Personal Injury Lawyer
Hazleton, PA

How Does Car Accident Compensation Work In Pennsylvania?

Skilled auto accident attorneys act as a guide through the process

You know the saying, "bad things often happen to good people". No matter where you are on the road, tragedy can come without warning, leaving you disoriented, angry, and in a state of shock. The damage that occurs in an auto accident could be reflected in a shredded rear passenger door or in a spiderweb of cracks on a now-shattered windshield. Or, in worse cases, the damage may be apparent on you. When tragedy strikes, how do you strike back?

The Law Offices of Edward P. McNelis knows what it takes to make a claim and see it through. Fighting to recoup the losses you've suffered, Attorney McNelis is ready to help you begin the process of rebuilding your life after an accident. That process can be long and complicated, dragging on for what feels like ages until compensation has been settled upon. But, how does that work? Here's what you should know.

Pennsylvania is a "no fault" state

If you are involved in a car crash in Pennsylvania, you need to know you're in a "no fault" state. This means that, regardless of who shoulders the most responsibility for the accident, both parties turn to their own insurance companies in search of compensation for lost wages and medical expenses. While this process was originally put into place in order to streamline car accident claims processing time, it can leave many collision victims confused. There is a limit as to what benefits your insurance company will pay you.

To begin the process of filing your claim, you will first start with filing a PIP, or Personal Injury Protection claim. This is one that you make against your own insurance company for payment of your medical bills and lost wages. Most insurance companies will only cover up to a certain percentage of reimbursement for lost wages up to the amount stated in your claim, or at the limit set by your policy. The insurance company will choose whichever option has the lowest cost attached to it.

In regards to medical bills, those will generally be covered by your insurance company. However, once your bills exceed your policy limits, you will be held accountable for paying the remainder. You may have other means of paying those bills, such as health insurance, but getting health insurance to pay for injuries sustained in an auto accident can be difficult.

What should I do after an accident?

Even if you weren't alone in your vehicle when tragedy struck, you may feel utterly alone now. You're confused, disoriented and will remain unsteady on your feet until this endless stream of paperwork finally seals itself away to gather dust with your insurance company. The most critical part of an accident happens after the crash. This is where you should be gathering evidence, asking questions and exchanging information.

  • If you have a cell phone or camera, photograph the damage done to all vehicles involved in the accident. These pictures are extremely valuable; the insurance companies and police will want to see them time and time again in order to help assess the extent of damage inflicted.
  • Obtain the other drivers' information. You'll want their license number, plate number, insurance information, make and model of their car, and as many details about the accident as you can muster while they're still fresh in your mind. For example: were they speeding? What were the road conditions like?
  • Call the police to the scene of the accident and do not leave. Formulating and filing a report is crucial to your claim process. Keeping a straightforward record of events consistently is integral to being properly compensated for your losses. Starting that record while memories of the incident are still painfully fresh in your mind provides a base for one of the strongest weapons in your legal arsenal.
  • Seek medical attention. You may feel "fine", but after a collision, we can only observe the damage we can see. Internal injuries, including those inflicted on the brain, can take days to show up. Not only that, but the longer you wait to be examined, the more that can be used against you in a potential legal battle. If they were really injured, why wait? 
  • Contact your insurance company and file a claim. The sooner, the better. The more you delay, the more legal sway you give the other driver. In Pennsylvania the statute of limitations, the amount of time you have to file, extends to 2 years after the accident for personal injury claims, and 2 years for property damage. As always, however, the sooner the better.

The limitations of no fault in Pennsylvania

Under the "no fault" process, your insurance will cover your medical bills and wages lost from work. Given that the no fault policy only pays for some of your expenses by default, Pennsylvania has two options for you to choose from when you purchase your insurance. One option (called limited tort) gives you the limited right to sue the other driver for outstanding medical costs-called an exemption from no fault. This is usually taken when a serious bodily injury is sustained, defined as more than a soft tissue injury. These injuries may result in disfigurement, permanent disability, or heavily impaired ability to function.

Under limited tort, you normally cannot sue for pain and suffering unless you meet the insurance company's definition of a serious injury. The second option full tort available gives you the full right to sue, not just for medical costs, but for the additional stress of pain and suffering that can't be measured in paper or coin.

Minimum insurance and liability laws in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania law prohibits drivers from being on the road without carrying a set amount of liability insurance on them-and proof of it must always be in the vehicle, ready to be shown if asked for by an officer or other qualified party. The minimum requirements for coverage in Pennsylvania include:

  • $15,000 in personal injury protection for third parties (such as passengers)
  • $30,000 in total accident personal injury protection for third parties
  • $5,000 per occurrence in property damage protection
  • $5,000 in no-fault PIP coverage

While these represent the minimum requirements for insurance coverage in Pennsylvania, in a no-fault state, having less really means you have more to worry about.  There are several optional items to tack onto your insurance that shouldn't be overlooked.

  • Collision coverage: arguably the most important type, this helps towards paying for damage to your car in the event of an accident. This and comprehensive coverage are not optional if your car is leased or financed.
  • Comprehensive coverage: aids towards damage to your car that is not accident-related, like vandalism.
  • Uninsured coverage: helps towards covering your medical bills if you collide with an uninsured driver.
  • Underinsured coverage: aids towards your medical expenses up to your policy limit if they exceed the other drivers' policy limit.
  • Rental car reimbursement: in the event of an accident where you have to rely on a rental car for transport, this coverage will help reimburse you for your expenses.

These are optional coverages, but we do recommend reviewing your policy and making sure you have all of the coverage you need. The higher your policy limit, the less you have to worry. If your policy is just scraping the line of the minimum and the liability falls to you, you're risking having the other drivers' balance lumped onto you once the policy limit is reached and exceeded.

What about my medical bills?

Called MedPay, part of your coverage premium goes towards paying for your medical bills, and you won't have to worry...unless your medical expenses exceed that coverage amount. If you have health insurance, your insurer will pick up where the bills left off. You also may be able to negotiate with your healthcare providers, but you should hire an experienced attorney who can guide you through this complicated and stressful process.

What if I'm hit by an Uninsured or Underinsured driver?

Pennsylvania doesn't require you to purchase uninsured motorist (UM) coverage, but we do strongly recommend it. If you have UM coverage with your insurance company, it will cover any injury expenses you or passengers in the car have suffered. When it comes to damages to your vehicle, you will have to negotiate with an adjuster during the claims process to determine the other drivers' liability and extent of vehicular damages.

Another optional insurance supplement is underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). If you're hit by an underinsured driver, the claims process starts with filing a claim with your insurance company, as well as the other driver's. Where the other driver's policy limit ends, your negotiation begins. You'll need to make a case for how much more your costs are, and you can collect the agreed upon amount up to the extent of your policy limit.

Say you're hit by a driver and the damage amounts to be worth $50,000. The underinsured driver's policy will only cover $30,000 of that, so you must turn to your own insurance to recover the remainder. You're now entitled to the policy limit of the at-fault party, as well as the additional coverage from your insurance. Sound confusing? That's because it is, and insurance companies will feed off of that confusion. They seek to lose as little money as possible, and gain your complacency with their low-ball offers. Don't be silenced-strike back!

You aren't alone, an experienced attorney can help

Recovering from a car accident can be a nightmare, with insurance companies clawing at your closet door, leaving you without a moment's peace. They'll delay payments, drag out your case until your hair goes grey, place fault with anyone but themselves. Your bills are piling up, your concerns alongside them.
When tragedy strikes, strike back. The process of filing and pursuing a claim can be complicated, stressful and borderline disorienting. That's why having an experienced attorney on your side is so important. If you've been injured in a car accident in Pennsylvania, attorney Edward McNelis will help you get back on your feet. Contact us today, and take advantage of our free consultation before someone tries to take advantage of you.