Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys file lawsuits for a wide range of injuries, including car accidents, slip and fall accidents, dog bites, and medical malpractice. Many of these cases are resolved before going to trial, usually in an out-of-court settlement. Some complaints will be settled even before a lawsuit is filed if both parties reach a mutually agreeable settlement.
Road accidents are a common cause of personal injury in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reports that, in 2021, the state saw over 7,000 traffic accidents involving heavy trucks, over 2,000 of which led to injuries. Pennsylvania has seen notable truck accidents as recently as February 2023, when an accident and fire involving a tractor-trailer caused the closure of eastbound lanes on I-78.
In Pennsylvania, personal injury claims are brought when the negligence of an individual or business causes injury to the claimant. Taking action following a personal injury accident may be confusing, especially if you have no idea where to begin. Here you will find an overview of state and federal laws concerning personal injury, including comparative negligence, damage caps, and the statute of limitation, along with links to other valuable resources.
Common Personal Injury Cases in Pennsylvania
The most common types of accidents litigated by personal injury attorneys in Pennsylvania are:
Slip and fall accidents
Other types of personal injury cases include:
Boat accidents in Pennsylvania are more common than you might think. According to 2018 data from the U.S. Coast Guard, the state recorded a 2.2% national share of boat-related deaths, one of the highest rates among states with no seacoast.
Lake Erie has 51 miles of coastline within Pennsylvania’s borders. Most boating accidents occur along the shores of Lake Erie, which claims more lives than the other Great Lakes put together.
The other major shoreline is the Delaware Estuary, which runs through the state for 57 miles. According to the most recent available data, between 2014 and 2018, more than 300 boat accidents were recorded, of which 20% were fatal. Most laws applying to operating boats can be found in the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Code.
Pennsylvania law requires all gasoline, diesel, and electric motor boats to be registered. Sailboats and yachts must also be registered. A Boating Safety Education Certificate is also required to operate a personal watercraft (such as a jet ski).
The statute on the Operation of Boats covers the following:
Reckless and negligent operation
Operating watercraft under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance
Homicide by watercraft
Aggravated assault by watercraft
Unauthorized operation of boats
Liability for damage caused by the operator
Most boating accidents are caused by negligence. Common forms of owner or operator negligence include:
Lack of boating experience
Collision due to inattentiveness
Inadequate safety equipment
Defective equipment or vessel
Operating a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Pennsylvania legislation is designed to prohibit operators from reckless and negligent behavior. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand how those laws can impact liability in the event of injury.
Some states protect dog owners from liability if they have no reason to believe the dog was dangerous before biting someone. This ‘one bite’ rule does not apply in Pennsylvania, where the statute (3 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 459-502(b)) specifies ‘strict liability’ on the part of the owner:
“Any cost to the victim for medical treatment resulting from an attacking or biting dog must be paid fully by the owner or keeper of [such] the dog. The Commonwealth shall not be liable for medical treatment costs to the victim.”
No proof of fault is required. Bear in mind that the financial liability extends only as far as any medical treatment necessitated by the injury. The statute does not make dog owners responsible for pain and suffering, income loss, or other damages. Case law, however, may be used to determine liability for such further damages.
An experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorney can ascertain the relevance of dog bite case law in a given set of circumstances. Where bites and other injuries arise due to owner negligence, such as foreknowledge of ‘unmistakably vicious tendencies’ and failure to restrain the animal, the courts may find the dog owner financially responsible for losses beyond those basic medical expenses covered by the statute.
As with all other personal injury lawsuits in Pennsylvania, dog bite claims must be filed within two years of the date of injury.
Slip and Fall Accidents
Slip and fall accidents occur when property owners neglect their responsibility to provide a safe environment for other people who enter their property, resulting in a trip or slip that causes them to lose their balance and fall.
In places of business, slip-and-fall accidents occur when customers or clients slip on wet floors with no ‘wet floor’ signs or when carpets, planks, tiles, and other types of flooring are insufficiently secure.
Slip and fall accidents are extremely common, accounting for more deaths each year than traffic accidents. Preventable death data from the National Safety Council revealed that, in Pennsylvania, 16.7 deaths per 100,000 people were attributable to falls, versus just 9.7 deaths per 100,000 people for car accidents.
In Pennsylvania, property owners can be sued for slip and fall under one of 2 possible tort law concepts:
Slip and fall claims must demonstrate ‘premises liability,’ which shows the property owner knew about a hazardous condition but did nothing to remedy it. Suppose the injured party slipped on a wet floor at a grocery store in Philadelphia, for example. In that case, they must provide evidence that store employees were aware of the conditions but failed to warn customers.
Any slip and fall case that makes it to court will be subject to the aforementioned ‘modified comparative negligence’ rule. This rule reduces allowable damages in proportion to the percentage of fault allocated to the injured party.
The statute of limitations for filing a claim in a slip and fall accident is two years. A slip-and-fall attorney can help you establish whether or not you have grounds for a claim against a business or a private citizen.
Workplace injuries remain one of Pennsylvania’s top causes of wrongful death, despite a slight decline in numbers since 2018. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fatal work injuries totaled 148 in 2020, a record low for the state.
Pennsylvania law requires employers to provide Workers’ Compensation insurance to protect their income and provide medical treatment resulting from an injury. The same laws also protect employers. As a general rule, workers are not able to sue employers for workplace injuries.
Exceptions apply in cases where the employer failed to maintain the mandatory minimum for Workers’ Comp. Intentional acts unrelated to work are also exempt from immunity, as are cases of defamation and sexual harassment. An experienced Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation attorney can help establish whether an employer may have forfeited immunity.
Car and Truck Accidents
Traffic accidents are a major source of personal injury and wrongful death. According to The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s annual report, statewide traffic deaths totaled 1,230 in 2021, up from 1,129 in 2020. Data from 2020 shows that some 286 reportable car accidents occurred each day, with 168 people injured. Around 1 in 57 Pennsylvanians were involved in a traffic accident in 2020.
Pennsylvania is one of a dozen states to follow some variation on a no-fault insurance system for car accidents. The no-fault system requires the injured person’s own insurance company to cover medical expenses and lost income, regardless of who was at fault. Passengers are also covered by the no-fault insurance of the driver whose car they were in. An exception to this rule applies in cases that meet a ‘serious injury’ threshold. Injured parties who can demonstrate ‘serious injuries’ beyond that threshold may be able to file a liability claim against the driver who caused the accident.
Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Law
Pennsylvania considers shared fault in personal injury cases, meaning that each party involved in an accident can bear a portion of the responsibility. For example, if a vehicle running a red light is struck by a speeding vehicle, both drivers are partially at fault for the accident.
If you are partially at fault for your accident, your payment will be reduced accordingly. For example, if you share 30% of the fault, you will receive 30% less in compensation. Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence law also has a “51% clause,” meaning that a claimant can only recover damages from an accident if they are less than 51% responsible.
How Noneconomic Damages Are Calculated in Pennsylvania
Noneconomic damages are the compensation a claimant receives for the impact of an injury on their happiness and well-being. When calculating noneconomic damages, Pennsylvania considers a few factors.
First is pain and suffering, i.e., the physical and emotional pain that a claimant experiences as a direct result of their injuries. This might include chronic pain and anxiety after an accident.
Pennsylvania courts then consider embarrassment and humiliation, which may apply if an accident caused a public spectacle or resulted in embarrassing medical complications.
The third is loss of enjoyment in life. This category compensates claimants for how their injuries affect their ability to participate in activities they enjoy. Someone who experienced partial paralysis due to their injuries and now has difficulty playing with their children might receive damages for loss of enjoyment in life.
Finally, Pennsylvania considers disfigurement. Someone who suffered extensive scarring, burns, or damage to their facial features can see compensation for the distress caused by an abrupt and unwelcome change to their appearance.
Weight Limits for Trucks in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania sets the weight limit for all vehicles at 80,000 pounds. However, some highways may post stricter weight limits, either permanently or on a seasonal basis. Companies that plan to haul overweight loads must apply for a permit from the Department of Transportation and provide a security deposit, which is calculated based on the distance traveled and the likelihood that their vehicle will cause damage to the roads.
A vehicle owner that exceeds the state weight limits will be fined $150 for the first 3,000 excess pounds and $150 per subsequent 500 pounds. For example, if a commercial vehicle is caught exceeding a Pennsylvania state highway’s posted limit by 30,000 pounds, the owner will be fined $8,250, $150 for the initial 3,000 pounds, and $8,100 for the next 27,000.
Emergency vehicles, school buses, and government vehicles transporting construction materials do not have to provide a security deposit for excessive weight. Transportation that constitutes local traffic is also exempt. Also, the state sometimes grants local status to certain industries facing economic downturns.
Size Limits for Vehicles in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania also places limits on allowable vehicle size, which includes the load that a vehicle is transporting. The total size of a vehicle and its load cannot exceed eight feet and six inches in width, thirteen feet and six inches in height, or 40 feet in length. Trailers cannot be longer than 53 feet. A vehicle’s load is allowed to project up to three feet in front of the vehicle and six feet behind it so long as the total size of the vehicle and load does not exceed the allowable limit.
Exceptions apply to agricultural vehicles. Farm vehicles with a width of up to 14 feet and six inches can drive between farms on any highway that is not a freeway. Farm vehicles exceeding 14 feet and six inches can operate on highways other than freeways so long as the owner pays a security deposit and the vehicle is escorted by a pilot vehicle announcing that it is carrying an oversized load. Live trees are exempt from the restriction regarding projecting loads.
As with overweight vehicles, anyone planning to operate an oversized vehicle on Pennsylvania roads must apply for the proper permits. Driving a vehicle that exceeds the height limit will lead to a $500 fine. Driving a vehicle that exceeds the width or length limit will lead to a $300 fine, and violating the terms of a permit is a $500 fine. Driving an oversize or overweight vehicle under an expired permit is a $1,000 fine, and falsifying a permit is a $5,000 fine.
Pennsylvania Hit and Run Laws
Pennsylvania requires that a driver who injures someone either stop at the scene of the accident or return there as quickly as possible. Failure to do so constitutes a hit-and-run.
A hit-and-run after an accident that causes serious injury is a third-degree felony. It will lead to a minimum prison sentence of 90 days and a fine of at least $1,000. A hit-and-run after a fatal accident is a second-degree felony and will result in at least a three-year prison sentence and a fine of at least $2,500.
A witness to a hit-and-run can report the accident by calling 911. Anyone involved in a hit-and-run should complete a Driver’s Accident Report within five days of the accident.
Federal Hours of Service Regulations
In addition to state-level laws, commercial truck drivers and their employers also have to abide by the regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The FMCSA states that commercial drivers transporting property can drive for a maximum of 11 total hours after a 10-hour break. Also, drivers cannot go more than 14 hours between breaks.
There are some exceptions to these rules. Both of these limits are extended by two hours during inclement weather. A driver can choose to split their 10-hour break into one break of at least two hours and another of at least seven. The driver must take their seven-hour break in their truck’s sleeper berth. Drivers operating within 150 miles of their headquarters are allowed to drive for 14 consecutive hours as long as they end their trip at their headquarters.
These hours-of-service laws protect commercial drivers and those sharing the road with them from accidents caused by exhaustion. Anyone who has witnessed unsafe operation by a commercial truck driver can report it to the FMCSA online or by calling 1-888-DOT-SAFT.
Pennsylvania Business Liability Insurance Requirements
Pennsylvania requires that all businesses provide commercial auto insurance for company-owned vehicles. Any vehicle owner, whether a company or an individual, has to subscribe to insurance that covers at least $15,000 for bodily injury of one person in an accident, $30,000 for bodily injury of more than one person in an accident, and $5,000 for property damage.
Many truckers own their trucks rather than using company-provided vehicles. These drivers usually have to subscribe to hired and non-owned auto (HNOA) insurance, as most personal insurance policies do not cover business use.
A driver caught operating without insurance in Pennsylvania could be charged a fine of at least $300 and have their license suspended for three months.
How Much Can Someone Sue For an Injury in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania does not place a limit on damages for most personal injury cases. However, damages for personal injury claims against the state government are limited to $250,000 per injured party and $1,000,000 total and payments for claims against municipal governments are limited to $500,000. Additionally, a claimant can only recover noneconomic damages from a state or local government entity if the accident in question resulted in death, disfigurement, dismemberment, or a permanent disability.
The Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania sets the statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits at two years from the date of the accident. After the statute expires, the court will dismiss any civil action related to the accident. This statute applies to personal injury and wrongful death.
Anyone considering civil action after an injury should act as soon as they can. Lawsuits are usually a last-case option after a personal injury claim does not lead to an out-of-court settlement. Claims can take months to resolve, and if yours is dismissed after the statute of limitations has expired, you will not be able to sue and recover damages.
If a claimant discovers an injury after an accident, the statute of limitations is set at two years from the date of discovery rather than the date of the accident. To file a lawsuit in August 2024, for example, a claimant who was involved in an accident in March 2022 and was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury in August 2022 would have until August 2024.
Legal Resources for Injured Folks in Pennsylvania
Several resources are available for victims who are new to the legal process and looking to pursue damages. The following websites will familiarize you with Pennsylvania’s laws around accident liability and help you search for an attorney.
Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service
The Pennsylvania Bar Association operates a lawyer referral service that matches users with an attorney that fits their needs. Prospective clients can fill out a form detailing the type of legal services they require and receive an instant match with a lawyer, along with the option to schedule an initial consultation. Note that this consultation may not be free, but it will not cost more than $30. The Bar Association’s website also provides links to pro bono services and FAQs about hiring legal counsel.
Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network
The Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network is an organization that connects low-income Pennsylvanians to free legal help. Their website has a database of pro bono legal services throughout the state and a wealth of information on civil law. Users can learn about the process of filing a civil lawsuit in their county and find links to relevant forms and legal documents. For those struggling financially but still interested in exercising their rights after an injury, the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network is a valuable resource.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
The Pennsylvania DoT’s website provides easy-to-understand overviews of various state traffic laws and regulations. Motorists can find information on current road conditions, subscribe to traffic updates, and find advice for driving safely in adverse weather. The website also allows anyone injured or whose vehicle was damaged by a government vehicle to file a damage claim against the state government.
Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles
The DMV’s website provides several valuable services for Pennsylvania motorists, including renewing your registration online, registering as an organ donor, and downloading your own Driver Record. Drivers can also learn about accident statistics and the state’s plans for ensuring safer highways.
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