Pennsylvania Personal Injury Laws & Statutory Rules
Get an overview of the laws governing personal injury lawsuits in Pennsylvania.
If you’re involved in an insurance settlement or a personal injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania, a few state laws may come into play at some point in your case. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at Pennsylvania personal injury laws.
Time Limits on Personal Injury Lawsuits in Pennsylvania
All states have imposed statutory limits on the amount of time you have to go to court and file a lawsuit after you have suffered some type of harm. These deadlines vary depending on what type of case you want to file, but in general this kind of law is called a statute of limitations.
In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases gives you two years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit in the state’s civil court system. (42 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. section 5524).
It is very important to understand and follow this rule. If you fail to get your lawsuit filed before the two-year window closes, the Pennsylvania civil court system will likely refuse to hear your case at any time in the future, and your right to compensation will be lost.
For injury claims against a city, county, or state government agency, you must file a notice of intent to sue within 6 months.
Pennsylvania Shared Fault Rules
In some personal cases, the person or business that you are filing a claim against argues that you are actually to blame (at least partially) for the incident that led to your injuries.
If you do share some degree of liability, it can end up affecting the total amount of compensation you can receive from other at-fault parties.
In shared fault injury cases, Pennsylvania follows a “modified comparative negligence rule.” To put this rule in the simplest of terms, it means that the amount of compensation you're entitled to receive will be reduced by an amount that is equal to your percentage of fault. But if you’re found to bear more than 50 percent of the legal blame, you can’t collect anything at all from other at-fault parties.
Here is an example of how it works. You are rear-ended at a stoplight, but one of your brake lights isn’t working at the time. During a civil trial, the jury decides that you were 25 percent at fault for the accident, while the other driver was 75 percent to blame. Your damages add up to $20,000. How does your share of the fault affect your compensation? Under Pennsylvania's modified comparative negligence rule, your compensation will be reduced to $15,000 (or the $20,000 total minus the $5,000 that represents your share of fault for the accident.)
Pennsylvania courts are obligated to follow this rule in an injury lawsuit that makes it to trial, and don't be surprised if the other side’s insurance adjuster raises the issue of Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence rule during settlement talks.
Pennsylvania is a No-Fault Car Insurance State
In car accident cases only, Pennsylvania follows a no-fault system, which means that after most traffic accidents, an injured person's own insurance company will provide coverage for medical expenses and lost income, no matter who was at fault for the accident.
You can't hold the other driver liable after a car accident in Pennsylvania unless your case meets a “serious injury” threshold. So most minor accidents will fall under the no-fault umbrella. But you may be able to step outside of the no-fault system and file a liability claim against the at-fault driver if you can demonstrate that your case involves “serious injuries.” Obviously, that term is a little vague, so it will be a point of negotiation whether your injuries meet the threshold.
See this page on no fault car accident claims for more on how these types of cases work.
"Strict" Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases
In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a "one bite" rule. In Pennsylvania however, a specific statute (3 Pa. Stat. § 459-502 (b)) makes the owner "strictly liable", meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog.
No Caps on Injury Damages in Pennsylvania
Some states place certain limits on the types of damages that an injured person can receive after a successful personal injury trial.
In Pennsylvania, the state’s constitution specifically prohibits the limitation of damages in cases involving injury and death. The only limitation on damages that may be relevant to an injury case is the state’s cap on punitive damages, which is set at two times the amount of actual damages.