Every year about 3 million people in America are injured as a result of traffic accidents and collisions. Crash related injuries are costly with medical expenses and lost productivity estimated with injuries and deaths exceeding $75 billion in 2017 alone. (CDC statistics from its website at www.cdc.gov)
On average, in 2018, more than 100 people per day died in the U.S. from motor vehicle crashes. In 2014 and 2015, crashes involving teenagers 17 to 18 years old were the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Motor vehicle crash deaths are 3 to 10 times higher in rural areas. (www.cdc.gov)
The automobile is nearly essential to most people today. We drive to get to and from work, back and forth to school, shopping trips, to visit with friends or family, vacation road trips, or just for the fun of it. If you have become one of those injured in a traffic accident or other vehicle related incident that was not your fault, you may have rights under the law.
Liability – otherwise commonly known as “fault” for an auto accident and injury.
There are rules of the road that drivers must obey. If a driver fails to obey these rules, that driver can be held legally at fault and responsible to pay for the injuries and losses he or she has caused. The legal term for a driver to be “at fault” for a collision and injuries is “negligence”. Negligence is a failure to use ordinary care under the circumstances. In an auto accident injury case, this is often done by showing that a driver failed to obey the “Rules of the Road” as stated in the Pa. Vehicle Code. These include driving violations such as failure to yield the right of way, failure to drive at a safe speed, failure to stay within the proper lane of travel, failure to obey traffic control devices such as stop signs or traffic lights, or exceeding the speed limit.
Other situations that may result in liability (fault) for an injury can be the improper repair or poor maintenance of a vehicle. The owner of a vehicle has a duty to keep that vehicle in safe operating condition. Failure to have a valid vehicle inspection as required by law can result in hazardous situation such as brake failures, tire failures (blow outs or loss of traction from worn out or “bald” tires) or other mechanical problems that cause a crash. with injuries or death. An exhaust that leaks carbon monoxide fumes into the passenger cabin is another known risk that can result in death or serious injury. Another source of fault may be a repair shop or mechanic failing to make a necessary or proper repairs to a vehicle or even a manufacturing defect in an auto part, such as a tire, steering assembly, suspension, ignition or other operating systems of a vehicle.
A skilled personal injury lawyer with experience in representing accident victims can help find whether or not there another driver was at fault for your injuries so that you may get money damages as fair compensation for your injuries.
Automobile Insurance and Injury Claims
Pennsylvania requires all car owners to have auto insurance to register their vehicle. Failure to have auto insurance will result in fines or other penalties under the law. When you are injured in a crash or other motor vehicle accident, you need to contact your auto insurance company promptly. Your auto insurance policy can be difficult to understand but an skilled and experienced injury lawyer can help explain what your policy provides to help you after an injury. All PA auto policies must be sold with at least $5,000 of medical benefits (“First Party Benefits” or PIP benefits) so that regardless of who was at fault, you can get treated and your auto insurance will pay for reasonable and necessary treatment. In PA, insurance companies must also offer wage loss benefits as an option (which can be declined by the policy holder) to pay you if you cannot work when injured in a vehicle related incident.
No Insurance? Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Claims
All too often vehicle owners let their auto insurance lapse- they forget to pay the monthly premium bill or may not have the money to continue paying for a policy. When these drivers cause an injury with an uninsured vehicle, you may still be able to recover money damages if you have the right coverage on your auto policy. You need to review your auto policy with an experienced injury lawyer to protect your rights in these situations. Having the right insurance coverage can make all the difference if you or your family has been injured in a crash. Unfortunately, all too often we have seen accident victims who were without adequate coverage at at time when they needed it most. You can call May Law to get a free review of your auto insurance policy.
Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage
This a mandatory offer to all Pennsylvania car owners when purchasing a new policy. Pennsylvania law requires that you are offered to purchase UM coverage in equal dollar limits as you liability coverage. For instance, if you have $100,000 of liability limits of coverage to pay for injury or harm should you cause a collision, you can purchase an equal amount of $100,000 of UM coverage to protect you if the vehicle that injured you was being driven without insurance.
If you have UM coverage, you have the right to claim money damages for your injuries from your insurance company. In turn, your insurance company can then seek reimbursement from the uninsured driver. All auto policies that may apply to you either as a car owner or as a family member in the same household of another insured vehicle may provide multiple sources of UM coverage. If you were injured while in an employer’s vehicle, that may be another source or UM coverage to pay for your losses. A skilled injury lawyer can help you find more potential policies as a source of money damages for you.
Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Coverage
This is another mandatory offer to all PA car owners when purchasing a policy. Again, you must be offered to purchase a dollar amount of UIM coverage equal to your bodily injury liability limits. When you have UIM coverage, you are protected in the event the vehicle owner or driver at fault for your injuries does not have enough insurance coverage to pay for all your harms and losses when injured. In Pennsylvania, car owners can purchase as little as $15,000 of bodily injury insurance to be legally insured. This is often called the “mandatory minimum” amount of coverage. In serious cases, this mandatory minimum of $15,000 is hardly enough to provide full and fair compensation for harms and losses that could include months of lost wages, permanent disability, loss of a limb, permanent scarring or disfigurement, paralysis, other devastating injuries or loss of life. As in UM situations, there may be multiple auto policies that provide coverage for such injuries and a personal injury lawyer who is knowledgeable in auto insurance can help make sure that all polices that may apply are found.
“Stacking” of UM and UIM Coverage
If you own more than one vehicle, you are most likely to have all the vehicles insured on one policy for the household. PA law allows that you be offered to “stack” your Uninsured Motorist (UM) and Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage by the number of vehicles on the policy. For example, if you have three vehicles with $100,000 of UM coverage and UIM coverage, these can be stacked (times the number of vehicles) that would result in this example with a total of $300,000 of both UM and UIM coverage. Although “stacking” your policies will result in some increase in your premium payment, it is well worth it for the value of having so much additional coverage.
Hit and Run Drivers or “Phantom” Vehicles and Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage
There times when another driver causes a crash and then fails to stop as required to exchange information or aid. This is a crime but in some situations there is not information to identify and find the fleeing driver. If you have Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage on your vehicle or the vehicle you were in at the time of the crash, you can still recover money damages but first you need to promptly report the crash to the police as soon as possible. You need to check your auto policy about this, but in any event you should report this as soon as possible, no more than 5 days or less after it happened. If there was more than one vehicle that caused the crash, then be sure to report this to the investigating office who is there at the scene. This can be the situation in a “chain reaction” crash or where an oncoming vehicle swerves into the opposite lane and then drives away from the scene.
“Full Tort” or “Limited Tort”? Know your rights.
Your rights for making a claim for money damages can be limited by the type of auto insurance policy you purchased for your vehicle. Pennsylvania law allows insurance companies to offer both “Full Tort” and “Limited Tort” options when you make your initial purchase of a policy. The word “tort” is a legal term for a wrongful act or omission (failure to act) that can result in legal liability for payment of money damages to the injured person.
If you choose “Full Tort”, then your “tort” rights will not be limited. But if you have chosen the “Limited Tort” option, you cannot make a claim for “pain and suffering” or other “non-economic” losses normally associated with a “tort” claim unless you can prove that you have suffered a “serious injury”. This is generally defined as an injury that has resulted in “severe impairment of body function” or “serious permanent disfigurement” (scarring or loss of body part). These issues can get complicated and each case tends to be decided on its own facts. Even so, there are some guiding legal principals that need to be researched and addressed in these Limited Tort cases.
Your choice of Full Tort or Limited Tort should be clearly indicated on the “Declarations Page” of your auto policy. Many people choose “limited tort” because the company will offer a reduced price on the policy premium paid to provide coverage. But if you have a Limited Tort policy, you can expect that the insurance company for the other driver is likely to use this as a way to either deny your claim or evaluate your claim as having little value for settlement.
An experienced auto accident lawyer knows how to properly consider and evaluate the medical issues that could help get you past the Limited Tort roadblock and get you fair compensation for your injury and losses. Also, there are a few certain exceptions to the Limited Tort option which need to be considered. If the vehicle that caused your injury is registered outside of Pennsylvania, then you may still have Full Tort rights even if you purchased a Limited Tort policy. If you were injured while occupying a vehicle used primarily for business purposes, such as an employer’s vehicle, a chartered motor coach, bus or other similar transportation, you may be eligible for Full Tort rights.
Money Damages and Fair Compensation.
Evaluating an injury case for settlement or preparing a case for trial is serious business. Most injury claims are settled at some point. Sometimes a case can get resolved without a lawsuit yet often times the case is settled before trial or sometimes even during a trial. To get to settlement, the type and amount of money damages that may be claimed need to be identified.
Economic Losses. Lost wages and medical expenses.
Typically, damages are either the economic losses such as wage losses and medical expenses. These can include both past and future anticipated or estimated wage loss and medical expenses. Medical evidence is needed to address these issues as well as evidence of past earnings, education and training. A vocational review and analysis by a licensed vocational counselor may be needed to help establish these income losses. When lost earnings are considered over the course of a person’s “work life expectancy” ( the total years the person would normally be expected to continue working up through retirement age or even beyond), these losses can be substantial.
When the evidence is that an injury is permanent and will affect the person’s ability to do the type of work he or she has done, the injured person may be entitled to recover money damages for an “impairment of earning capacity”. Where the medical evidence shows that the injured person will continue to need medical care for a permanent or progressively worsening condition, then payment for future medical expenses may also be claimed.
Non-economic Losses. Pain and Suffering.
“Pain and suffering” and “loss of life’s pleasures” are two other types of damages. These damages have no specific dollar value and are often called “non-economic” losses. In a jury trial or an arbitration, the dollar amount to be awarded to compensate a person fully and fairly is to be determined by the jurors or the arbitrators. The nature of the injuries suffered is always to be considered as well as the medical evidence as to the painful effects of the injury, whether the injury is permanent or even may get progressively worse over time, as well as how the injury limits the person from getting back to his or her normal lifestyle and livelihood.
The Pennsylvania Rules of Court at 231 Pa. Code § 223.3 states that there are four (4) items of losses that make up a money damage award for non-economic loss, both past and future. These are as follows:
Pain and suffering. The injured person is entitled to be fairly and adequately compensated for all physical pain, mental anguish, discomfort, inconvenience, and distress he or she has endured from the time of the injury and in the future as a result of his or her injuries.
Embarrassment and humiliation. The injured person is entitled to be fairly and adequately compensated for such embarrassment and humiliation he or she has endured and will continue to endure in the future as a result of his or her injuries.
Loss of enjoyment of life. The injured person is entitled to be fairly and adequately compensated for the loss of his or her ability to enjoy any of the pleasures of life as a result of the injuries from the time of the injuries until today and to be fairly and adequately compensated for the loss of his or her ability to enjoy any of the pleasures of life in the future as a result of his or her injuries.
Disfigurement. The disfigurement that the injured person has sustained is a separate item of damages recognized by the law. In addition to any dollar amounts awarded for pain and suffering, for embarrassment and humiliation, and for loss of enjoyment of life, the injured person is entitled to be fairly and adequately compensated for the disfigurement he or she has suffered from the time of the injury to the present and that he or she will continue to suffer during the future duration of his or her life.
In considering an injured person’s claims for money damage awards for past and future non-economic loss, the following factors are to be considered:
Death Cases and Damages. Wrongful Death and Survival Actions.
Death claims are devastating not only for the person who lost his or her life tragically from injuries suffered in a crash but also for the person’s surviving family. In Pennsylvania, there are two special laws that may apply in death cases. One is the Wrongful Death Action and the other is the Survival Action.
Wrongful Death Actions may be brought by certain specific family members, typically the surviving spouse, parents and children of the deceased. This is a claim for their loss of the financial support and loss of companionship. These are economic losses as well as the loss of services, society and comfort lost with the death of a family member. This can include psychological and emotional suffered by the family members. Wrongful death damages are apportioned among surviving family member as would be done if the person died without a will according to the Pennsylvania Intestate Descent law. If there are no surviving spouse, parent or children, then no wrongful death claim can be pursued.
Survival Actions may be brought regardless of whether there is a family member to pursue a wrongful death action. As a practical matter, both the wrongful death and survival action are often combined in a single lawsuit. The Survival Action is brought by the “personal representative” of the deceased person’s estate. In the Survival Action, the estate stands in the shoes of the person who had died from the crash. The personal representative of the deceased’s estate (executor or administrator of the estate) can bring the same claim for harms and losses as the dead person would have been able to claim had he or she survived long enough to do so. This would include claims for such losses as pain and suffering, lost wages and medical expenses.
Intentional acts by a driver- are these covered by insurance?
No. If it is established that a driver intentionally harmed someone with his or her vehicle, then insurance will likely refuse to pay for the harm done. In those situations, a claim can be made against the at fault driver but any compensation for the injuries would be from the individual driver who caused the harm, not from the insurance company. Insurance will however pay where the injury was as a result of an unintentional (accidental) injury. Typically, this is where the driver was negligent in failing to obey the rules of the road and had no specific intent of causing any harm to someone else. Even reckless behavior by a driver will be covered by insurance such as drunk driving, running a stop sign or traffic light, excessive speed, “horseplay”, texting or cell phone use while at the wheel.
What To Do When In An Auto Accident
You have just been in a collision. If you are lucky not to have been seriously injured, you should try to stay calm and take some basic steps to help your claim getting resolved fairly. The law requires that you exchange information (driver license and auto insurance card) at the scene. If the vehicles are too damaged to be driven or there are injuries, the police and emergency services (ambulance, EMT) are needed. You should not make any statements about fault to the other driver. However, the investigating police officer will ask you about how the crash happened. You should be sure to describe whatever the other driver did that caused the crash. Also, if there were any other factors such as another vehicle that fled the scene, a malfunctioning traffic light, poorly placed sign, road hazard, or other such causes for the crash, you need to tell the officer about this.
If you have a camera or cell phone, you can take photos at the scene of the damage to the vehicles or other property, skid marks, traffic control signs, obstructions or other important factors. If anyone comes forward at the scene as a witness, you should get their name, address and phone number. Having this information can help to get the claim resolved more quickly and more favorably for you.
If you are injured, especially if you have suffered a serious injury, it is important to get help as soon as possible. You need to get the police and emergency services there at the scene. Of course, in most serious injury situations, you may not be able to move or are in too much pain to act. If you have passengers with you, they may be able to help get you help and get the important information at the scene for you.
What Types of Cases Do We Handle?
At May Law, we have experience in handling all types of auto accident and collision claims.
- Drunk drivers and/or drugged drivers
- Rear-end collisions
- Defective roadways and bridges – pavement drop offs, inadequate signs or warnings
- Intersection, stop sign and traffic light crashes, pedestrian/vehicle injuries
- Head-on collisions – wrong way drivers
- Vehicle rollovers
- Tractor trailer collisions and crashes
- Fatigue behind the wheel – too tired to be driving
- SUV crashes and rollovers
- Motorcycle crashes and bike accidents
- Reckless drivers -excessive speed, racing or other horseplay
- Uninsured drivers – you may be able to recover payment
- Cell phones and distracted drivers
- Texting behind the wheel
- Speeding and sudden lane changes
- Hit and run accidents
- Parking lot collisions and knock downs
- Wrongful death and survivors claims
- Whiplash and neck injuries
- Spine injuries
- Sprain and strain
- Fractures and broken bones
- Lacerations and scarring injuries
- Trailer towing accidents – unhinged trailers, loads or cargo falling off onto the roadway, etc.
You can Call May Law at 570-287-7332 or contact us online to schedule your free initial consultation. Discuss your situation with a personal injury attorney who will treat your case with the compassion and attentiveness you deserve.
May Law serves clients in Northeast Pennsylvania, including Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, and Wyoming Counties, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Tunkhannock, Stroudsburg and the Poconos.
Learn more about transportation safety