Pennsylvania Car Accident Laws and Regulations

Pennsylvania's deadline for filing car accident lawsuits, when you need to report a car accident in Pennsylvania, and more.

By , J.D.
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  • After any kind of traffic accident in Pennsylvania, it helps to familiarize yourself with the state laws that could come into play (especially if you end up filing an insurance claim or lawsuit over the crash). These laws include:

    • the deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in Pennsylvania's civil court system
    • Pennsylvania's "modified comparative fault" rule works when an injury claimant is partly responsible for causing the car accident, and
    • when you need to report a car accident in Pennsylvania.

    How Does Fault Work In Pennsylvania Car Accident Cases?

    Pennsylvania is a "choice" no-fault car insurance state. That means, if you choose no-fault coverage when you purchase a car insurance policy, after a car accident you typically need to file a claim under your own personal injury protection coverage to get compensation for medical bills and other financial losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injuries are serious enough can you step outside of no-fault and bring a claim directly against the at-fault driver.

    Bottom line: After a car accident in Pennsylvania, your claim-filing options and the kinds of compensation you can receive depend on:

    • the coverage choices you made when buying car insurance, and
    • the seriousness of your injuries.

    Get the details on the Pennsylvania no-fault car insurance rules.

    The Pennsylvania Car Accident Statute of Limitations

    A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit. Assuming that you opted out of no-fault car insurance when you purchased car insurance coverage, or that you're able to step outside of no-fault in line with Pennsylvania law, you'll need to comply with the statute of limitations when suing the at-fault driver. If you try to file your lawsuit after the deadline has already passed, the Pennsylvania court system is almost certain to dismiss your case, unless some rare exception applies to extend the deadline.

    In Pennsylvania, as in most states, the statute of limitations that will affect a car accident lawsuit is the same as the larger one that applies to most personal injury cases. Specifically, 42 Pennsylvania Statutes section 5524 says that "an action to recover damages for injuries to the person or for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another" must be brought within two years.

    That's a long way of saying that, when a car accident occurs, if anyone was injured or killed—including a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian—any lawsuit over the accident must be filed within two years.

    But when does the "clock" start running for purposes of the statute of limitations? For an injury case, the date that matters is the date of the accident. But if the car accident caused someone's death, and a representative of the deceased person wants to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver who caused the crash, the "clock" starts running from the date of the victim's death, and that date might be different from the date of the accident.

    Note that if your lawsuit is over vehicle damage only, the same two-year deadline applies.

    From a strategy standpoint, it makes sense to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit, even if you're confident your case will be resolved through a car insurance settlement. At the very least, you'll have more leverage during settlement discussions if the other side knows you have the option of taking the case to court. If the filing deadline is approaching, you might want to discuss your situation with an experienced Pennsylvania car accident lawyer.

    Comparative Negligence in Pennsylvania Car Accident Cases

    If the other driver was entirely at fault for your car accident, the result is usually predictable: The other driver (through their insurance carrier) will pay to compensate you for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses you suffered. But what happens if you were partly at fault for the crash?

    Pennsylvania follows a "modified comparative fault" rule when both parties are found to share blame for an accident. In most car accident cases, the jury is asked to calculate two things based on the evidence: the total dollar amount of the plaintiff's damages, and the percentage of fault that belongs to each party. Under the modified comparative fault rule, the plaintiff's damages award is reduced by a percentage equal to his or her share of fault.

    For instance, suppose that in your case, the jury decides your total damages award should be $100,000 (including your medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and "pain and suffering"). But the jury also decides you are 40 percent responsible for the accident (maybe you were speeding). Under Pennsylvania's comparative fault rule, you are entitled to get 60 percent of the $100,000 total, or $60,000—still a significant sum, but not as much as the grand total of your damages.

    One important note: Because Pennsylvania is a "modified" comparative fault state, you will receive nothing at all if you are found to be more than 50 percent at fault for the crash. This is different from the rule in "pure" comparative fault states, where you can recover damages when you're more at fault than the other party. Bottom line: In Pennsylvania, you must be no more than 50 percent at fault in order to recover damages from any other at-fault party after a car accident.

    Not only does the comparative negligence rule bind Pennsylvania judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, after all. But don't let that prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to an attorney about your situation and your best course of action.

    You can read the full text of this rule at 42 Pennsylvania Statutes section 7102.

    Do I Need to Report My Car Accident In Pennsylvania?

    If the police did not come to the scene and initiate their own investigation of a car accident, Pennsylvania requires all drivers to complete a Driver's Accident Report Form and file it with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation within five days of any accident resulting in:

    • any injuries or deaths, and/or
    • vehicle damage that makes it impossible or unsafe to drive a car or truck from the scene.

    If the police did investigate your accident, and you want to get a copy of the report that was generated as part of the investigation, you can make an Online Crash Report Request with the Pennsylvania State Police.

    Getting Help After a Pennsylvania Car Accident

    It always makes sense to arm yourself with a basic understanding of the laws that could come into play if you're involved in a car accident in Pennsylvania, but when you're actually injured in a crash, you may want to discuss your situation (and your options) with an experienced legal professional.

    Learn more about when you might need a lawyer after a car accident., and how to find the right attorney for an injury case. You can also connect with a Pennsylvania injury lawyer in your area using the features on this page.

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