Following a car accident in Pennsylvania, you have plenty of responsibilities on your plate. Immediately after the accident, you may focus primarily on recovering from your injuries, juggling therapy appointments, visits with your doctor, and your normal responsibilities. Not only that, you may have more limitations on your time and energy than ever before: traumatic brain injury, for example, can sap your focus, while any type of accident can leave you without the energy levels you need to add additional tasks to your arsenal.
Time passes, often quickly, as you move through your recovery. Suddenly, you realize that you deserve compensation for your injuries. You might discover that the driver responsible for the accident failed to contact his or her insurance company, or you might find that the insurance company never really offered compensation for your injuries. Or you may only realize somewhere along the way that you deserve compensation for your injuries. How long do you have to file a claim for those injuries? Should you speak with a car accident lawyer? Read below.
Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations
Under Pennsylvania law, you have two years after a car accident to file a claim for your injuries. If a government entity caused the accident, on the other hand, you may have only six months to file your claim. In short, you need to act fast: if more than two years (or six months, in the case of a claim against a government entity) goes by after the accident, the court will likely reject your claim. While some exceptions do exist to the statute of limitations, including injuries that fail to show themselves until long after the accident, if you wait until after the statute of limitations has passed to file your claim, you may find it exceedingly difficult to get any compensation for your injuries, much less the full compensation you deserve.
Keep in mind that Pennsylvania does have a no-fault law for car accidents. That means that before you file a claim with the at-fault party’s auto insurance, your personal injury protection insurance will pay for the first portion of your bills, including medical bills for your injuries and time lost at work as a result of your accident. Typically, an individual personal injury protection insurance policy will provide around $10,000 of coverage for your medical bills and lost time at work. Only when the cost of your injuries and that lost time at work exceeds the maximum limits of your policy can you file a claim with the other party’s insurance.
When to Contact a Lawyer
You may have two years under Pennsylvania law to file your claim, but that does not necessarily mean you should wait until the very end of that two year period before you hire a car accident attorney and begin the claims process. Ideally, you want to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after your accident. The longer you wait, the more trouble you may have collecting compensation for your injuries. Consider these benefits of hiring a lawyer soon after the accident:
A Lawyer Can Reduce the Stress Associated With the Claims Process.
Often, dealing with the insurance company after a car accident causes a great deal of stress. You may find yourself fretting over whether the insurance company will mislead you—for example, engaging in small talk that leads you to admit you participated in an activity that should be impossible with your claimed injuries—or whether the insurance company will offer adequate compensation. You may also spend a great deal of time looking for or copying medical records, digging for particular pieces of evidence, or trying to fit yet another conversation with the insurance company into your schedule.
Working with an attorney, on the other hand, takes that weight off of your shoulders. An attorney will take care of and review all conversations with the insurance company for you, negotiating on your behalf. When the insurance company does issue a settlement offer—an amount that often grows simply because the insurance company recognizes how serious you are when you hire an attorney—a lawyer can advise you about whether that amount reflects the total cost of your injuries, or if you should hold out for further compensation. All of these actions on your attorney’s part can substantially reduce your stress and make it easier for you to handle the claims process.
The Sooner You Contact an Attorney, the Sooner the Lawyer Can Start Collecting Evidence on Your Behalf.
In many car accidents, the court needs substantial evidence to fully identify the responsible party in the accident or to break down the percentage of responsibility each party bears. It does not take long, however, for that evidence to start to fade away. Consider the following:
- Witnesses’ memories may fade quickly after the accident. In some cases, especially if the accident included a significant amount of trauma, witnesses may struggle to remember the details of the accident within just a few hours. The longer you wait to seek witness testimony, the more disjointed those memories may become. Many witnesses discover that, while they may recall that an accident happened in front of them or remember scenes that particularly stuck out in their minds, they cannot call to mind the important details that will indicate who caused the accident. Even the police officer who wrote up the details of the accident report may struggle to remember the details of the accident long after it occurred, and spotty or faulty memory may present even more problems if the police report contains inaccurate information. Worse, your own memory of the accident scene may change over time, especially if you do not take the time to write out a clear statement as soon after the accident as possible.
- A visit to the accident scene weeks or months later can result in a significantly changed scene. Road work in the area, new bush growth, or newly developing road hazards can all completely change the scene of the accident, making it impossible to fully identify features that could have contributed to your accident. The longer you wait, the more difficult your attorney or expert witnesses may find it to reconstruct the scene of the accident, which could make it more difficult for them to fully prove the other party’s responsibility for the accident.
- Many security cameras delete footage automatically within a relatively narrow period of time. Following an accident, you may seek security footage from traffic cameras or businesses around the scene of the accident to help prove the cause of the accident. Security footage often clearly shows what factors caused or contributed to the accident, making it one of the most powerful pieces of evidence you can display in a courtroom. Unfortunately, you cannot display footage that does not exist. If you wait months to file your car accident claim, that evidence may disappear completely.
What Compensation Can You Claim?
Following a car accident with serious injuries, including spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, or amputation, you may find yourself wondering whether the stress of filing a claim is really worth it. How much compensation can you claim, anyway? The amount of compensation you can claim will vary. Even if you know someone who had an accident very similar to yours, the funds he or she received may not reflect the funds you receive for your accident. These variations can occur because of a variety of factors, including:
- The other party’s insurance company must follow the driver’s policy. Following a car accident, the insurance company will typically only pay the maximums defined by the other party’s insurance policy. If the policy offers $100,000 of property damage and medical costs, you may receive only $100,000 for your injuries, even if your costs far exceed that amount. In some cases, you can turn to your own insurance company for the funds you really need during your recovery. Your underinsured motorist policy may pick up some of the weight, even if the other party’s insurance company does offer some payment.
- Your injuries do not look the same as someone else’s. Your injuries will almost never look exactly like someone else’s. Depending on your overall health and determination, you may see more or fewer limitations on your activities following even a serious injury. Your prognosis depends on your personal abilities and health status, not just on the injury itself. In general, you will receive more compensation for more severe injuries and less compensation for injuries that cause less damage and fewer limitations; however, that may change based on the pain and suffering caused by your injuries, your limitations, and the full extent of your injuries.
While compensation may vary, many people involved in car accidents with serious injuries file similar claims. Potential damages include:
Medical expenses. After a car accident, you may have substantial medical expenses. Ambulance transport from the scene of the accident reflects the first drop in the bucket. Next, you will add your emergency room visit, along with any scans or tests performed in the hospital immediately after the accident. If you suffer serious injuries, you may find yourself hospitalized. Some patients, including those with spinal cord damage, organ trauma, or traumatic brain injury, may need to spend time in the ICU during their recovery. Others may spend a long time hospitalized. In some cases, you may go to a skilled recovery facility after discharge from the hospital.
Even after hospitalization ends, you may still need significant medical care. Some patients, especially those with spinal cord damage, may need skilled nursing care at home even after their return. Others may require ongoing physical therapy. Multiple visits with your doctor can also cause a significant dent in your finances.
If you suffer serious injuries in a car accident, make sure you keep track of all of those medical expenses. While your personal injury protection insurance will cover the first $10,000 of expenses, you may find that you need a solid record to present to the responsible driver’s insurance company when your PIP insurance runs out.
Pain and suffering. Your injuries may cause substantial physical pain. Not only that, they often limit your activities, eliminating from your life the source of much joy or preventing you from doing things you would have otherwise done. Many victims of serious car accidents suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety after the accident. Your lawyer can help you more effectively calculate pain and suffering and how it impacts your life, allowing you to set a dollar amount on that suffering.
Lost time at work. In addition to your other suffering, you may miss time at work due to your injuries. Many serious injuries may keep you out of work long-term, especially if your injuries prevent you from taking care of your normal job tasks. In some cases, a severe injury may prevent you from ever returning to work. You may claim lost time at work as part of your car accident claim. If you cannot return to work, you may include lost earning potential as well.
A car accident claim cannot bring back the health you lost due to the accident or stop you from experiencing pain and suffering. It can, however, provide you with the funds you need to pay for your medical bills, adapt your home and vehicle, and move on with your life. Contact a car accident lawyer at The Levin Firm as soon after the accident as possible to determine your eligibility to seek compensation.