If you’re in a car accident, it can be incredibly stressful, and you might not know what your next steps should be.
The first thing to realize is that every state has its own claims process. Pennsylvania is what’s called a no-fault car insurance state. Knowing what this means is relevant to understanding what the claims process might look like.
If you’re driving in Pennsylvania and you get into an accident, first, you probably need to report it. You’re required to file an accident report with the transportation department within five days if the police didn’t investigate, anyone was hurt or killed, or there was severe property damage.
If you don’t inform authorities about an accident that meets these criteria, you could face a license suspension.
Beyond that, the following are things to know about the claims process if you’re in an accident in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania is a no-fault state, as was mentioned above.
As a driver in the state, you can choose one of two types of insurance policies. You can choose an approachestablished on traditional tort laws, or you can choose a no-fault insurance policy.
If you choose traditional coverage, then you have all available options at your disposal. This might include suing the driver who’s at fault to recover not only economic but noneconomic damages like pain and suffering.
The downside of choosing traditional coverage is that it leaves you open to being sued too.
If you have no-fault coverage, your provider compensates you for your economic damages, no matter who’s at fault in an accident. The downside is that you can’t sue the other driver if they’re atfault for economic damages unless there are serious injuries, such as permanent disfigurement. The upside is that you’re also protected from being sued.
Regardless of the option you choose, state law requires you to get a policy meeting the minimum amount of insurance. This minimum amount includes $15,000 of personal injury protection for third parties, $30,000 in PIP in total per accident, and $5,000 in property damages protection for each occurrence. You also need to have $5,000 in no-fault personal injury protection coverage.
What About Settlements in Pennsylvania?
A settlement is the amount of money negotiated out-of-court between parties. When you settle a case, it means that your dispute ends before you ever make it to a trial. The rules for settling a case vary in Pennsylvania depending on the county you’re in.
Whether or not a settlement is even something available to you depends on how you’re making a claim.
If you want to let your own insurance company compensate you, which falls under the no-fault system, you can only recover economic damages. Economic damages cover medical costs and car repairs, as well as lost wages that you might incur if you have to miss work because of your accident.
If you’re making a claim under a traditional insurance policy, you might be able to recover both economic and non-economic damages. Noneconomic damages can cover losses such as emotional pain and suffering.
We briefly mentioned this above, but Pennsylvania does make an exception in instances of serious injury. A serious injury results in death or severe or permanent disfigurement. If you suffer what’s legally determined to be a serious injury, then you can seek a settlement award for your economic and non-economic damages, regardless of the type of insurance policy coverage you chose.
If you’re in an accident and the other driver is entirely atfault, and you also use traditional insurance, the other driver’s insurance carrier will compensate you for your economic losses and sometimes non-economic damages.
Pennsylvania does follow a modified comparative fault rule, though. This refers to situations when both parties share blame for the car accident. Under a modified comparative fault rule, the damages the plaintiff is awarded are reduced based on a percentage equal to their share of fault.
So let’s say your case went to trial, and a jury awarded you $100,000 to cover economic and non-economic damages. Then, the jury also says you’re 40% responsible for the accident. Based on Pennsylvania state law, you would get 60% of your awarded total.
The modified component of the Pennsylvania law means that if you’re more than 50% at fault for an accident, you don’t get anything. The modified aspect contrasts to a pure comparative fault state. In pure comparative fault states, you can still recover damages even if you’re more atfault than the other party in the accident.
Estimating Economic Damages
Your economic damages can be estimated by figuring into account a few primary things. These are medical expenses, lost potential earnings, lost wages, property damages, and any other out-of-pocket expenses you had to recover as they relate to your accident.
Factors that can influence non-economic damages, on the other hand, include your disfigurement, the length of your recovery, whether you were partially responsible for the accident, and what recent, similar settlements have been.
In Pennsylvania, there isn’t a cap on damages unless the claim involves a government agency.
The statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, which is how long you have to file a lawsuit in a civil situation, is two years from the collision date.
After those two years, you are completely blocked from being able to bring a lawsuit, so keep that in mind.
The biggest takeaway from all of this is that first, if you are in an accident in Pennsylvania, you should contact the police and ensure everyone is safe.
Beyond that, the next options that are available to you depend on different factors, including the type of insurance you have and also the severity of your injuries.
If you’re unsure about anything, don’t assume there are no legal options available to you, and contact a Pennsylvania attorney to find out more and ask any particular questions you may have about state laws.