You are cruising down Saw Run Mill Blvd., the "most dangerous road in Pittsburgh," when your worst nightmares come true -- a truck pulls out right in front of you. You slam on the brakes and try to veer away, but it's too late. You have just been in a car accident.
Over 125,000 auto accidents are reported in Pennsylvania each year. According to the DMV, there are 377 roads in the state that are known for being especially dangerous, with 33 of these high-crash locations in Pittsburgh alone. Even a small accident can be a terrifying experience, while a major one can be life altering. It does not help you must brave the unresponsive and dense Pennsylvania legal system to recover compensation. To help you navigate these murky waters, we have created a guide to prepare you for what to expect from your Pittsburgh car accident.
After a bad accident it can be difficult to remain calm, but there are some initial steps you can take to protect yourself against a future lawsuit and preserve your ability to get compensation. First, Pennsylvania law requires any driver involved in an accident to remain at the scene until all responsibilities related to the incident have been settled. If you do not stop and wait you could face serious criminal charges as a "hit-and-run" driver, especially if the accident resulted in injury or death. Also, it never hurts to lend a helping hand to any injured individuals or call for medical attention is necessary.
Next, it is important to preserve the scene of the accident at much as possible. While you should move vehicles that are obstructing traffic or presenting a danger to others, it will help your case if you take careful note of their position. Taking photographs is even better. If the accident is serious or you expect a dispute as to fault, you should considering calling the police.
Each driver must provide their name, address, vehicle registration number and driver's license to all parties involved. However, it is better for your case if you do not volunteer any additional details until talking to a lawyer. In particular, avoid apologizing for the accident or stating that you caused the crash.
Finally, if the injury either caused injury, death or did enough damage to a vehicle that it can't be driven away from the scene and requires towing, you must complete Form AA-600 and submit it to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation within five days of the accident.
This is a lot of information to remember after a traumatic accident, so why not print out a helpful checklist and store it in your glove box for that rainy day?
Choice No-Fault Auto Insurance
Pennsylvania has adopted a "choice no-fault" system for determining financial responsibility for injuries after a car accident. In a no-fault state, a driver turns to their own insurance policy for compensation for injuries up to the personal injury protection limit, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. Pennsylvania is "choice no-fault" because drivers have the option of choosing between traditional coverage and no-fault insurance.
If you have no-fault insurance, you are prohibited from suing anyone for medical expenses unless the accident resulted in "serious injury." Pennsylvania courts have recently clarified that an injury must involve serious impairment of a body function or permanent and serious disfigurement to qualify as serious. Pennsylvania law requires a minimum of $5,000 in personal injury protection, though you can opt for more. If your medical expenses exceed your personal injury protection limit, you can sue the at-fault party for the balance.
Keep in mind that no-fault insurance only covers personal injuries. The at-fault party can still be liable for causing property damage. Furthermore, if you choose traditional insurance, or if your injuries are "serious" enough to exempt you from no-fault laws, you can sue the at-fault party for pain and suffering and other types of non-economic damages.
Types of Lawsuits
Most car accident lawsuits will be based on a negligence claim, where you must prove that the other driver failed to exercise reasonable care while operating their vehicle. This is easier to prove if the other driver was driving recklessly, breaking traffic laws or intoxicated.
Pennsylvania has adopted a comparative negligence rule for assigning fault. In a comparative negligence state, fault is assigned to each party and damages are reduced in proportion to your relative fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an accident which was found to be 10 percent your fault, you will be able to recover 90 percent, or $900, from the other party.
Alternatively, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the vehicle manufacturer if a defect in the vehicle contributed to the accident. These types of claims typically require the analysis of an automotive expert, and are often based on defective tires, seatbelts, airbags, accelerators, brakes or engines. Successful lawsuits require you to prove:
- the defective car or part was "unreasonably dangerous;"
- the vehicle was being operated as intended; and
- the vehicle's performance had not changed since its initial purchase.
Finally, in some circumstances you can sue the Pennsylvania state government for a poorly designed roadway, intersection, or means of controlling traffic.
Filing a Lawsuit
The Pennsylvania statute of limitations protects people from being sued for very old injuries, after evidence has disappeared and memories have faded. For personal injury lawsuits, the statute of limitations for filing is two years from the day that the injuries were incurred. If you do not file your lawsuit within two years of the accident, you will be forever unable to recover regardless of the strength of your case.
You will most likely file your lawsuit at the Allegheny County Courthouse, but you can use this court finder tool to look up which courthouse is closest to you by zip code. To file a lawsuit you must draft a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis of your lawsuit.
You have two options for where to file your lawsuit, depending on the potential recovery value. If the value of your lawsuit exceeds $12,000 you should file in the Court of Common Pleas, while if your lawsuit is worth $12,000 or less you can file in small claims court.
Get Your Questions Answered with a Pittsburgh Car Accident Claim Review
With any luck, you'll never be in a car accident in Pittsburgh that is so serious you will have to file suit. But if you are, look to a local attorney to help you through the process and get any damages which may be yours under the law. A personal injury attorney can help you understand the laws and represent you in both negotiations and in court proceedings. Start today by contacting an experienced car accident attorney near you.