One morning, a driver was making their way along a secondary road near Scranton, PA headed to work. As he came to an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane just as you were approaching the intersection coming from the opposite direction. Before you even have time to react, the other driver made his turn and you plowed into the side of his car. That's a pretty straightforward case of the other driver being at fault, right? After all, you were just driving down the road, and a car turned in front of you, case closed. Not so fast. Please read on to see why the obvious may not always be the conclusion when it comes to auto accidents in Pennsylvania.
It's three weeks after the accident, and you have sustained some pretty serious injuries. In fact, the total damages you have suffered combined with the damage to your car total up to around $80,000! Once the police investigation was completed, it was determined that the other driver failed to yield. BUT. A witness said they saw you texting at the time the accident happened. Not only do you not get compensated for the whole $80,000, but you also get a ticket for using a mobile device while driving!
Confused? Keep reading, and we'll explain how this happened and what else you need to know if you are ever injured in a car wreck in Pennsylvania.
Comparative Negligence Law in Pennsylvania
So what the heck happened in the above scenario? Comparative negligence, that's what. Also known as the “51% Rule,” comparative negligence is just one of many state laws in Pennsylvania regarding personal injury. Under comparative negligence law, a court can assign a percentage of fault in personal injury cases. In the scenario above, the court ended up assigning the other driver 80% of the fault and 20% to you for being on your phone! So all things being equal, you would end up getting $64,000 ($80,000 – 20% = $64,000.)
Ouch. Just be glad the jury didn't find you 51% or more at fault. Then you wouldn't have seen a penny of compensation. If the jury found that the other driver's negligence equaled 49% of the accident, and yours equaled 51%, the jury would be barred by law from awarding you any compensation for the damages. If that all sounds a little unfair, we promise we didn't make any of that up. Well, we made up the story, but not the rules! For your reading pleasure and reference, you can check out the laws that played a part in our story above.
Comparative Negligence: Section 42-71-7102
Right of Way: Section 75-33-3322
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices: Section 75-33-3316
How Is fault determined in Pennsylvania personal injury cases?
To see how the above scenario played out the way it did, you have to know something about how fault is determined in Pennsylvania when it comes to personal injury cases. To be able to collect any compensation for your personal injuries, Pennsylvania law requires that you prove another party was negligent, at least to a certain degree. It's not enough to just prove that the other driver turned in front of you, you have to prove certain things to the court.
To prove another party is negligent in your personal injury case, Pennsylvania says there are specific requirements that must be met. And remember, under that “51% Rule,” you better be able to prove that at least half of the negligence can be attributed to the other driver.
- The party causing your injuries had a responsibility not to injure you and failed to live up to that responsibility
- There is a connection between the other party's lack of responsibility and your injury
- You suffered personal damages or financial loss as a result of your accident
So assuming you can prove the other driver was negligent, then you can receive compensation, at least partially, for the following:
- Medical bills for treatment related to your injuries
- Permanent disability and disfigurement
- Emotional distress
- Repair or replacement of any property damaged, such as your car
- Lost wages that are a direct result of your personal injury accident
- Costs of hiring assistance for tasks you can no longer perform because of your injuries
But what about insurance?
Just like in other states, Pennsylvania has laws regarding financial responsibility with minimum limits of car insurance. The Keystone State requires that every motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that provides liability coverage for all damages that may result from an automobile accident.
- At least $15,000 per person
- At least $30,000 for two or more people
- $5,000 per occurrence for property damage
Pretty straightforward, right? Again, not so fast! Pennsylvania is also a “no-fault” state, and all drivers are required to carry this type of insurance. No fault insurance, also called “personal injury protection,” or PIP, is an optional type of car insurance that allows someone to file a claim with their own insurance provider for certain damages.
States like Pennsylvania typically enact PIP laws to limit the number of lawsuits filed against at-fault drivers while offering protection for drivers who are injured an auto accident. PIP covers the insured driver and their passengers, regardless of who is at fault. While this type of insurance is designed to protect the insured party, it doesn't cover damage regarded as “pain and suffering” and can often fall short of providing adequate compensation.
You can circumvent the no-fault law and file a liability claim or personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver if your injuries meet the “serious injury” criteria outlined by Pennsylvania State law. The state defines “serious injury” as “A personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.” Considering the limitations of PIP insurance and the difficulty in determining the longevity and degree of injuries, this is a part of the personal injury process often worth pursuing to protect injured parties now and in the future.
Where and when to file a personal injury claim in Pennsylvania
Like most states, Pennsylvania limits the amount of time between a car accident and the date to file a lawsuit. Called the statute of limitations, this Pennsylvania law requires that any lawsuit for personal injury or property damage be filed within two years of the date of the accident. This means that if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured or incurs property damage due to a negligent driver, the injured party must file a lawsuit within the two year period or they are not entitled to any compensation at all.
For Pennsylvania personal injury claims seeking more than $8,000, you would file your lawsuit in the appropriate Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. If your personal injury accident claim is for less than $8,000 ($10,000 for the Philadelphia municipal court), you would file your case in the Pennsylvania District Court or Justice Court (or the municipal court for cases in Philadelphia) that has jurisdiction.
Hopefully, the story at the beginning remains just that, a story. But if you ever find that you are the victim of a personal injury in a car accident in Pennsylvania, you now know what to expect. Drive safe!
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