Pennsylvania Personal Injury Laws and Liability Rules

Time limits to file a personal injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania, the state's "comparative negligence" rule, and more.

By , J.D.

A Pennsylvania personal injury case can arise from almost any kind of incident caused by someone's negligence or other wrongful conduct. That includes a car accident, a slip and fall, or even an intentional assault, to name just a few examples.

Whether you're just making an injury-related insurance claim, or you're filing a personal injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania's court system, a number of state laws need to be kept in mind.

Pennsylvania's Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits

All states have set statutory limits on the amount of time you have to go to court and file a civil lawsuit after you have suffered some type of harm. These deadlines vary depending on what type of case you want to file, but they're all set by a law called a statute of limitations.

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases gives you two years from the date of your injury to file a lawsuit in the state's civil court system. (42 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. section 5524).

What Happens If I Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline In Pennsylvania?

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, and your right to compensation will be lost. That's a harsh result that only illustrates the importance of understanding and complying with the statute of limitations.

Two years may seem like a long time, but if the insurance claim process drags on and settlement negotiations start, stall, and start again, it's crucial to make sure you leave yourself time to go to court if you need to.

Can I Get an Extension of the Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations?

In some situations, the Pennsylvania statute of limitations deadline might be extended—or the starting of the "clock" might be delayed—including when:

  • the injured person was under 18 (and not a legally emancipated minor) at the time of the accident; here the two-year "clock" probably won't start running until the injured person's 18th birthday (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 42 section 5533), and
  • before the lawsuit can be filed, the would-be defendant is outside the state of Pennsylvania for more than four months, or conceals themselves within the state by using a false name; in this scenario, the period of absence/concealment likely won't be counted as part of the two years (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 42 section 5532).

Talk to an experienced Pennsylvania attorney for details on how the statute of limitations applies to your specific situation.

How Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit In Pennsylvania?

Most Pennsylvania personal injury lawsuits are filed in the state's "Courts of Common Pleas," which are organized into 60 districts in the state, mostly along the geographic boundaries of counties (with a few exceptions). Chances are, you'll file your personal injury lawsuit in the district that serves the county where the person you're suing lives, or where your injury occurred. Find courts in Pennsylvania and learn more about the Pennsylvania court system.

If your injuries are relatively minor and you're not seeking more than $12,000 from the at-fault party, you can file your case in the small claims division of Pennsylvania Magisterial District Court. You can get a sense of how these cases work on the Lancaster County Magisterial District Courts web portal.

What If My Injury Was Caused by the Government In Pennsylvania?

If an employee or agency of the government caused your injury in Pennsylvania, you'll need to play by a different set of rules if you want to get compensation for your losses. Depending on whether your claim is against the government at the state or local level, you'll likely have 1 to 6 months to get a "notice of claim" filed with the right agency or entity. Get the basics on injury claims against government entities.

What If I'm Partly At Fault for My Injury In Pennsylvania?

In some personal injury cases, the person or business you're 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 fault for the accident that led to your claim, it can end up affecting the total amount of compensation you can receive from others.

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 (damages) 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.

How Does the Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Rule Work?

Let's say you're 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 injury settlement negotiations.

Pennsylvania Is a No-Fault Car Insurance State

In car accident cases only, Pennsylvania follows a no-fault insurance 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. If you're injured as a passenger, you'd turn to the no-fault coverage of the driver whose car you were riding in (if you don't have your own car insurance).

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 whether your injuries meet the threshold will be a point of negotiation.

Learn more about how no-fault car insurance claims work.

"Strict" Liability in Pennsylvania Dog Bite 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. Con. Stat. Ann. section 459-502 (b)) makes the owner "strictly liable," meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior, a dog owner is usually responsible for a personal injury caused by their dog. Learn more about Pennsylvania dog bite laws.

What's Next After a Pennsylvania Personal Injury?

If you'd like more information on personal injury cases in general, check out these companion articles:

If you're looking for legal advice that's tailored to your situation, you might want to discuss your potential case with a personal injury lawyer.

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