car has been damaged in an auto accident caused by another driver, the easiest approach is to make the claim directly against their auto policy if the insurance company is accepting 100% liability. Then it is just a matter of negotiating the fair market value of the vehicle.

If, on the other hand, there is a disagreement over liability, sometimes it is best to make the claim against your own policy, IF you have collision coverage. Then your company pays you for the damge, minus your deductible. What then happens is that your insurance company makes a claim against the policy of the other driver which is resolved by way of an intercompany arbitration, where it is decided what percentage of negligence on the part of each driver caused the accident. If you were 0% liabile then you would get the deductible returned to you at that time. If it is found that you were partly at fault, your insurance company does have the right to refund your deductible at a prorated amount.

The “made whole” doctrine “requires that an insured recover the full amount of his losses before his insurer may demand reimbursement for any payments previously made to the insured under an insurance policy.” Harnick, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43126 at *9. Jones v. Nationwide , 2010 PA Super 90 (2008)

Property damage is usually resolved without litigation, even where there are personal injuries for which a claim is later made by way of a lawsuit. Additional damages such as rental car expenses and towing/storage costs are covered immediately if the other driver has this coverage or under your own policy.

In PA, the general rule is that the insurance carrier or the defendant need only pay the cost of repair or the cost of replacement value on the vehicle, whichever is less. It is general wisdom that when the repair cost exceeds 80% of the value of the car, it will be totaled. The most common method to value the car is the “blue book” and other online resources below:

Kelley Blue Book

Sometimes you can keep the totaled vehicle by agreement with the adjuster. They may want to pay less, which represents the fair salvage value of the car. However, you may want the car because you know someone who can repair it for use.Some states require a certificate to show that a vehicle has been previously totaled.

People are often confronted with the situation that they still owe more on the car loan than what is being paid out as the fair market value of the car. The best way to insure against this is to purchase gap coverage when you buy the car. Gap coverage would pay the difference between the outstanding balance on the loan and the fair market value at the time of accident.

Once the damage on a vehicle has been assessed and a market value has been established, the PIP carrier will want to settle quickly to cut their costs for storage of the vehicle.

The standard policy will be a set amount of money per day for "up to 30 days of use." Once a settlement has been reached for property damage, the rule of thumb is to allow use of a rental car for 3 to 4 days after settlement. This is a bit flexible and may depend on the individual adjuster and circumstances. However, the fact that a policy states that a rental car will be covered for up to 30 days does not mean that the full 30 days will always be allowed.

The defendant is responsible for reasonable rental while Plaintiff has the damaged vehicle repaired. Sometimes, you can negotiate payment for rental up front with the adjuster. Sometimes, they will attempt to limit the time period. If you cannot get full coverage, you may have to cover the cost yourself and claim as damages later the amount you had to put out for rental. If you have your own rental provision in your first party coverage, it may be better to use that and then let your carrier go to the defendant for subrogation.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Who Let the Dogs Out?

If you are attacked and bitten by a dog, you may be entitled to damages for the injuries you suffer. Although some dogs are known to be more prone to biting than others, when you are bitten it does not matter what the breed is. All dogs have sharp teeth.

Pennsylvania, like all states, has a time limit in which to file a personal injury action. Different rules apply to different situations, so it is best to obtain legal represenation immediately to make sure you are covered and do not miss the deadlines.

You should act now to speak to an attorney who can help you. When a dog bite occurs, records must be obtained, photos must be taken and the appropriate claims must be reported to the insurance companies involved. The longer you wait, the harder it is to take control of the situation.

The claim for damages is handled by the homeowners’ insurance policy maintained by the dog owner. Close to one third of claims against homeowners’ policies are for dog bite attacks. The dog owner is responsible for the behavior of the dog. There is no need to worry if the owner is a neighbor or a friend...the insurance company handles the matter for them. This is why we all have homeowners’ policies and this is why we pay our premiums.

The damages involved can include the medical expenses, current and future, lost wages, pain and suffering, disfigurement and scarring and emotional damages. The emotional damages from a dog bite can be devastating. Most scars require at least a year for a doctor to determine the course of treatment and whether the scar is permanent and requires plasctic surgery.

Children are subject to dog bites and are particularly vulnerable to bites around the head and face. They simply do not know how to protect themselves. The emotional trauma to them will last a lifetime. Treatment for a child may have to wait even longer than a year.

Pennsylvania has a hybrid approach to liability. There is strict liability for all damages incurred if the dog previously exhibited dangerous behavior or if the injuries are severe. There is also strict liability for medical bills. Other circumstances giving rise to laiblity occur where the owner was negligent or violated the animal control law, which requires that owners keep their dogs under control, either confined at home, or on a leash when away from the home.

Important Steps to Take After a Dog Bite
  • Seek immediate medical attention — even if it seems like a minor bite-this is especially important if the dog is not current on shots.
  • Take photographs of all injuries, even before there is cleanup of the wounds, and after cleanup of the wounds. See this page for instruction on taking photos:
  • Gather information from witnesses, if there were any. Get names, addresses, and phone numbers.
  • Report the matter immediately to the police. This creates a record of the incident.
  • Obtain the dog's veterinarian records about shots, diseases and other medical history.
  • Do not try to negotiate with the animal's owner privately. Make sure that the claim is directed to their homeowner’s insurer. It is best not to engage in conversations about this matter with the owner.
  • Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. 


Call me at 215.752-3732 or visit me at

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cruising Out of Control

The story below appeared in my email box recently and. as a Bucks County personal injury attorney,  I thought it was worth examining in more depth and passing along to others, slightly honed down:

A 36 year old female had an accident in which she totaled her car. It was raining, though not excessively, when her car suddenly began to hydro-plane and literally flew through the air. She was not seriously injured but very stunned at the sudden occurrence! When she explained to the highway patrolman what had happened he told her something that every driver should know:


She thought she was being cautious by setting the cruise control and maintaining a safe consistent speed in the rain. But the highway patrolman told her that if the cruise control is on when your car begins to hydro-plane and your tires lose contact with the pavement, your car will accelerate to a higher rate of speed making you take off like an airplane. She told the patrolman that was exactly what had occurred. The patrolman said this warning should be listed on the driver's seat sun-visor:


We tell our teenagers to set the cruise control and drive a safe speed, but we don't tell them to use the cruise control only when the pavement is dry.

MY THOUGHTS: When I took the time to do some online research, I discovered that the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia advises motorists to turn off the cruise control in dark and wet conditions. The fact of the matter is that driving in the rain or snow or wet conditions already creates some hazard and risk of hydro-planing. The driver must be able to react quickly. Although the cruise control disengages rather quickly, it is still an extra step in regaining control. Until the cruise control is disengaged, the vehicle continues moving at the set speed. Immediate reduction of speed is critical.

The cruise control cannot anticipate changes in the road surface or the direction of the road, either of which can alert a watchful driver to slow down in anticipation of the big puddle ahead or the sharp curve in the road. Another consideration is the fact that when you have the cruise control on, you tend to cruise, literally...and many of us move our foot a little bit away from the brake pedal to give it a rest. All of these factors can lead to disaster if you begin to hydro-plane.

You can find anything online, which includes all sorts of sites dedicated to debunking hoaxes and scams. The email story above has been around for awhile and got around enough to be the subject of blog posts like the one in the link below. While the author attempts to debunk the story as to cruise control causing hydro-planing, he does admit that it is better not to use cruise control in rainy and wet road conditions. If you want to examine the whys and wherefores, there is a link in the article which explains the issues in more depth.

MY CONCLUSION: I will not engage the cruise control when I am traveling in rainy or wet conditions. In rainy conditions, the wheels of the car can spin along the surface of the water on the road. Also, the wetness can bring the oil embedded in the blacktop from exhaust fumes to the top of the road as well, making for more slippery conditions and catastrophic car accidents. Cruise control can just make you lose control!

Do you have questions?  You can find me at

Photo from

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is Age Just A Number?

This is a good article. I have found much of what is written here to be true in my 29 years of practice in personal injury cases as well. There are no easy answers. For the young driver, they pass their test and then they are let loose. Parents can only try their best to instill good judgment into their sons and daughters. Having two young sons, I wish the legal age to drive in PA is raised to 18!

For the older driver, I really do think that states should require some sort of retesting at a certain age. While I know I would not appreciate it some day if it is applied to me because I have reached a certain age, the fact is that there are people out there driving who should not be behind the wheel because their ability to drive has been affected.


“Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death and injury in all age groups. Statistics show that 40,000 of the nearly 6 million accidents each year result in fatalities. Alcohol is a factor in 40 per cent of these fatalities and speeding accounts for 29 percent of deaths. Speeding and alcohol are not the only problems we face on the road —young drivers (16-20 years of age) and older drivers (over the age of 69) have much higher fatality rates than those between the ages of 21 and 69.

Teen drivers are more likely to be the cause of their own accidents than more seasoned motorists because they lack maturity and driving experience. Immaturity is evident in such risky practices as tailgating and speeding. Jim Tornetta, president of 1. CollisionMax, says, "Many teens are ill-equipped to handle emergency driving maneuvers, and the majority of teen injuries and fatalities come about in single-vehicle crashes." He continues, "They simply lose control of the car and cannot recover in time." Alcohol, cell phones, loud music and distractions from other teenage passengers are also significant contributing factors to teen crashes.

Although they typically wear their seat belts, drive the speed limit, and rarely take risks on the road, senior citizens' crash rates have skyrocketed. Highway deaths for motorists under 65 have dropped 3 percent since 1995, to 33,659 last year. Among seniors, however, deaths jumped 15 percent over the same period, to 8,141 last year. During the past two decades, the fatality rate of senior drivers has also risen.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that fatalities among elderly drivers will increase faster than their population, to more than 23,000 annually - 63 deaths a day - by 2030. Although they don't drive as recklessly as some younger motorists, seniors have difficulty with reaction times, reading road signs and judging distances.

States are struggling for an answer to senior driving issues. Florida is enlarging some highway street signs from 12 inches to 36 to accommodate the weaker vision of its 2.9 million elderly drivers. Nine states are considering legislation that requires doctors to report serious medical conditions afflicting seniors to motor-vehicle authorities. Officials could then order new driving tests or revoke licenses.

Although there is no easy answer, government agencies are introducing new programs to help teens and seniors become better drivers. With a little work, the roads will be safer for motorists of all ages.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Speaking of money and taxes :-)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Tax Man Cometh

If there is money coming into the house, the tax man will find a way to come and get it!!!  I have outlined a few situations below which affect clients who receive certain monetary benefits as a result of legal cases or social security entitlements.

Clients often call in to the office to ask if their personal injury recovery is taxable. Generally speaking, unless there is a specific number allocated as income loss, proceeds from a personal injury settlement are not considered taxable income as they are meant to reimburse the client for noneconominc damages such as pain and suffering.


One category of recovery which falls into the income bucket is a settlement for wrongful discharge or employment discrimination. This is because a major portion of those claims are specifically seeking lost wages due to the discrimination. However, there is a reduction for attorney fees paid on the amount.

Some people who get Social Security Disability or retirement benefits will have to pay taxes on their benefits. SSI benefits are not taxable. You will be affected only if you have other income in addition to your Social Security benefits. The amount of taxes you might have to pay will vary depending upon whether you file as an individual or jointly with your spouse.


Worker's compensation benefits alone are not taxable. This is because the amount you receive as benefits is already reduced to reflect income taxes having been removed from your paycheck. However, combined SSD and WC benefits may be taxed and you should be aware of this. Even though the WC benefits by themselves are not taxable, they become part of the taxable income when, combined with SSD benefits, they reach a certain threshold which changes periodically as the SSA(Social Security Admininstration) amends them. The SSA should send you an annual report of what you have been paid. If you think the IRS is overtaxing you, you should check it out with your accountant and have it taken care of by your accountant.

If you prepare your own taxes, or if you use an accountant to do so, you should be aware of these possibilities. You should also consider them in your future tax planning strategies. I am not an accountant and provide this information to you only as a courtesy and as something you should look out for in your annual tax planning. You should consult with a tax professional for your specific situation.


I have put some helpful links below for your further reading: