Sherry is driving down I-95 in Philadelphia when the traffic suddenly slows, and the car behind her rear-ends her. Sherry feels immediate back pain as soon as the collision occurs.
The police come and call an ambulance for Sherry. At the hospital, Sherry is told to rest and to see her family doctor. She sees him, and he diagnoses back strain, and tells her to take it easy for a couple of weeks. Three weeks later, she is no better, and so he refers her to an orthopedist. The orthopedist takes an MRI and diagnoses a herniated (ruptured) disc in her lower back. She decides not to have surgery, and begins months of physical therapy to try to get better. After nine months of extensive physical therapy, Sherry is 75% better, and the orthopedist says that she is as good as she is going to get. Sherry is an accountant who missed one month of work due to the accident.
The first thing that Sherry should do is report the incident to her own car insurance company, and to the insurer of the driver that hit her. Under state law, Sherry may also need to make a written report of the accident. Check out Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 75 section 3747 for the details.
Even though Pennsylvania is a no-fault car insurance state, Sherry needs to be aware of Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for car accident lawsuits is two years, whether the claim is for injury, vehicle damage, or both.
Why is this law so important? If your injuries are serious enough that Pennsylvania’s no-fault insurance system permits you to make a claim against the driver who caused the accident, but you don’t file a lawsuit within the time period set by the statute of limitations, your case is over unless you fall within one of the very limited exceptions that might stop the clock. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you can’t settle your case well before the statute of limitations expires, it may be time to contact an Pennsylvania car accident lawyer.
If Sherry’s injuries are serious enough to permit her to file a lawsuit against the other driver (rather than simply making a no-fault claim under her own insurance coverage), she needs to be aware of Pennsylvania’s rules of comparative negligence, because the person that hit her could claim that Sherry was negligent herself, possibly for stopping too quickly and not giving the other driver enough time to react. (Learn more about Fault for a Rear-End Accident.)
Pennsylvania has what is called a “modified comparative fault” rule. Under this rule, your total damages award is reduced by whatever percentage of the “fault” the judge or jury believes is yours. If, for example, you were awarded $200,000 in damages, but were found 30% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $140,000. However, if you were found to be more than 50% at fault, you would receive no damages whatsoever from other parties.
In order to maximize your potential recovery, whether you go to trial or just settle the case with the defendant’s adjuster, you want to make absolutely sure that the adjuster knows that you did nothing wrong. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.)
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under Pennsylvania’s car insurance laws, as well as no-fault coverage. And Pennsylvania’s no-fault law has one additional twist: You can choose between a no-fault claim against your own insurer and the usual fault-based claim against the other driver.
In Sherry’s case, let’s assume she can make a liability claim against the other driver. Her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $26,500. The breakdown looks like this:
Sherry and her attorney decide that another $100,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Sherry’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $200,000 to settle the claim. After negotiating with the insurance adjuster, Sherry accepts a final settlement of $125,000.
As mentioned above, you want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before the statute of limitations expires. But you also don’t want to settle it too early -- meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI.
In Sherry’s case, she was at MMI, and so she was ready to settle. Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.