A legal theory known as negligence serves as the foundation for many car accident lawsuits. There's a good chance you may have heard the term thrown around if you were ever sued or are suing another party for a car accident. When a person is deemed to have been negligent, it means they acted in a thoughtless or careless manner that caused injury to another. For example, if a person does something they should not have done, such as running a red light, speeding, or stopping for a pedestrian, they can be liable for damages in a car accident case.
Bringing Forth a Car Accident Lawsuit
When a client brings forth a lawsuit, they are known as the plaintiff. The plaintiff must show that the individual or party they’re suing was negligent, and thus could have prevented the collision. If you are the plaintiff, you must prove the following:
- You were reasonably careful. Auto accident cases require drivers to be careful when encountering anyone on the road, whether it is passengers, other vehicles, and pedestrians. This is also known as the duty of reasonable care.
- The defendant was not careful. When the defendant is not careful, they have violated the duty of care. The law asks: How would a reasonable, careful person have behaved in the same or similar situation?
- The defendant’s negligence caused injuries. If an individual issuing another claiming they suffered an injury when they were rear-ended, they must provide evidence that the injury was caused by being rear-ended and not some other accident or event.
- The plaintiff suffered some sort of loss and/or was injured. When a car accident victim is injured, they are entitled to financial compensation that helps pay for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and more. If there are no monetary losses or anything that can prove the injury is related to the car accident, then they will not be able to recover anything.
Pennsylvania State Law and Driver Duties
States have motor vehicle laws that govern how drivers are expected to behave while driving on the road. In some instances, violating a motor vehicle law may deem you negligent. This means the defendant now must prove that he or she was not negligent. Examples of negligence may include driving while under the influence, driving on the wrong side, or violating right-of-way rules.
Full Tort vs. Limited Tort Coverage
Full Tort Coverage
If you choose full tort auto insurance coverage, you have “purchased” the right to assert a claim for any damages you are legally entitled to after an automobile accident. I say “purchased” because you have to pay extra to assert this right. In my experience, it’s not that much more to purchase Full Tort than it is to purchase Limited Tort. It’s your decision. You can find out the difference in your monthly or yearly premium, and decide whether you want Full Tort or Limited Tort. I recommend Full Tort.
If you have Full Tort, you have an unlimited right to seek compensation for pain and suffering, embarrassment, loss of enjoyment of life, and what are described as “non-economic damages.”
Whether you have selected Full Tort or Limited Tort, you always retain the right to sue for “out-of-pocket” losses, such as damage to your car, towing charges, lost wages, excess medical bills, etc.
Limited Tort Coverage
If you choose limited tort coverage, with some exceptions, you have given up your right to seek compensation for pain and suffering, embarrassment, loss of enjoyment of life, and other “non-economic damages.” Because most people are unfamiliar with automobile insurance terms, they don’t really understand what Limited Tort means. They choose it because it’s going to save some money on their automobile insurance premiums.
Here is a typical scenario: You’re talking to your insurance agent and he tells you he has your insurance policy ready and you need to sign some papers. One of the papers says you are agreeing to take Limited Tort. In your haste to sign the many papers the insurance agent puts in front of you, you may not even notice the exact document.
Often, if you ask what that means, the insurance agent tells you that you are still getting “full coverage” but at a cheaper rate. You’re basically rushed into taking Limited Tort without fully understanding the other options that you have. You have just given up some of your rights and don’t even realize it until it is too late to do anything about it.
Exceptions to Limited Tort
Even if you sign for Limited Tort, you still have your Full Tort rights under certain circumstances. If you suffer a serious injury, you maintain your full tort rights. Serious injury is defined as death, serious disfigurement, or serious impairment of a bodily function. The first two exceptions are basically self-explanatory. However, serious impairment of a bodily function can be problematic. The Pennsylvania Courts have been making decisions for over 30 years about what is meant by a serious impairment of a bodily function.
These decisions are all over the place and in my opinion, can result in a serious miscarriage of justice. There are cases of people with fractured ribs, broken arms, broken jaws, brain damage, or herniated discs where the Courts have decided that the person did not have serious impairment of a bodily function and dismissed their case.
The insurance carriers all know about these cases, which will make them less likely to settle a case. They will drag you through the Court system for as long as they can and hope they will have to pay you little or nothing.
I recommend that for any automobile accident case involving an injury, you should consult with an attorney who has a lot of experience in and concentrates his law practice on automobile accident law. An attorney with decades of experience will give you the best chance of recovering in a limited tort case.
The person who is responsible for the accident is convicted of, or pleads guilty to or accepts Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition to driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Remember, simply being charged is not enough. Even if you think the other person is drunk, if the police do not charge and convict, this exception does not apply.
The person who is responsible for the accident is driving a vehicle that is registered in another state. It doesn’t matter if the person is from another state or has a driver’s license from another state. That person must be driving a vehicle that is registered/has a license plate from another state. This issue arises in tractor-trailer accidents. If the trailer is registered in another state and the tractor is registered in Pennsylvania, insurance companies argue that the “vehicle” is registered in Pennsylvania, and limited tort applies.
The person who is injured is a driver or passenger in a commercial vehicle. This mostly would apply to a taxicab or bus, but it can be extended to work vehicles, rental cars, and other vehicles.
The person who was injured is a pedestrian. Insurance companies will try and argue if you get out of your car and start walking and get hit by a car that you are not a pedestrian, but that you are “vehicle oriented,” and limited tort should apply.
The person responsible for the accident is not insured. This really doesn’t help a lot unless you have uninsured motorist coverage, since you are probably not going to be able to collect anything from the person with no insurance anyway. Also, insurance companies may argue that while you have full tort rights against the uninsured driver, you are still considered limited tort as it applies to him.
The person who was injured is claiming that his injuries stem from a defective product in the car, such as a defective airbag.
Again, you can see that the issues involving Limited Tort vs. Full Tort are complicated and confusing. That is why if you suffer an injury in an automobile accident, you should always consult with an attorney with years of experience who concentrates his practice in automobile accident law.
You May Need a Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyer
When you hire a lawyer to represent you after your car crash, you can be assured that you have a professional who is working for you—one who is knowledgeable about the relevant laws and procedural rules that may affect your case. For instance, an attorney will inform you about the statute of limitations, which is the time limit you have to file a lawsuit after the accident happens. Many states require you to file your lawsuit within two years of the car accident. Otherwise, you will be prohibited from filing the suit. Your lawyer will also inform you of exceptions such as the statute of limitations for minors.
Your personal injury attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf and will have the experience necessary to handle defenses raised by the other side. He will walk you through trial preparation, as well. Perhaps most importantly, a knowledgeable attorney will even the playing field. Battling big insurance companies can be a nightmare for injured car accident clients. With a lawyer on their side, they can take the time to heal and receive proper medical treatment.
An attorney can perform the legwork for you. There is a lot to do when negotiating with the insurance companies and trying to settle your car accident lawsuit. This may be the first time you have experienced a serious car crash, so having a lawyer take care of everything will relieve a lot of stress. A skilled attorney can obtain documented evidence to support your claim and gather police reports, witness statements, medical records, and lost wage information. He will also be able to organize the evidence and prepare a settlement demand letter for the liable party.