Pennsylvania Car Accident Attorneys

Have You Been Injured in a Car Crash?

Unfortunately, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, car accidents occur on a daily basis.  Not only is being in a car accident a scary experience, but it can put you through a lot, both emotionally and physically.  You may have suffered serious injuries that are keeping you out of work, yet you have medical bills that keep piling up.  If you have been injured in a Pennsylvania car accident, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the at fault party and receive the financial compensation you are entitled to.  After you have been in a car accident, the best decision you can make is to consult with an experienced attorney, to make sure your rights are protected.

Common Causes of Car Accidents

Car accidents do not usually occur randomly, rather, they are the result of driver errors. Many times they are the result of distracted driving.  The source of the distraction can be in the form of many things, but the usual suspects are cell phones, other passengers, using the radio, or eating and drinking.  In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, all drivers have a duty of care to be aware of their surroundings and to not cause injuries to others. Other common sources of driver error include the following:

  • Driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol;
  • Driving while fatigued;
  • Speeding;
  • Driving while following too closely;
  • Making unsafe lane changes;
  • Making an improper turn;
  • Failing to obey traffic control devices (e.g. traffic lights, stop signs, etc.)
What's the Difference Between Full Tort vs. Limited Tort?

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the law requires insurance companies issuing automobile policies to offer drivers two tort options. These options are Full Tort and Limited Tort. These tort options are very important and can have a significant impact on both the value and viability of your claim.  

The Full Tort option allows a plaintiff to sue for all of their unreimbursed economic damages, as well as for pain and suffering without regard to the severity of the injuries they have suffered. In Pennsylvania car accident claims, compensation for pain and suffering is very important.

The Limited Tort option limits the right of the plaintiff to sue for pain and suffering damages. In most situations, they can only sue for pain and suffering damages in situations involving "serious injury", under the law, this is defined as “death, serious impairment of body function, or permanent serious disfigurement." Although Limited Tort offers you a small reduction in your monthly premium, you lose important rights by selecting this option. Unfortunately, too many Pennsylvania drivers do not realize the rights they have lost by choosing Limited Tort until after the fact. Because of this, our office always advises Pennsylvania drivers to keep Full Tort on their automobile insurance.  

Exceptions to Limited Tort Coverage

In Pennsylvania, even if you have selected Limited Tort coverage, there are still certain situations in which you may be able to recover damages for pain and suffering. The exceptions to Limited Tort are:

  • Serious Injury
    • As mentioned above, this is the exception that is most often pursued, however, it is also the exception that is most difficult to prove, because it is not automatic.
    • Under this exception, the plaintiff has to prove that they suffered a "serious injury" resulting in death, serious impairment of a bodily function, or permanent serious disfigurement.
    • Although the definition of "serious injury" sounds straightforward, it is anything but. This definition is unclear and undefined.  Courts in Pennsylvania have held injuries such as a fractured jaw and fractured vertebrae do not satisfy the "serious injury" threshold.
  • Vehicle Registered Out of State
    • If the vehicle that hits you is registered in a different state, your limited tort is changed to full tort coverage.
  • Drunk Driver
    • If the driver who caused the accident is convicted of DUI or accepted into theAccelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), your limited tort will become full tort coverage.
  • Commercial Vehicles
    • If you are driving or riding in a commercial vehicle, your limited tort coverage will become full tort in the event of an accident. This includes rental cars, driving company cars or trucks, as well as riding on buses and other public transportation.
  • Injured as a Pedestrian
    • If you have chosen the limited tort option but have been injured as a pedestrian, you are entitled to full tort damages if you are hurt as a pedestrian in an accident.
What Should You do if You Have Been Involved in a Car Accident?

Unfortunately, car accidents are a common occurrence in Pennsylvania. Whether you have been involved in a minor fender bender or an accident involving serious injury, there are several steps you should take after you have been involved in an accident.

  • Check for Injuries
    • The very first things you should do after a car accident is check for injuries. If anyone is injured, you should call 911 immediately and make sure that individual obtains the necessary medical attention. Unless a person is in immediate danger, such as from a fire, do not move them, rather, wait for the medical personnel to arrive on scene.
  • Stay at the Scene
    • All vehicles involved in an accident should stay at the scene and remain in place, unless they are obstructing traffic or causing a hazard. Never drive away or leave the scene of an accident, even if the accident is minor. 
  • Call the Police
    • Call 911 and wait for the police and medical personnel to arrive. Even if the accident appears to be minor, it is extremely important to call the police immediately in order to file a report.
  • Exchange Information
    • One of the most critical things you can do after a car accident is to exchange information with the other driver as well as any other passengers who might be in the other driver's vehicle. Get the following information:
      • Their contact information, including name, address, and phone number;
      • Their insurance information, including carrier name and policy number;
      • Their license plate/tag number and state for the other driver's vehicle; and
      • If there are any witnesses to the accident, get their contact information as well.
  • Take Pictures
    • Whenever possible, take pictures of the following:
      • Damage to your car;
      • Damage to the other vehicle(s);
      • Ending position of the cars;
      • The scene of the accident;
      • Any special conditions that may have caused the accident, such as:
        • Construction;
        • Missing and/or defective traffic control signs and/or devices;
        • Bad weather or lighting; 
        • Skid marks on the roadway; and
        • Any immediate injuries
  • Notify Your Insurance Company
    • You should report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible after leaving the scene.
  • Document Your Injuries/Seek Medical Treatment
    • In many instances, serious injuries are not immediately noticeable after the accident. It is always advisable to seek the treatment from a medical professional after an accident to see if you have suffered any serious injuries.
    • Keep a record of all of the discomfort and pain that you are experiencing, even if it seems to be minor at the time.
  • Hire a Lawyer
    • After taking the previous steps, you should then contact an experienced lawyer to help you navigate the complexities of a car accident claim.
Who Pays my Medical Bills if I Have Been in a Car Accident?

People often assume that the at-fault driver pays for the medical bills they have incurred as a result of the accident. While this theory would seem to make sense, that is not the way the law works in Pennsylvania. After a car accident in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, your own automobile insurance pays your medical bills. This is paid under the personal injury protection provision (known as "PIP" coverage) of your policy. 

What is Personal Injury Protection (PIP)?

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, all drivers are required to have PIP coverage on their car insurance policy.  It is considered a first party benefit, meaning that you receive compensation directly from your insurance company if you are involved in an automobile accident. In contrast, third party benefits are those paid to you by the at fault driver's insurance company.  

PIP plays an important role in the Pennsylvania personal injury system. It covers a number of items, including medical bills, lost wages, and funeral expenses in the event of death. Because PIP is considered a first party benefit, it ensures that a person injured in a car accident can receive medical treatment for his/her injuries.

With regard to car accidents, Pennsylvania is considered a "no fault" state. What this means is that you can access your PIP benefits if you were involved in a car accident without regard to fault. So even if you are at fault for an accident, you can still receive the benefits of your PIP coverage.

Your car insurance company cannot raise your insurance rates simply because you have made a PIP claim.  It can however raise your rates based on claims paid out in your state or geographic area, as well as if you were at fault for causing an accident.

What is the Minimum Amount of PIP Coverage in Pennsylvania?

The minimum amount of PIP coverage required in Pennsylvania is $5,000.00.

How Does PIP Coverage Work?

PIP coverage works much like health insurance. If you have been injured in a car accident and are seeking medical treatment at the hospital or a doctor's office, you provide them with your auto insurance information and claim number and the provider bills your automobile insurance carrier directly. Unlike with health insurance, you will not get billed for co-pays or deductibles. Your PIP coverage will pay for your medical bills until you exhaust your applicable coverage. Once that happens, your applicable health insurance coverage would take over and start to pay your medical bills, and the at fault driver would be responsible for the costs incurred by your health insurer.

For example, if you have PIP medical coverage of $5,000, the minimum amount required by Pennsylvania, your auto insurance will pay for your medical treatment until you exhaust your coverage. At that point, your applicable health insurance would start to pay your medical bills.

Priority of PIP Coverage in Pennsylvania

There are times that you could be involved in a car accident in Pennsylvania and have multiple sources of PIP coverage available to you. The question then becomes what is the priority of those available coverages. Pennsylvania's Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law provides that answer to that questions. The applicable section is MVFRL 1713. The levels of priority are as follows:

  1. Your own policy (you are a named insured or co-insured);
  2. A relative's policy (i.e., you're a member of their household);
  3. The policy covering the car you were riding in; and
  4. If you were a pedestrian or bike rider, the policy on any car involved in the accident.

If you were involved in a car accident in Pennsylvania, you would go in the order of the list until the applicable PIP policy applied. Generally speaking, the PIP coverage follows the occupant of the car.

Ineligibility for PIP Coverage in Pennsylvania

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there are some instances where an individual will not be eligible for PIP coverage. Under Pennsylvania law, you are ineligible for PIP if you were driving or riding a recreational vehicle (ATV), motorcycle, or other type of motorized cycle. In these situations, you'd have to use your private health insurance to cover your medical bills. If another party was at fault for the accident, you could seek compensation for your medical bills from them.

What is Uninsured & Underinsured Motorist Protection?

Even though the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires all drivers to have liability insurance, many motorists drive without it. One of the best ways to protect yourself from the negligence of uninsured drivers is by having uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (UM/ UIM). These coverages protect you when you are involved in an accident caused by an at-fault driver who doesn't have insurance or who does not have sufficient liability coverage necessary to cover the damages they have caused. Uninsured motorist insurance also covers hit-and-run accidents.

When a person has uninsured motorist protection, their insurance will cover the costs of an accident up to the applicable coverage they have chosen. 

Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage helps someone if they are involved in an accident and the other party does not have sufficient liability coverage. While Pennsylvania requires a minimum amount of insurance coverage for all drivers, it is typically not enough to cover the damages caused by a severe accident. Those with underinsured motorist protection will have the ability to claim damages not covered by the other party's liability coverage.

Uber & Lyft Accidents

Every day in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, people use ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft. Just like any other car accident claim, if you have been injured while riding as a passenger in a ridesharing service or if you were hit by a rideshare driver, you have a right to receive compensation for your injuries and damages.

Getting in an accident involving a ride-sharing driver is not like a typical accident. The primary reason for this is because of the insurance coverage. Uber and Lyft both require drivers to have car insurance, or otherwise purchases insurance through the rideshare company itself before they can begin driving for them.

Issues arise once the driver's personal insurance company figures out that they were driving for Uber/Lyft when the accident occurred. The driver's personal insurance carrier will try to avoid liability under the policy because a typical personal insurance contract does not apply to “commercial” transportation. Since you were a paying customer at the time of the accident, this would typically be excluded under their personal coverage and it would not apply.

Uber & Lyft Insurance Coverage

Uber and Lyft provide their own coverage for the driver who is considered “on the clock.” This coverage typically depends on what the driver's status was at the time of the accident. 

  • If the app is turned off, Uber/Lyft will not cover any accident caused by the driver. In this instance, the driver's personal insurance should be in effect and unable to deny coverage under the terms of the policy.
  • If the driver has logged in but hasn't accepted a ride, he/she is “on the clock.” If an accident is caused at this point, Uber/Lyft has coverage of $25,000 for property damage, $50,000 for injuries and $100,000 total injury coverage.
  • If the driver has logged in and accepted a ride, the Uber/Lyft coverage will cover up to $1 million for damages related to the accident.

The options provided under Uber/Lyft insurance are constantly changing, so it is possible that your coverage options will be different. In general, the insurance company responsible for covering the accident will usually depend on the status of the driver at the time of the accident.

Contact Us Today

If you or a loved one have been injured as the result of a car accident, call Sklarosky Law today at (570) 283-1200 or use our online contact form and tell us about your potential case. Car accident claims can be complex and challenging.  Do not wait, call us today so that we can help you obtain the financial compensation you may be entitled to.

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