Over 32,000 people are killed and 2 million injured in traffic accidents nationwide every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s about 90 deaths per day from traffic collisions.
If you were injured or a loved one has died in a car accident, you may find yourself wondering how to get paid. In other words, if you’ve been harmed, who or what compensates you for this harm? Car accident injuries are painful. They require medical care and time off from work. They inflict severe physical, emotional, and financial suffering.
You deserve to get paid for that suffering. But how? That is the topic we address in this blog post.
It Depends on Your Insurance Choice
In Pennsylvania, answering that question involves some potentially complicated analysis. Under the laws of many states, people injured in car accidents can count on recovering compensation from the at-fault party’s insurance policy. In a few other states (known as no-fault jurisdictions), all accident victims turn first to their own auto insurance coverage to pay for their injuries, and can only look to the at-fault party for compensation if their injuries are especially severe.
And then there is Pennsylvania.
The Keystone State represents something of a hybrid between these two systems of car accident insurance. Here, drivers have the option to purchase no-fault insurance that covers them in an accident, or to opt-out and count on the at-fault party having enough insurance to cover their injuries. Drivers must choose whether to purchase or forego no-fault insurance when they first insure their vehicle.
Pennsylvania refers to purchasing no-fault insurance coverage as selecting the limited tort option. If you choose it and subsequently get injured in an accident, you will file a claim against your own insurance company for your out-of-pocket (a.k.a. economic) costs related to the accident, such as medical bills for injuries and wages lost from work due to those injuries.
Selecting the limited tort option, however, bars you from seeking so-called non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering) from at-fault parties in an accident, unless the accident leaves you suffering from a serious injury, such as impairment of a bodily function or permanent and serious disfigurement. If a car accident severed your spinal cord and left you paralyzed, for example, you would likely retain the right to seek pain and suffering and similar damages from the at-fault party, even after you collected benefits under your own insurance.
Drivers who choose not to purchase no-fault insurance in Pennsylvania are deemed to have selected is known as the full tort option. Opting for full tort rights means you will only resort to seeking damages from the at-fault parties in an accident that leaves you injured, and that you run the risk that the at-fault party does not carry sufficient insurance or have other financial resources to pay for all of your costs.
All drivers are required to carry the following minimum insurance amounts in Pennsylvania.
- $5,000 in medical coverage, which pays your medical bills after an accident, regardless of who was at fault
- $15,000 for bodily injury liability, per injured person (if you’ve caused the accident)
- $30,000 total bodily injury liability per accident (if you’ve caused the accident)
- $5,000 property damage protection (if you’ve caused the accident), per occurrence
It Depends on Whom Is at Fault
You can only take legal action for damages you sustained in a car accident (regardless of what insurance option you picked) if someone else was at fault for causing it. Under Pennsylvania law, legal liability for injuries caused by a car accident generally falls on the party whose careless or reckless actions led to the crash.
For example, all drivers have a legal duty to obey the rules of the road. They should not speed, or drive through red lights, or operate a vehicle that is dangerous, or climb behind the wheel under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drivers who violate these rules and, as a result, cause a crash, face legal liability for damages to anyone the crash harms.
Of course, not all accidents stem from the careless or reckless actions of drivers. Some car accidents occur because of mechanical defects in a car. Others arise out of the poor road conditions, such as uneven pavement, large potholes, or misleading road signage.
Who will pay you if one of these other factors causes a car accident that harms you? Well, companies are bound by a standard of care as well. Auto manufacturers generally face legal liability for harm caused by defective products that make cars and trucks unreasonably dangerous.
Similarly, the entities responsible for road maintenance and repair, whether they are governmental agencies or private contractors, are also bound by a reasonable standard of care. They should maintain the roads in a safe condition and create safe detours if extensive work is needed to repair and maintain roads.
All of these entities, car manufacturers, component manufacturers, repair companies, and road maintenance organizations, can be deemed legally liable for harm resulting from their violations of a standard of care.
How Do I Prove That Other Parties Are at Fault?
To recover compensation from an at-fault party in a Pennsylvania car accident, you and your lawyer generally must prove that the party violated a duty of care not to act in a way that would harm you, that the violation caused the accident, and that you sustained injuries as a result. These are the essential elements of most any personal injury claim.
How do you and your attorney prove each of these elements? There are several methods. Many of them rely on the steps you take immediately after the accident, as follows.
After the Accident
Call the Police
If you get into a car accident in Pennsylvania, call the local police right away. It is the law if the accident has caused a death, an injury, or made cars impossible to drive. Even if there are no injuries or fatalities, and the cars can be driven, you should still file a written report with the local police within five days.
Calling the police to the scene of an accident serves several purposes. First, the police will call emergency responders, if necessary, and will make the accident scene safe. Second, calling the police begins to construct a record of the evidence of the accident that can prove important later when it comes to enforcing your legal rights.
The police conduct a preliminary investigation of the accident scene. They record who was involved and how the accident happened. They try to talk to all drivers, passengers, and eyewitnesses. They make notes of the time and place the accident occurred, and document any factors they believe may have contributed to the accident, such as limited vision due to weather or nighttime conditions.
If police suspect alcohol or other substances played a role in a crash, they can take steps to test the drivers and, if necessary, make a drunk driving arrest. Alcohol was involved in 28 percent of fatal accidents in Pennsylvania last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Be sure to get a copy of the police report so that you know what it indicates about the causes and who may be at fault.
It is always a good idea to take pictures at the scene of the car accident, if you have a smartphone or camera with you. Pictures really are worth a thousand words. They can give a clear indication of what or who caused an accident, such as by showing the points of impact on both vehicles, and where they ended up on the road. Be sure to take pictures of all vehicles, as well as the surrounding area.
Take pictures of any skid marks or damaged property, such as barriers or obstacles, as well.
Finally, take pictures of your injuries and the injuries of any loved ones, as well. Injuries themselves can establish a likely cause of accidents, and thus help to determine fault. If your car was rear-ended, for instance, it’s likely your body was propelled forward and then back—the type of motion that can cause neck and back injuries.
Exchange Information With Other Drivers
Exchange your contact information and insurance information with other driver(s) at the scene. This will make filing an insurance claim and pursuing your legal rights as convenient as possible.
See a Doctor Immediately
If you are seriously injured, of course, a 911 call will get you to an emergency room via ambulance. But if that doesn’t occur, make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible after an accident. A doctor will examine you for all injuries. Don’t assume that just because you know you have cuts on your forehead that you just have to treat those. You could be injured in other ways as well. Ensure your health and safety by having a medical professional give you a thorough exam after a car accident.
A doctor’s notes can also be used as evidence should you later need to prove the nature and extent of your injuries to an insurance adjuster or a jury.
Other Ways to Determine Fault
Sometimes, a police report or pictures may not constitute conclusive proof of who is at fault for a car accident. In those cases, you may need to gather additional evidence. One method is to see if surveillance cameras took any footage of the accident or the accident scene.
Another method is to hire an expert to perform a forensic analysis. Forensic analysts do a thorough examination of the evidence from an accident scene, including any pictures taken by law enforcement, eyewitness accounts, and medical records.
Who Pays Me?
If another party is definitely at fault for an accident in which you were injured, how do you get them to pay you?
The first step is to retain an experienced car accident injury attorney. The attorney will interview you, collect evidence relating to your accident, and identify all of the parties who may have legal liability to you for damages.
Then, typically, the attorney will send a demand to any at fault party. That will typically trigger negotiations with the party’s insurance carrier that, hopefully, end in a settlement payment from the insurance company to you. If the at-fault party’s insurance carrier refuses to offer a reasonable settlement, then you and your attorney may decide to take legal action in Pennsylvania courts. Sometimes that is all it takes to bring the insurance company back to the table with a reasonable settlement offer. But if a settlement does not occur, your attorney can take your case to trial and seek a damages award from a jury instead.
Can I Get Paid if My Loved One Was Killed in a Car Accident?
In short, yes. When a car accident inflicts injuries that lead to the death of a driver or passenger, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can take legal action for damages for the benefit of the deceased person’s spouse, minor children, adult dependent children, or parents. This sort of wrongful death action can seek to recover any damages the deceased person could have recovered had he or she survived the accident.
In addition, the action may seek compensation for:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of expectable future income
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium (loss of a loved one’s companionship or care).
Speak with an experienced attorney about your rights to pursue a wrongful death action.
Hire a Car Accident Injury Attorney Today
When you are ready to take action to get paid after a car accident, contact an experienced car accident injury lawyer. The sooner you connect with an attorney, the better your chances of preserving important evidence, identifying all of the parties with legal liability to you, and recovering every penny of compensation you deserve.