A Guide to Filing Personal Injury Claims in Pennsylvania
Personal injury claims can be complex. Many people don't necessarily realize how complex, and the laws vary, sometimes significantly, depending on the state where you live.
One of the biggest differences between many states' laws dictating personal injury claims is their time period known as the statute of limitations, but there are other differences as well.
Personal injury claims can be related to slip-and-fall cases, traffic incidents, or another situation where someone else harmed you or where their negligence led to some form of harm.
If you're in Pennsylvania, the following is a guide to what you should know about personal injury claims.
What Is Personal Injury?
The term "personal injury" is a broad one. Personal injury can be an accident, where someone behaves negligently, and it causes harm to someone else. Medical malpractice is included in this, as are car accidents.
Personal injury can refer to intentional acts like battery, and defective products that cause harm can be another example.
Defamation is sometimes categorized under personal injury laws as well. For example, if someone makes a defamatory statement against you, and it causes harm to you in terms of your reputation, it may be considered personal injury.
Across most states, there are a few general things that happen with personal injury cases.
First, the injury occurs.
Then, the plaintiff, who is the person who was injured, makes a determination the defendant, who is the person causing the injury, has broken a legal duty. As an example, in personal injury cases involve vehicles, maybe someone failed to properly stop at a stop sign, and it led to an accident. A reasonable person would have theoretically stopped, and they have the legal responsibility to do so.
If the defendant didn't adhere to their legal duty, then the defendant or their insurance company might settle the claim outside of court.
If the injured person agrees to the terms of the settlement, it's the end of the case.
If there isn't an agreement, this is when you actually go to court and file a lawsuit. Even if you've filed a lawsuit, negotiations to settle don't have to end. The parties can reach a settlement at any time before the case goes to a jury.
Since a personal injury case is a civil case rather than a criminal case, the defendant doesn't receive a punishment beyond potentially having to pay the plaintiff. For example, there isn't jail time that will stem from a civil case.
Personal Injury Time Limits in Pennsylvania
All states have what are called statutory limits. This refers to the time you have to go to court and file a lawsuit following harm.
This time restriction is known as the statute of limitations.
You may think about a statute of limitations in terms of criminal cases, but it's very relevant in personal injury cases. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is two years from the date you were injured. That means you have two years to file a lawsuit.
If you don't file a personal injury lawsuit within that two-year window, you will lose your right to compensation.
There's something else to note when discussing time limits and personal injury-if your injury claim is being filed against a local or state government agency you're required to file what's called a notice of intent to sue within six months.
The two-year deadline is strict in Pennsylvania, and it refers to cases that stem from negligence or intentional tort. Most personal injury cases are going to fall into the category of negligence. Intentional tort means someone intentionally harmed you, such as is the case with civil assault as an example.
So what were to happen if you missed your two-year time window and you still tried to file a personal injury claim?
In nearly all cases the person you're filing the claim against or trying to recover damages form will file what's called a motion to dismiss.
Nearly all cases will be dismissed, and it won't matter how severe your injuries were or how clearly responsible the other person was for these injuries.
Are There Exceptions to the Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations?
There are a few potential exceptions to the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania. For example, if the person injured is under the age of 18 at the time of the accident leading to injuries, then the clock for the statute of limitations probably won't start until the person turns 18.
Also, if the defendant is outside of the state of Pennsylvania for an extended period of time or tries to hide by using a fake name, then you may find there's an exception to the two-year limit.
Shared Fault Rules
There is something in Pennsylvania called shared fault rules.
If you share in the liability or responsibility of the accident or injury that caused your injuries, it may impact your final compensation. Essentially, under Pennsylvania law, the amount of compensation you're entitled to is lowered by the amount that's equal to how much is your fault. If you're found to be more than 50% to blame legally, you collect nothing.
No-Fault Car Insurance
Pennsylvania is also what's called a no-fault car insurance state.
Under a no-fault system, after a traffic accident, your insurance company will cover your medical expense coverage and will also provide coverage for lost income without regard for who was at fault.
What this means is that following a car accident in Pennsylvania, unless you can demonstrate your accident meets a serious injury threshold, you can't hold the other driver liable. The majority of minor car accidents in Pennsylvania are considered no-fault.
Finally, there aren't limits on the type of damages you can receive in a personal injury trial if you win. The state constitution prevents damage limitations in cases that involve injury or death. There is a limit on punitive damages, however. In Pennsylvania, that limit is two times the amount of the actual damages incurred.