Car accidents—they are a fact of life in Pennsylvania. With busy roadways during rush hour, massive highways, shopping centers with heavy traffic, and tourism, it is really no surprise.
Car accidents often leave victims with more questions than answers. Because Pennsylvania is a no-fault insurance state, one of the most common questions car accident victims have is whether they have a right to sue after a car accident that was not their fault. The answer depends on the accident and the severity of your injuries. This piece dives into car accidents in Pennsylvania and explores when you can sue.
Car Accident Statistics in Pennsylvania
In one recent year, there were more than 46,000 traffic accidents in Pennsylvania.
Data from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation further show:
- Total People Involved - more than 224,000 people were involved in accidents
- Total Fatal Accidents - 1,060 accidents resulted in more than 1,200 fatalities
- Injury Accidents - of the nearly 45,000 accidents in which an injury occurred, there were more than 61,000 injuries
- Serious Injury - of the more than 61,000 injuries, nearly 15,000 victims may have suffered a serious injury.
While this report notes the number of fatalities was lower than in more than nine decades, the numbers overall are certainly of no comfort to those who do end up injured or losing a loved one in accidents.
The nearly 15,000 injured victims need answers to their questions, and need to know their legal options. The best way for car accident victims to get reliable information to help decide the path forward is to speak with an experienced car accident lawyer.
No-Fault Car Insurance Claims Constrain Car Accident Victims’ Options
Every driver on Pennsylvania roadways must carry liability coverage. Trucks, rideshare service vehicles, and buses typically must carry policies with higher limits than a standard passenger vehicle operator.
The PennDOT Driver & Vehicle Services website notes the minimum coverage requirements include:
- $15,000 for injury or death of one person in an accident
- $30,000 for injury or death of more than one person in an accident
- $5,000 for damage to property of another person
These are the minimum amounts of coverage you must carry. Some drivers opt to carry additional bodily injury coverage. But, in most cases, drivers are likely to carry the minimum.
No-fault coverage can pay for reasonable medical costs, lost wages, and a limited number of other expenses including:
- Funeral expenses
- Childcare expenses
- Survivors’ loss
- Household services
Drivers also have the option to carry limited tort or full tort coverage. Carrying this insurance can be valuable for accident victims who suffer more serious injuries. With a limited tort policy, you may file a claim against the other driver for medical expenses, lost wages, and other out-of-pocket expenses resulting from a car accident. However, you cannot file a claim for non-monetary damages such as pain and suffering, unless the injury is serious.
With a full tort policy, a driver who suffers an injury is allowed to file a claim for medical expenses, lost wages, and out-of-pocket expenses as well as for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering. Because limited tort and full tort policies require paying an extra premium payment every month, people might hesitate to buy them. But if you are in a serious accident with damages that go beyond what your or the other driver’s basic policies will cover, limited and full tort liability policies can be the one way you recover compensation for the full extent of your damages.
Establishing Fault in a Car Accident Case
In essentially every car accident, someone is at fault, even if the at-fault party is not one of the drivers. In Pennsylvania, drivers cause nearly 90 percent of all accidents.
In one year, the three driver-caused accidents causing the greatest number of injuries include:
- Speed-related accidents, resulting in 25,021 injuries
- Distracted driving accidents, resulting in 11,019 injuries
- Improper turning-related accidents, resulting in 10,483 injuries
Approximately 2,400 accidents were related to motor vehicle defects. This could stem from poor maintenance, a parts failure, or an improper repair. It might also be due to a design defect, for which the manufacturer of a vehicle or component may be responsible. If a motor vehicle defect contributed to the accident, more than one party is to blame, and determining who is responsible for compensating you is often more complicated
In human error collisions, victims must establish fault, despite no-fault insurance, because failing to do so leaves you unable to determine who should pay any costs above your insurance limits. A car accident lawyer with experience investigating car accidents can help you get paid after an accident for your losses.
Filing a Car Accident Claim and How an Attorney Can Help You
In the first five days following a Pennsylvania car accident, drivers have to submit Form AA600—the official accident report form from the Pennsylvania DOT, Bureau of Highway Safety and Traffic Engineering—if no police officer responded to the scene. If you file such a report, you should get a copy of the report for your own records.
It is worth noting the DOT does not conduct accident investigations. Instead, either the law enforcement agency that responds to an accident scene, an insurance company, and your own attorney investigate. You may evaluate the findings of any police or insurance investigation, but you may not know what to look for. A trained car accident attorney, however, does know what to look for and can use investigative reports to build your claim.
Other reasons for getting a lawyer to help with your car accident case include the following:
- Errors can be costly - making a mistake on insurance forms can delay your claim and leave you scrambling even more to figure out how to pay the incoming bills.
- Complicated claims - especially if there is more than one party responsible for your injuries, the claims process can get very complicated very quickly.
- Insurers are not on your side - your goal is getting the maximum amount you are entitled to for your injuries. The insurance company has the opposite goal—to pay as little as possible. An attorney can be the professional you need to fight back if an insurance company tries to evade your claim.
Serious Injury in Tort Claims
Car accident injuries range widely in severity. When you are working within the restrictions of no-fault insurance, you may only be able to bring a lawsuit if your injuries are serious.
Generally, a serious injury:
- Causes significant disfigurement
- Results in disfiguring scars
- Breaks bones
- Results in a loss of bodily function
- Prevents a victim from performing normal tasks for 90 days or more
Because you are not guaranteed the right to sue for a car accident in Pennsylvania, it is in your best interest to consult with an attorney following a car accident to see what your options are. You may not be aware that your injury rises to the level where you may pursue a claim against the at-fault driver. If your injuries are not “serious" under the law, your attorney can advise you about alternatives to deal with your costs.
Anytime you are in a serious accident, whether with another car, a truck, or a rideshare vehicle, first seek medical care. Then, as soon as you can, contact an attorney to discuss your rights.
Insurance Company Adjusters and Your Rights
Unless you have significant prior experience dealing with the insurance claims process, you may not know your rights or how an insurance company might try to thwart them. In any case, you cannot depend on the insurance company to help you understand the full extent of your rights.
After a car accident, an insurance adjuster assigned to handle your claim will contact you. Insurance adjusters learn to ask questions about an accident and your injuries to reduce what the insurance company is willing to compensate you.
They know you are hurt, they know your vehicle is damaged, and they know you are probably suffering the financial setbacks people tend to face after a car accident. They also know you probably do not know your rights, and they are not going to make sure you do.
There is a reason for this: Insurance adjusters know if they ask the right questions and get you to answer them a certain way, they can go back to their employers and advise them to make a quick settlement offer to resolve your claim.
You may have to deal with multiple insurance adjusters, especially if more than one party contributed to the accident and your injuries.
Some of the situations with multiple liable parties include:
- Truck accidents - since truck drivers travel the roads around the clock, they have limits on the hours they may work. If they violate these rules because their employer is doing something wrong, the employer may be partially at fault.
- Multi-car accidents - when your injuries occurred in a multiple car crash, more than one driver is possibly at fault.
- Rideshare accidents - depending on the rideshare driver’s status at the time of the accident, you may have a claim against the rideshare company's insurer.
All of these situations complicate the claims process and make it more difficult to pursue compensation for your claim. In any case, you can count on an insurance company to try to avoid liability, whether by pointing a finger at you or another at-fault party.
The best way to have a full understanding of your rights is to consult an attorney who knows how to handle these complex situations. The more information you have, the better off you will be.
What an Attorney Can Do to Help Your Case
Bringing a car accident claim in Pennsylvania is complicated and involves several steps.
An attorney can help, and specifically can provide:
- File claims with all potential insurance resources
- Obtaining investigative reports
- Evaluate insurance company offers
- Negotiate with insurance companies
- Help you estimate your expenses and impacts to decide whether or not a given settlement offer is fair
- Review documents the insurer asks you to sign
- Prepare you and your case for court in the event the insurer is unwilling to agree to a fair settlement
Once you hire an attorney, an insurance company knows you mean business, and that they will have to work harder to fight your claim. They know an attorney who represents car accident victims understands the process and the limitations of the insurance tort laws. They also are aware most attorneys do not take on cases they believe they will lose. Having an attorney can by itself increase the amount an insurance company is willing to offer to settle.
The Cost of Hiring an Accident Injury Attorney
For a car accident victim at home, unable to work and constantly receiving new bills, the thought of any new cost is intolerable. Car accident victims might avoid hiring an attorney because they are worried about the legal fees.
Cost should not be a barrier to being able to have legal representation in a car accident claim. And, in most cases, it isn’t. This is because most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency-fee basis, meaning the attorney will not take payment for their legal services unless and until they are successful in getting a settlement or court award of damages on your behalf.
With this arrangement, you can feel confident getting an attorney. You will not face a large legal bill on top of everything else if the insurance company wins. In a contingency-fee arrangement, the attorney takes their fee from a percentage of the money they recover on your behalf.
If you are one of the thousands of accident victims who suffered an injury in a Pennsylvania car accident that was not your fault, you should know your rights. You can protect your rights by contacting a Philadelphia car accident attorney as soon as possible to find out your legal options.