Car wrecks happen, some of them resulting in life-altering injuries. If the accident occurred because of a driver’s negligence, it might be possible for the victim to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover the cost of medical care, property damage, lost wages, and more.
The Reiff Law Firm recognizes how a serious car accident can leave a victim with severe injuries, expensive medical bills, and damage to their vehicle, and we are here to help you pursue compensation for these issues. To schedule a free legal consultation to discuss your claim, contact the Reiff Law firm at (215) 709-6940, or contact us online.
What to Do After a Car Accident in Pennsylvania
A personal injury lawsuit arising from a car accident is only as strong as the available evidence. Our office will work with witnesses, police, and your healthcare providers to gather physical evidence and testimony to support your claim. However, the evidence available immediately following an accident is often vital in building a compelling case. If you are in a car accident in Pennsylvania, there are a number of steps you could take that will increase your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve.
Seek Medical Treatment
Seek medical attention immediately after a car wreck, even if you do not think you have been injured. In some crashes, a victim will not have a choice in this matter. Severe injuries might require an accident victim to remain stationary and wait for medical assistance. However, there are times where the full extent of the damage a victim suffered is not readily apparent. Some back, neck, and soft tissue injuries could take days to develop. Many accident victims also experience an adrenaline rush that masks the physical pain.
If you hesitate to see your doctor following a car crash, you could be jeopardizing your health and any potential personal injury claim. Tracing your injuries back to the accident is a crucial component in a civil lawsuit or insurance settlement. By waiting to seek treatment, you open the door for the defendant or an insurance company to claim that your injuries were not related to the accident. The medical records from your treatment after the crash will be useful when you file a personal injury lawsuit later.
Call Local Law Enforcement
Then, call the police. They will write a police report, which will also be helpful for your lawsuit. While the police report will not necessarily apportion blame for the accident, it will indicate if the other driver received any tickets, such as speeding or driving under the influence. The police will also ensure that medical personnel are sent to the scene of the accident. Be sure to ask how you could obtain a copy of the police report.
Gather Evidence From the Scene of the Crash
Next, collect evidence, if you are able to do so. Take photos of the conditions of the road and the damage to property. Photographs are worth a thousand words so take many pictures. In addition to the road conditions, take photos of the position of vehicles and any skid marks. Do not forget to document your injuries either. It is not a bad idea to track your injuries over time. Often bruising and swelling will develop hours or days after the accident.
Speak with witnesses if they are around. If possible, record their testimony. The accident will never be fresher in their minds than in the moments immediately following the incident. At the very least, collect their names and contact information. While much of it might appear in the police report, it is not guaranteed. This is especially the case if a witness has to leave before the police arrive.
Finally, continue to retain documentation relevant to your injury as time goes on, especially medical records. All the relative information you can provide our Pennsylvania car accident lawyer will help build your case.
Contact an Experienced Pennsylvania Car Accident Lawyer
After a car accident, you should contact an experienced Pennsylvania car accident attorney. Under Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury claim. If you delay and do not file your case before the deadline, the court will most likely dismiss your claim.
While two years might appear to be a long time, preparing a successful personal injury case takes time. Additionally, vital physical evidence could be lost. While the steps above are a guideline for an accident victim, they are not an exhaustive list of actions that should be taken. In many cases, an attorney will want to have a professional accident investigator review the crash scene, the damaged vehicles, and other evidence to determine what occurred. Furthermore, if there were any surveillance videos available after the accident, a delay in contacting legal help could result in this critical footage being erased.
Witnesses’ memories will also fade over time. To ensure a witnesses’ recollection is as accurate as possible, their testimony or deposition should be taken as soon as possible. An experienced attorney will also work with your healthcare professionals from the very beginning of your treatment. If you allow a gap of months or years between your initial medical treatment and contacting an attorney, it could be significantly more challenging to establish a link between your current condition and the car accident.
Common Causes of Car Accidents in Pennsylvania
Car wrecks can happen for a variety of reasons. The circumstances of the accident play a significant role in victims’ subsequent injuries. The following are common causes of car wrecks in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Engaging in other activities while driving—texting, having deep conversation with passengers, changing music stations, eating, drinking, and grooming—is tempting for many people. But drivers must resist the urge to perform other tasks while driving if they want to ensure the safety of themselves and the drivers with whom they share the road. Safe driving requires the full, undivided attention of all drivers on the road.
In Pennsylvania, the maximum speed limit is 70 miles per hour, although the speed limit on most highways is between 60 and 65 miles per hour. Driving above the speed limit is dangerous because it gives the speeding driver less control over their vehicle while decreasing their ability to brake if needed. Speeding also gives other drivers on the road less time to react to a speeding vehicle. It’s dangerous for drivers to speed on any type of road, although it is most dangerous on residential roads since they are less suited for high speeds.
When one driver follows the driver in front of them closely, with little space between the two cars, it is known as tailgating. It’s dangerous because the rear driver has a short time to react to the lead driver, creating a high risk of a rear-end collision, which commonly results in whiplash and back injuries for the drivers involved.
Alcohol can impair a driver’s vision, cause delayed responses, and generally prevent them from being able to drive safely. To prevent serious car wrecks, drivers should never, under any circumstances, drive a car after they’ve consumed alcohol.
Reckless driving and road rage is cathartic for some drivers. Yet it can impair a driver’s ability to make good decisions and can make drivers more likely to exhibit dangerous driving behaviors such as speeding, tailgating, and ignoring traffic laws.
Violating a traffic law can be extremely dangerous. For example, running a red light on this road can result in a serious collision with multiple vehicles due to the high levels of traffic. Other traffic violations that could result in a car accident include:
- Running a stop sign
- Aggressive lane changing
- Ignoring the speed limit in school and residential zones
Severe Weather Conditions
Snowstorms, thunderstorms, thick fog, and flooding all contribute to accidents throughout Pennsylvania. In many cases, severe weather conditions result in an unfortunate, but unpreventable, crash. However, when a driver fails to consider the current weather, their conduct could be regarded as reckless. Sometimes, traveling at the posted speed limit is dangerous when visibility is poor or road conditions are bad. Poor weather could also increase the risk to other drivers when someone drives distracted or carelessly.
Poor Vehicle Maintenance
We hope that every motorist on the road is operating a safe vehicle that is not prone to malfunctioning. However, that would be untrue. Many people fail to properly maintain their vehicle, which could lead to a car accident if their vehicle malfunctions on the road. For example, if a person fails to change overused tires on their vehicle, the tires on the vehicle could blowout and cause a driver to lose control of their vehicle.
There are other common causes of car crashes that are not discussed above.
Types of Car Accidents in Pennsylvania
Determining an accident’s cause is an essential element in holding another driver or party liable for your injuries. Another factor that impacts both liability and the severity of injuries suffered is the type of accident that occurred. In some situations, a certain kind of accident will make it easier to prove fault – for instance, a rear-end collision. Below are some of the common types of motor vehicle accidents that happen in Pennsylvania.
Single Car Accidents
A common type of accident only involves one vehicle. A single-car accident could occur for a wide variety of reasons, including debris on the road, an animal, vehicle malfunction, or operator error or recklessness. A car could also be run off the road by another vehicle making an improper lane change or another dangerous maneuver. In these situations, a driver could be held accountable without making contact with the injured person’s vehicle.
Multi-vehicle accidents occur when three or more vehicles are involved in a chain of events or a single event resulting in several collisions. These pileups present another layer of challenges in determining the cause and chain reactions of the vehicles and drivers involved. Often, the occupants of some of the cars involved in a multi-vehicle accident have no idea what happened. Additionally, multi-vehicle collisions result in severe injuries – especially if the car is subjected to multiple collisions or if the accident also involves larger vehicles such as a commercial truck,
Rollover accidents are complex and violent, often resulting in serious injuries. While the type of vehicle plays a significant role in whether it will roll over, other factors such as speed, the angle of impact, and the road surface always contribute to these dangerous crashes. Often, our Pennsylvania car accident lawyers will have to untangle a chain of events to determine what caused a devastating rollover accident.
A rear-end collision is a traffic accident where one vehicle crashes into the back of a vehicle in front of it. In most cases, rear-end crashes are the result of a distracted or inattentive driver. They can also be caused by the driver in front if they panic stop without cause. Rear-end collisions are some of the most common types of accidents. Depending on the speed, an accident victim could suffer whiplash or a devastating back injury. In nearly every case, liability will rest with the driver who crashed into the vehicle in front of them. However, as stated earlier, there are situations where the driver who was hit could have contributed or caused the collisions. If you believe you were not at fault in a rear-end collision, contact an experienced Pennsylvania car accident attorney immediately.
Side-impact accidents are often referred to as broadside crashes or T-bone collisions. These accidents occur when a vehicle strikes the side of another vehicle, forming the shape of a “T.” Typically, a side-impact collision will happen at an intersection or in a parking lot. The injuries caused by a side-impact collision could be severe or fatal because the side of most vehicles provide the least amount of protection. The type of vehicles involved and the speed will significantly impact the severity of injuries sustained.
When traffic patterns require motorists to drive alongside of one another, side-wipe collisions could occur. If another driver drifts into another lane, either because they are distracted, tired, or drunk, anything from a minor bump to a devastating blow could happen. These types of accidents also occur when a driver fails to check their blind spots when shifting lanes.
One of the most catastrophic types of accidents that occur in Pennsylvania are head-on collisions. When two vehicles crash into each other when coming from opposite directions, the resulting injuries are often fatal or life-altering. Head-on collisions are typically caused by fatigued drivers or people driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Common Injuries in Car Accidents
Millions of people across the country are injured each year in automotive vehicle accidents. The types of injuries are as varied as the different circumstances surrounding each incident. Car accident victims could suffer minor cuts to fatal injuries.
Many factors will play a role in the severity of injuries a crash victim sustains. For instance, if someone was not wearing a seat belt, they could suffer a more severe injury than they would have if they had been properly restrained. The type of accident will impact the type of injury. A head-on collision will likely cause more serious and life-threatening injuries than a side-swipe accident. A person’s position in the vehicle could also factor into an injury. In a rear-end collision, the severity of neck damage could be influenced by whether the person was looking forward or had their head turned at the time of the crash.
Typically, car accident injuries are categorized into two broad groups: impact and penetrating injuries. Impact injuries are usually caused by the victim’s body hitting the interior of the car. For example, in a side-impact accident, a passenger’s head could strike the passenger-side window, resulting in a concussion or other head injury. Penetrating injuries or wounds are usually cuts and scrapes. Flying debris or shattered glass caused by the collision often causes these injuries. Depending on the forces and objects, penetration injuries could range from superficial cuts to deep piercing wounds.
Some common types of injuries that our Pennsylvania car accident attorneys have seen are listed below.
Soft Tissue Injuries
When a person suffers damage to their body’s connective tissue, such as tendons, ligaments, and muscles, it is commonly called soft tissue damage. Soft tissue injuries are the most common types of injuries resulting from car accidents. These injuries come in a wide variety of forms.
Whiplash occurs when the muscles in the neck and upper back are injured due to a violent or sudden snapping of the neck and head. Car accidents often result in soft tissue damage around the victim’s back, causing muscle sprains, spasms, and sometimes more severe conditions.
Cuts and Scrapes
When vehicles collide, the driver, passengers, and any loose objects are subject to extreme forces. This means that any items inside the car could become projectiles that are thrown around the vehicle’s interior. Potentially dangerous projectiles include cell phones, plastic mugs, eyeglasses, books, bottles, and any other type of object that could be in the car. Additionally, shattered glass from a window, windshield, or rear-view mirror could send shards of glass flying throughout the vehicle. Every one of these items is liable to cause a scrape or laceration.
Head injuries from car accidents could range from minor bumps to more severe brain damage. An unexpected stop or change in the direction of a vehicle will often result in violent and unnatural movements of the occupants’ heads. While these movements could result in whiplash, they could also injure the head or damage the brain.
Chest injuries resulting from car accidents usually take the form of bruises or contusions. However, these injuries could also be more severe, including broken ribs or damage to the internal organs. Drivers will often experience chest injuries in an accident due to their proximity to the steering wheel. However, a passenger could also be thrown forward, smashing their chest into the dashboard. In some cases, chest injuries are caused by the force of restraining devices, such as a seat belt, meant to decrease the chances of a serious injury.
Arm and Leg Injuries
A person’s legs and arms are subject to the same forces that will unexpectedly throw their head around in a car accident. In a side-impact collision, a person’s arms and legs could be thrown against a door or take the full brunt of the crash. A driver’s or passenger’s legs have minimal movement area and could easily become caught or trapped in a vehicle that has been crushed due to the impact of an accident. Depending on the type of accident, a person could suffer broken bones, severe lacerations, or the amputation of one or more of their limbs.
Soft tissue injuries around the back could result in months of pain and discomfort. However, if a victim’s back suffers an injury in a car accident, it could result in spinal or nerve damage. When someone’s spine is injured, they could be facing years of physical therapy or permanent paralysis.
Unfortunately, any of the injuries suffered in a car accident could be fatal. When a person is killed in a car accident, their surviving family members or personal estate might be entitled to pursue a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver.
Determining Fault in a Car Accident
To receive compensation through a personal injury lawsuit, you and your attorney will have to prove who was at fault in the car wreck that caused your injuries. If the driver that was at fault committed a traffic violation, was driving while drunk and made another major mistake while driving, that is usually enough to show to the court and be able to win your case. If the wreck involved more than two cars, the court might assign partial blame to all at-fault parties. When a percentage of fault is assigned to multiple parties, each party will be responsible for their share of damages.
In some car accidents, fault belongs to a company (such as a trucking company, taxi company, or another type of transportation company). In these cases, the company is held responsible for the actions of the drivers they employ. A transportation company may also be held responsible for a car accident if they hired a dangerous driver or failed to maintain their vehicles.
Proving Negligence in a Car Accident Lawsuit in Pennsylvania
A car accident claim is typically a personal injury claim. To prevail in a personal injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania, the plaintiff must establish the defendant was negligent. Most people understand that the word negligent refers to either careless or reckless behavior. However, legally, negligence has a more specific definition. For another driver or party to be considered legally negligent in a car accident case, the plaintiff must prove four elements: duty of care, a breach of duty, causation, and damages.
The Defendant Owed the Plaintiff a Duty of Care
The first element required to establish in any personal injury claim, including a car accident case, is that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. To hold another person or entity liable for your injuries, a relationship must have existed that obligated the defendant to act in a specific way to ensure that you were not placed at an unreasonable risk of harm.
In Pennsylvania, a driver has an obligation to operate their vehicle so as not to endanger others. For a driver to comply with this legal duty, they typically must obey Pennsylvania’s traffic laws, including following the speed limit and not driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In addition to their conduct behind the wheel, a driver also has an obligation to ensure that their car is roadworthy. Therefore, it is important to have a vehicle regularly inspected and repaired if necessary.
The Defendant Breached Their Duty of Care
In some ways, proving that a defendant violated the duty of care is the heart of a personal injury case. To hold a defendant driver liable for your injuries, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the driver’s conduct breached their legal obligation. If an accident was an unpreventable accident, an injured victim might not have a viable claim.
Legally, a breach of duty occurs when a defendant’s conduct deviates from what a reasonable driver would do under similar circumstances. Therefore, in a personal injury case, our Pennsylvania car accident lawyer will have to prove that a reasonable driver would have acted differently.
One way to think about a breach of duty is that it is any conduct that another driver knows or should have known would potentially cause an injury. For example, when someone gets behind the wheel after a night of drinking, they should understand that their conduct presents a danger to other motorists. Proving that a breach occurred could be challenging depending on how the accident happened. In some cases, a police or toxicology report could provide compelling evidence that a defendant violated Pennsylvania’s traffic laws. However, it is much more challenging to prove that a defendant was texting at the time of the accident.
The Defendant’s Breach Caused the Plaintiff’s Injuries
Unfortunately, drivers speed and violate other traffic laws every day. Fortunately, these behaviors do not always result in a car accident. In a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff must show more than a duty of care and a breach of that duty. If you want to recover any financial compensation, you must prove that the defendant’s conduct caused the accident and your injury.
If your back was injured because you were sitting at a red light and another driver rear-ended you, you could reasonably argue that if your car was not hit, you would not have suffered an injury. However, proving causation in an accident case is not always as straightforward. When multiple vehicles are involved in an accident, it is often necessary to reconstruct what occurred. Additionally, there could be other contributing circumstances, such as an airbag that failed to deploy in an accident, that caused your actual injuries. Our Pennsylvania car accident attorney will gather the available evidence to try and connect the defendant’s conduct with your injury.
The Plaintiff Suffered Damages
The primary reason someone files a personal injury lawsuit is to seek monetary compensation for the injury and damages they suffered. Without any damages, a plaintiff does not have the basis of a car accident case. However, if you were hurt, required medical attention, or missed work, you suffered quantifiable damages.
In a negligence case, damages refer to the financial losses that a plaintiff incurred because of their injuries. Damages include actual expenses such as medical bills, prescription costs, and lost income. A car accident victim is also entitled to recover for their intangible harm, such as physical suffering, emotional distress, and any other mental condition associated with the injury and accident. Part of the job of our experienced Pennsylvania car accident attorney is to value your claim. Without knowing the extent of your damages, it is impossible to evaluate a settlement offer or petition the court for the compensation you deserve.
Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Laws
Once you understand what negligence is in a car accident lawsuit, it is essential to discuss Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence statute. Under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff’s contributory negligence comes into play. This means that a plaintiff’s conduct could impact the amount of compensation they receive or, in some cases, prohibit them from seeking compensation at all.
A jury or judge will weigh the evidence and determine what percentage of blame each party contributed to an accident. In some cases, a plaintiff did nothing wrong and the defendant is found to be wholly at fault. A common example of this is when a car is rear-ended while legally stopped at a traffic light. The driver in the vehicle that was struck did nothing to contribute to the accident.
However, what if the plaintiff in the above situation was texting on their phone when the light turned green and failed to move? It is possible that, even if they were rear-ended, a jury could find that by staying stationary and being distracted, the plaintiff contributed to the accident. Given the above hypothetical facts, a jury might assign 90% of the blame to the defendant and 10% to the plaintiff. If that occurs, then any compensation the plaintiff is awarded would be reduced by 10%. Therefore, a $100,000 award would only be $90,000.
Pennsylvania also follows a 51 percent at fault rule. Under this rule, a plaintiff can only recover damages if their contribution to a car accident was less than 51 percent. In many car accident cases, our experienced Pennsylvania lawyers are not only working to prove that the other party was at fault, but they are also fighting allegations that the plaintiff contributed to their injuries.
Damages Available in a Pennsylvania Car Accident
The final element a plaintiff must prove in a personal injury case based on negligence is damages. If you are hurt in a car accident that was caused by another driver or party, you are entitled to seek financial compensation by file a lawsuit in a Pennsylvania civil court.
Damages are typically broken down into two categories: economic and non-economic. As with every other element in a personal injury case, our office must substantiate the compensation sought with supportive evidence.
Economic Damages in Pennsylvania
Proving economic damages is usually straightforward. A car accident victim’s economic damages are their financial losses related to their injury. For example, a plaintiff is entitled to recover their medical expenses, such as hospitalization, surgery, physical therapy, and medication. While bills and receipts will prove what money has been paid, expert testimony from your medical providers could be necessary to explain what treatment will be required in the future.
Another common financial loss is lost wages or income. It is not uncommon for a severe injury to limit or prohibit someone from working for days, weeks, or months. If you are out of work for any amount of time, you should be compensated for the income you lost. In cases where the severity of an injury is such that the accident victim cannot return to work, our office will work with financial professionals to calculate what they would have earned if they were not injured.
Non-Economic Damages in Pennsylvania
Most people have heard about suing for pain and suffering if they were in a car accident. Pain and suffering fall under a category of intangible harm known as non-economic damages. The physical and emotional impact of a car accident could be life-altering. Plaintiffs are permitted to recover for their non-economic damages, including lost sleep, anxiety, mental distress, and other negative impacts the injury could have on their lives. For instance, an avid cyclist could seek compensation if they are unable to pursue cycling again due to the injuries they suffered. Non-economic damages are difficult to calculate and are usually unique to the individual.
Punitive Damages in Pennsylvania
In addition to economic and non-economic damages, a car accident victim in Pennsylvania could be awarded punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages that are designed to put the injured victim back into the place they were before the injury, punitive damages are meant to punish a party for acts of gross negligence and malice. To be awarded punitive damages, there must be sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the at-fault driver acted with a level of recklessness and a conscious disregard for the safety and health of others on the road.
Careless driving, running a red light, or speeding do not typically reach the level of excessive negligence to warrant punitive damages. However, certain conduct that could result in punitive damages includes texting while driving in a school zone, speeding while in a school zone, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While falling asleep at the wheel typically does not rise to a conscious disregard for others’ safety, it could if the driver was a commercial truck driver and had ignored federal and state mandatory operation hours. Our experienced Pennsylvania car accident attorney will thoroughly review your claim with you to determine if punitive damages are a possibility.
Call Our Pennsylvania Car Accident Attorneys for a Free Consultation
The car wreck lawyers from The Reiff Law Firm might be able to assist you if you suffered from injuries while driving in Pennsylvania. We can represent you as your personal injury lawsuit goes through the legal system, To learn more about your legal options regarding your personal injury case or to schedule a free consultation, get in touch with the Pennsylvania car wreck lawyers from The Reiff Law Firm by calling (215) 709-6940.