Pennsylvania Car Accident Laws

Learn about Pennsylvania’s car accident lawsuit filing deadline, accident reporting and insurance requirements, and more.

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

If you've been involved in a traffic accident in Pennsylvania, you'll want to learn the basics of Pennsylvania's motor vehicle accident-related laws. These laws include:

  • when you must report a car accident in Pennsylvania
  • Pennsylvania's auto insurance system and how it works
  • the deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in Pennsylvania, and
  • how Pennsylvania's shared fault system works when both (or several) drivers are to blame for an accident.

Do I Need to Report My Pennsylvania Car Accident?

Under Pennsylvania law, you must report an accident to the nearest police department if the accident caused:

  • any injury or death, or
  • vehicle damage that incapacitated a vehicle or made it unsafe to drive from the scene.

(75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3746 (2023)).

If the police don't investigate the accident, you must complete a Driver's Accident Report Form and file it with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation within five days of the accident. (75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3747 (2023)).

If the police did investigate your accident, you might want to get a copy of the police report. You can do that by making an Online Crash Report Request with the Pennsylvania State Police.

Is Pennsylvania a No-Fault Car Insurance System?

Pennsylvania is a "choice" no-fault car insurance state. When you buy auto insurance, you can choose between:

  • a kind of no-fault insurance called "limited tort" coverage, or
  • traditional fault-based insurance called "full tort" coverage.

Let's see what that means.

No-Fault "Limited Tort" Insurance

If you choose no-fault coverage, you'll file a claim with your own insurance company after a car accident. In Pennsylvania, no-fault "medical payments" insurance covers your medical and other out-of-pocket expenses. But you're not allowed to file a lawsuit against an at-fault driver unless you meet Pennsylvania's "serious injury" threshold. (75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1705 (2023)).

The drawback of no-fault coverage is that you might not be able to recover compensation (called "damages") for things like pain and suffering or emotional distress. On the plus side, no-fault coverage likely means you'll get paid more quickly, even if you were to blame for the accident.

Fault-Based "Full Tort" Insurance

Under Pennsylvania's fault-based "full tort" insurance option, if you're in a wreck and want compensation for your injuries, you must file a claim against the other driver's insurance. This option lets you recover compensation for injuries like pain and suffering.

The downside is that an insurance claim or lawsuit is likely to take some time to come to a conclusion, whether by settlement or a trial. In other words, it'll take you longer to get paid than under the no-fault option.

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.

(Find out more about Pennsylvania's no-fault car insurance rules.)

The Pennsylvania Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a deadline on your right to file a lawsuit. If you try to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has expired, the court is almost certain to dismiss your case, unless some rare exception applies to extend the deadline.

Two-Year Statute of Limitations

In Pennsylvania, as in most states, the statute of limitations for a car accident lawsuit is the same as the general statute of limitations that applies to most personal injury cases. Specifically, the applicable law 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. (42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(2) (2023)).

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.

When the Statute of Limitations Clock Starts Running

When does the clock start running for purposes of the statute of limitations? For an injury case not involving a death, the clock starts running on the date of the accident.

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 on the date of the victim's death. That date might be different from the date of the accident.

The same two-year deadline applies even if you're only suing for damage to your car.

Give Yourself Enough Time

From a strategy standpoint, you should leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit, even if you're confident your case will settle. 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, be safe rather than sorry. Discuss your situation with an experienced Pennsylvania car accident lawyer.

Shared Fault in Pennsylvania Car Accident Cases

When the other driver is entirely at fault for your car accident, the result is usually predictable. The other driver (through their auto insurance company) will pay for your medical bills, lost wages, and other accident-related losses. But what happens if you were partly at fault for the crash?

Pennsylvania's Modified Comparative Fault Rule

Pennsylvania follows a modified comparative fault rule when both (or several) parties are found to share blame for an accident. Under this modified comparative fault rule, your damages get reduced by a percentage equal to your share of the fault. In addition, if you're found to be more than 50% at fault for the accident, you can't collect any damages. (42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7102(a) (2023)).

Comparative Fault Example

For instance, suppose that a 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 were 40% responsible for the accident because you were speeding.

Under Pennsylvania's modified comparative fault rule, you're entitled to 60% of the $100,000 total damages, or $60,000. Had the jury found you were 50% to blame for the wreck, you'd collect $50,000 of your total damages. But if the jury found you to be 51% (or more) at fault, you'd collect nothing.

If you're concerned that your share of the fault for an accident will reduce your recovery—or worse yet, wipe out your recovery completely—get in touch with a Pennsylvania car accident lawyer.

Learn More and Get Help

If you've been involved in a car wreck, there's no substitute for having an experienced car accident lawyer in your corner. The insurance company will have legal counsel on its side, and you should, too. Learn more about how a car accident lawyer can help with your case, and how to find the attorney who's right for you.

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