December 18, 2018
How Pennsylvania Statutes Impact Personal Injury Claims
Most Pennsylvanians don’t give much thought to how laws on the books affect their rights to recover damages for a personal injury. Then again, why would they? Other than an occasional election-season nod to tort reform by politicians, the statutes governing when, how, and from whom someone can seek compensation for an injury simply don’t get much public discussion. With this blog post, we aim to fix that by shedding some much-needed light on the subject.
It may surprise you to learn that the official Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes are chock-full of provisions that can make a huge impact on personal injury cases. Many of these laws and rules are anything but straightforward, which means that unsuspecting victims of a personal injury can lose their rights if they’re not careful.
Fortunately, the aggressive, diligent team at The Levin Firm has years of experience navigating the complexities of Pennsylvania personal injury law. Here are some of the most important ways Pennsylvania statutes (and other types of law) impact personal injury cases we routinely handle.
Statutes Impact How Much Time You Have to File a Personal Injury Claim
Pennsylvania, like all jurisdictions, has laws dictating the amount of time a person has to bring legal action against another person for a personal injury. This time period is known as the statute of limitation, but in fact, it doesn’t consist of just one statute. Instead, different laws set varying time periods for different types of personal injury cases.
For an ordinary personal injury case, by which we mean a claim by an adult, private citizen against another adult, private citizen, the statute of limitation under Pennsylvania law is two years after the injury. The rules only get more complicated from there, however. Here’s what we mean.
- If you plan to bring a personal injury claim against a government unit, you must give notice to the government unit of your intention to file a claim within six months after the injury (unless you weren’t able to give notice for some reason or the government unit had “actual or constructive notice” of the “incident or condition” that led to your injury). If you give that notice, then the two-year statute of limitation applies for filing the action in court. If you don’t give the notice, then you may lose your claim after the six months are up.
- If your claim is for libel or slander, the statute of limitation is only one year.
- If your claim is for having suffered childhood sexual abuse, the statute of limitation is 12 years from your 18th birthday.
- If your claim is against a person for having deficiently performed, designed, planned or supervised a construction project, the statute of limitation is generally 12 years from the completion of the construction project.
In addition, the statute of limitation “clock” won’t start running, or will stop running, under certain circumstances specified in Pennsylvania law, such as:
- For any period of time when the person who injured you is outside of the Commonwealth and cannot be served with legal process here.
- For any period of time that the person injured and entitled to seek damages is still a minor.
- For any period of time during which the United States is at war with the country where the personal injury occurred.
It doesn’t take a law degree to see how complicated it can be to figure out the statute of limitation in a particular case. At The Levin Firm, we encourage all of our potential clients to reach out to us as soon as possible, to help ensure they do not miss a critical window of opportunity to seek compensation for their injuries.
Who You Can(not) Sue
Pennsylvania statutes contain numerous provisions that limit who you can sue for personal injuries you’ve sustained. For instance:
- Under Pennsylvania law, in most (but not all) circumstances, you cannot sue good Samaritans, first responders, or school officials for a personal injury you received while they were giving you emergency first aid.
- In most (but not all) circumstances, you cannot sue youth sports volunteers, such as coaches, umpires, or referees, for a personal injury your child sustained while participating in that sport.
- You cannot sue a farmer for a personal injury you sustained at a pick-your-own farm unless the farmer knew about an unreasonable risk of harm and failed to warn you or take reasonable measures to protect you from it.
- You cannot sue someone who injured you while acting in self-defense or in defense of property, as defined under Pennsylvania law.
- You generally cannot sue the owner of a property you were using for recreational purposes for failing to warn you about dangerous conditions on that property.
These are just a few of the examples of the “immunities” Pennsylvania law provides for some people who might otherwise be liable for causing a person a personal injury. As you’ll notice, even these immunities have exceptions. We encourage you to consult with the experienced personal injury team at The Levin Firm to assess whether your personal injury claim falls under any of these categories or the exceptions to them.
How to Allocate Fault and Liability
Some personal injury cases present a straightforward scenario in which one, and only one, person’s negligence makes that person one hundred percent at fault for another person’s injury.
Often, however, the negligence of more than one individual or business may have contributed to the victim’s injuries. In some cases, the victim him or herself may also be partially at fault.
A Pennsylvania statute addresses how to divide up (or allocate) fault in cases where multiple parties’ negligence may have led to a personal injury. Under this so-called “comparative negligence” statute, a personal injury plaintiff may only recover damages for an injury caused by someone else’s negligence if the plaintiff was less than fifty percent at fault. Additionally, damages for a plaintiff who is less than fifty percent at fault will be reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff’s fault.
So, for example, if Driver A was twenty-five percent responsible for causing a collision with Driver B, and Driver B was seventy-five percent responsible, Driver A’s damages in a suit against Driver B will be reduced by twenty-five percent. Conversely, Driver B would not be able to recover any damages from Driver A, since Driver B was more than fifty percent at fault.
What happens if Driver A was only ten percent responsible, and two other drivers, Drivers C and D, combined to bear the remaining ninety percent of fault? The Pennsylvania comparative negligence statute addresses that issue, too. If neither Drivers C nor D was, individually, more than sixty percent responsible for the accident, each of them will have liability for the proportion of Driver A’s damages that corresponds to their percentage of fault. But, if one of them was more than sixty percent responsible, then that driver will have liability for all of Driver A’s damages (which will, of course, be reduced by Driver A’s ten percent fault).
Speaking of car accidents, one other quirk of Pennsylvania law comes into play when “allocating” fault between drivers. A Pennsylvania statute having to do with seat belts bars defendants in auto accident cases from arguing that a plaintiff was at fault under the comparative negligence statute for failing to wear a seat belt. In other words, in Pennsylvania, not wearing a seat belt does not count as negligence that will reduce a plaintiff’s damages award (You should always wear your seatbelt, however!).
If all of this discussion of percentages of fault seems confusing, don’t worry. The team at The Levin Firm deals with comparative negligence issues day-in, day-out, and are always ready to help our clients figure out exactly who might be liable to them in what amount for a personal injury.
How Much You Might Recover in Damages.
Generally speaking, there are no caps on so-called “compensatory” damages in Pennsylvania. But, Pennsylvania statutes do place certain limits on damages plaintiffs might recover in specific types of personal injury cases, and for some punitive damages.
- Under Pennsylvania law, there is a cap of $250,000 per occurrence and $1,000,000 in the aggregate in personal injury claims against the Commonwealth. There is also a damages cap of $500,000 in the aggregate on claims against local government agencies.
- In a medical malpractice action, punitive damages against a medical provider cannot exceed two hundred percent of the plaintiff’s compensatory damages.
- Interest on damages awarded as compensation for a personal injury begins to run from the date of the damage award.
Statutes Aren’t The Only Personal Injury Laws in Pennsylvania.
The statutes we’ve covered above represent just a sampling of those that can impact a personal injury case under Pennsylvania law. Other, specific statutes might be applicable to any given case (such as if an injury occurred in or around a railroad, or there is workers’ compensation insurance involved).
The statutes above also don’t cover all of the types of law in Pennsylvania that can govern personal injury matters. Other rules pertaining to personal injury actions can be found in regulations passed by the executive branch of Pennsylvania government (a body of law known as “regulatory” or “administrative” law). For example, a regulation may affect a personal injury case by setting minimum standards of conduct in an industry. Pennsylvania intrastate motor carrier regulations, for instance, adopt federal standards for limits on the amount of time truckers can spend behind the wheel at a stretch. When a truck driver causes personal injuries in an accident, it may constitute evidence that he acted negligently that he violated the hourly limits set by these regulations.
That’s not all. There is another, critically important body of law that also affects personal injury cases in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, known as common law; it consists of the long, constantly-evolving chain of decisions by Pennsylvania and federal courts that define legal obligations that aren’t covered by statutes or regulations. Many areas of Pennsylvania common law have a direct impact on personal injury matters, including how we define the concepts of “negligence,” “gross negligence,” willful misconduct,” and when it’s appropriate plaintiffs to seek and courts to award punitive damages.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Personal Injury Attorney at the Levin Firm
The job of a personal injury attorney is, in large part, to represent the client’s interests by pursuing all available compensation for a personal injury that is permissible under the law. To be effective, a personal injury attorney has to stay up to speed on the developments in the statutes, regulations, and judicial opinions that can affect personal injury matters. That is what lawyers and judges mean when they say the law is a “living, breathing” thing. It is constantly evolving to suit new priorities, expectations, and dangers in our world.
Distinguishing between lawyers can be a challenge for people suffering from an unexpected personal injury or tragic loss. Many lawyers may appear to offer similar services with similar fee arrangements. What distinguishes The Levin Firm from the pack? Thanks to our years of experience as public defenders, we have both an extensive and broad-based knowledge of the law and deep experience trying cases to Pennsylvania juries. We are aggressive and thorough advocates for our clients. We stay current on changes to Pennsylvania personal injury law, whether in statutes, regulations, or judges’ opinions so that we can press our clients’ claims vigorously and accurately in Pennsylvania’s state and federal courts.
If you or a loved one sustained a personal injury in the Philadelphia area, Pennsylvania law may entitle you to significant compensation. Depending on the type of injury, the statute of limitations may have already started running, which means it may be very important to speak with an experienced personal injury as soon as possible. Contact the aggressive, diligent, and experienced personal injury lawyers at The Levin Firm today at The Levin Firm online, or by phone at (215) 825-5183. An initial consultation is always free of charge.