Pennsylvania Personal Injury Laws and Liability Rules

A summary of key laws governing personal injury claims in Pennsylvania.

By , J.D.

If you're filing a personal injury claim in Pennsylvania, a number of state laws may come into play at some point. In this article, we'll take an in-depth look at Pennsylvania's statute of limitations for injury-related lawsuits, how your own negligence could affect your insurance claim or lawsuit, and more.

What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania?

All states have imposed 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 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's crucial to understand and abide by 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, and your right to compensation will be lost. Of course, the filing deadline could be extended in certain circumstances. Talk to an experienced Pennsylvania attorney for details on how the statute of limitations applies to your situation.

Note that if your injury occurred due to the negligence of an employee or agency of the government (whether at the local or state level) in Pennsylvania, you'll need to play by a different set of rules if you want to get compensation for your losses. The first step is usually to file a formal claim with the proper government agency, and give them time to respond. Get the basics on injury claims against government entities.

Pennsylvania Shared Fault Rules

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.

Here's an example of how it works. 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.

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.

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, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog.

For a full understanding of your best course of action after an injury, learn how to find the right personal injury lawyer for you and your case.

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