Car accidents are stressful and scary, and it's even worse when the collision is your fault.
Not all crashes are easy to determine who caused the accident though. That's why it's so important to not admit that you caused an accident, even when talking to your insurance company, police, or other drivers involved in a collision. You can lose out on benefits and even be held liable for damages simply by saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.
Pennsylvania laws are used to determine who is responsible for causing a car accident. The laws can be complex and difficult to understand. This article will explain how Pennsylvania determines fault in a car crash and how insurance and lawyers argue claims to protect their clients.
Pennsylvania's Comparative Negligence Explained
When a car accident happens in Pennsylvania, a specific set of laws aid investigators in determining how the accident happened and who is responsible. The laws are known as modified comparative negligence. In easy terms, the law states that investigators can assign fault to numerous individuals involved in an accident. The driver who is assigned more than 50% of responsibility for causing an accident is held liable. In states like Pennsylvania, the law prevents any driver found to be more than 50% responsible from recovering damages. Other states, such as New York, allow damages even when a driver is found to be 99% responsible.
You should always remember that insurance companies are motivated to reduce the liability of the individuals they cover. When possible, an insurance company will use the comparative negligence laws to assign responsibility to the driver they do not cover. There are lots of ways drivers can be found responsible for causing an accident, so it's important to discuss the facts of your case with a personal injury attorney before accepting any settlement offer from an insurance company.
How Negligence is Assigned
It might surprise you to learn that negligence is assigned by insurance adjusters, not law enforcement or even the courts. Police reports are helpful for adjusters to understand how an accident happened, but are often considered hearsay in court, so they are not typically used as the sole means of determining fault.
The process is typically accomplished by the insurance company investigators who look at the body of evidence and make a determination. A car accident lawyer who knows the laws in Pennsylvania can help to prevent insurance adjusters from wrongly assigning fault. The most important role your personal injury lawyer will play is protecting you from having an unfair percentage of fault assigned, which can greatly reduce awards you may receive. Remember that Pennsylvania is a comparative negligence state, so if it is determined you were 25% responsible, your award will be reduced by 25%.
Typical Ways Percentages of Responsibility are Assigned
Let's take a quick look at a couple of scenarios to explain fault determination.
In the first example Driver A is hit by Driver B from the rear while Driver A is stopped at a traffic signal. In almost all cases, Driver B will be assigned 100% of responsibility. However, if the light was green and Driver A failed to move forward, a percentage of fault might be assigned.
In a second example, Driver A is in the right-most lane on the interstate when Driver B veers across the lane and brakes hard in an effort to make an offramp directly in front of Driver A. Driver A hits Driver B from the rear. Driver B may be assigned 100% of fault if Driver A can demonstrate that there was no possibility of avoiding the collision, even though they hit the other vehicle.
If an investigation reveals that Driver A could have avoided the accident and failed to do so, they may be assigned a percentage of fault, possibly exceeding the 51% threshold to recover losses.
In a third example, Driver A is speeding in an attempt to get through a traffic signal light-controlled intersection when Driver B makes a right turn into the path of the oncoming driver. In this scenario, both drivers may be assigned 50%, Driver B may be assigned a larger percentage, or Driver A may be found 100% at fault because of violating the speed limit, provided it can be proven the driver was going too fast.
Complexities of Assigning Fault
Assigning fault can quickly become a quagmire, particularly when more than two drivers are involved in the crash. Situations like these can result in bizarre, unexpected assignments of fault, significantly reduce awards, and may even cause you to lose your claim altogether.
It's imperative to hire an attorney that understands how to work with insurance adjusters to get fair assignments of fault. Many people end up losing significant amounts of money because they try to handle car crash claims on their own. A car crash attorney in Pennsylvania will ensure drivers are treated fairly and that only relevant facts are used to determine fault.
Pennsylvania's No-Fault Policies
One of the most unique aspects of car insurance in the Commonwealth is the availability of no-fault insurance. These policies prevent drivers from filing lawsuits, called torts, against other drivers for bodily injury. Instead, the injured driver will work with their personal insurance company to get compensation.
The Pennsylvania law requires drivers holding no-fault policies to be covered for specific amounts. Property damage lower limit is only $5,000, while bodily injury is $15,000 per person and $30,000 total. If an at-fault driver causes damages in excess of their policy, they are likely to be sued.
Even when both drivers are covered by no-fault policies, a fault determination must still be made. Insurance companies use fault assignments to set rates and understand the overall picture of drivers in an area, which impacts the rates all drivers have available.
Steps You Can Take to Limit Your Liability in an Accident
First and foremost, and one of the mistakes too many people make -do not admit fault or even apologize to other drivers. Yes, this sounds heartless and it flies in the face of the morals most of us live by. But, what you must understand is that the insurance company, even your own, will use your apology or admittance of fault to reduce the amount of money you are awarded.
The law requires you to exchange information, but that's about it. If someone is seriously injured and needs help, help them -but don't discuss the accident, what happened, how it happened, or what caused you to be involved. Those are statements that are for the insurance adjuster to work out.
Do not speak to the other insurance company.
Hiring a personal injury attorney is a great way to prevent insurance adjusters from using your words against you. A lawyer will only allow the insurance company to talk to you when absolutely necessary, and your attorney will help you to answer questions without admitting fault. In most cases, your legal team will handle questions from the other insurance company and will help you work with your insurance company to get a fair deal.
Don't be tempted by the seamingly amazing savings you'll get by choosing a no-fault policy. The limits of your ability to recover damages greatly outweigh any savings, and if you are involved in a serious accident, it's likely you'll need to lean on your private health insurance to cover the damages. Paying a little more for a better policy will save you lots of money in the long run.
How We Can Help
Our goal as personal injury attorneys is to make sure you or your injured loved one gets the financial and medical compensation you deserve when injuries are caused by a negligent driver. We know how the laws in Pennsylvania work, and we've seen every dirty trick the insurance companies use to reduce liability and save the company money. We know how to beat these tactics and get you the coverage and care you are entitled to receive, quickly, and without stress.
The free consultation provided by our personal injury firm provides an opportunity to discuss your case with our team. We will be able to let you know how to proceed with your case and what steps we can take immediately to put your mind at ease. Our legal team fights for every client, just like they are family. You won't be charged even a penny until we win your case.
Contact our offices as soon as possible after an accident that causes injury so we can start working on your behalf. With us on your side, you will be able to relax and recover.