Auto Accident

NEEDLE LAW- Auto Accident Attorneys for Northeastern Pennsylvania, including Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Stroudsburg, Honesdale,Tunkhannock, Montrose and Milford
Car Accident Help in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne or Wyoming Counties

How much you might recover, if injured in a motor vehicle accident, depends upon a number of factors: liability, extent of injuries, tort option, insurance coverage, and subrogation interests. Our personal injury attorneys can help ensure your case is successfully resolved. Liability concerns who is responsible for the accident. Normally, this is a question of who did or did not violate the provisions of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, 75 Pa.C.S.A. §101, et. seq., which governs the operation of motor vehicles on and entering roadways. These statutes include requirements ranging from driving in a single lane or operating at a speed that will allow stopping within the assured clear distance ahead to keeping a vehicle in proper operating condition. A violation of the motor vehicle code, which causes an accident, is considered negligence per se, unless there is a reasonable justification for the action or inaction.

Who is liable for your car accident?

The answer to who did what and why is often not simple. Conflicting versions of what occurred are not unusual. If there are independent witnesses, try to make sure that someone has their name, phone number, and address. Don't rely on the police to do it for you.

Accidents also frequently involve what may be considered negligent conduct by more than one driver. Pennsylvania is a comparative negligence state, in which an injured person can recover damages against another person or entity, as long as his or her negligence is not more than 50% of the total negligence involved. A person who is 51% negligent recovers nothing. Otherwise, the amount the injured person can recover is reduced by their percentage of the total negligence. For example, if there was a $100,000.00 award and you were found to be 25% negligent, you would receive $75,000.00 (i.e., $100,000.00 total award - $100,000.00 x 25% negligence = net award of $75,000.00).

Auto Accident-Related Injuries

The more seriously a person is injured and the more significant the effect upon his or her income and life, the more the case is worth. Medical expense and income loss, as well as other out-of-pocket losses, which might be recoverable, are referred to as economic loss. Non-economic losses which might be recovered include pain and suffering, loss of well-being, loss of the pleasures of life, and scarring. Most often, these non-economic losses make up the major part and sometimes the only part of a claim.

In Pennsylvania, medical expenses or income loss paid by an injured person's own insurance company cannot be recovered from the person or persons responsible for the accident, with some exceptions. Medical expense payments made by Medicare, Medicaid, Workers' Compensation, or benefit plans through an employer under ERISA, are part of the claim and can be recovered, but only because you have to pay them back, which is explained further below.

Days missed from work, which the injured person was paid for by using sick time or vacation time, or which were paid through Workers' Compensation, are also part of the claim and can be recovered. Medical expenses or income loss which were not paid or reimbursed by anyone are certainly part of the claim and can be recovered.

Tort Options in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, a vehicle owner purchasing insurance has the option of selecting full tort or limited tort coverage. It is imperative you choose full tort. Full tort coverage allows an injured person to recover for both non-economic and economic damages, regardless of the extent of the injuries suffered.

Limited Tort coverage is cheaper, unless you have an accident—then it can prove to be very costly. Limited Tort prevents recovery for non-economic losses (i.e., pain and suffering, etc.) unless there has been a serious injury. A serious injury is defined in the statute as a serious permanent deformity or a serious loss of bodily function. Dispute over whether an injury is serious or not typically makes settlement of a claim for a just figure more difficult, and creates another question for a jury to answer. With Limited Tort, injuries which are not serious are limited to out of pocket economic loss and typically result in little or no monetary recovery.

The tort option selected is also binding on children or other family members residing with the insured person, unless they have their own motor vehicle insurance. There are circumstances or exceptions under which a person who would otherwise have limited tort coverage is considered to have full tort, such as when the person responsible for the accident pleads guilty or is convicted of DUI (driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol), is uninsured, or was operating a vehicle registered in another state. There is also an exception if you are injured while occupying something other than a private passenger motor vehicle or while you are a pedestrian. However, with most of these exceptions, you would still be left with the limited tort restrictions in a proceeding against your own insurance company on uninsured or underinsured motorist claims, which are discussed below.

Insurance Coverage

Your monetary recovery may be limited by the amount of insurance coverage available. Most people do not have significant assets which can be attached to satisfy a judgment. Even where there are assets, if they are held in joint names by a husband and wife, they cannot be attached to satisfy a judgment against just one spouse. Thus, if you are injured, go through a lawsuit and trial and obtain a judgment against the person responsible, the amount you can actually collect may be limited to the amount of his or her insurance, if there is any. Keep in mind that the minimum motor vehicle liability insurance coverage required in Pennsylvania is only $15,000.00 per person and $30,000.00 per accident.

However, you can protect yourself by purchasing uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage with your motor vehicle insurance policy. These are options that have to be offered in Pennsylvania. Uninsured motorist coverage would pay for damages sustained as a result of the negligence of the operator of an uninsured motor vehicle. Underinsured motorist coverage would pay for damages in excess of the liability insurance coverage of the operator of the motor vehicle responsible for the accident. You select the limits of this coverage, which will set the limit you can obtain from your own insurance company. This coverage can be stacked, if you select the stacking option under your own motor vehicle insurance policy. Stacking allows you to combine the uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage for multiple vehicles under your own policy or policies, along with any uninsured or underinsured coverage in the policy of other relatives you live with.

For example, if you are injured by an uninsured vehicle and driver and have uninsured motorist coverage of $15,000.00 on two cars under a policy, and a relative residing with you also has motor vehicle insurance with $15,000.00 uninsured coverage and you have a stacking option, your total coverage would be $45,000.00. While you can't control whether another operator has insurance or the amount of their insurance, you can protect yourself. If you don't have uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage under your policy, get it and stack it. If you do have it, increase it to the maximum amount allowed (its limit is the amount of liability insurance coverage you have under your policy), if you can afford to.

Sufficient First Party or Personal Injury Protection Benefits

You can also protect yourself under your own insurance policy by having sufficient first party or PIP (personal injury protection) benefits such as medical expense coverage and income loss coverage. The minimum required medical coverage is $5,000.00 and income loss coverage is optional. While other medical insurance coverage you have will be required to step in and pay bills once your motor vehicle insurance medical coverage is exhausted, your motor vehicle insurance medical coverage will pay for all types of treatment without deductible or co-pay.

You may want to review your other medical insurance coverage to see if having additional medical insurance coverage under your motor vehicle policy is worthwhile. If you are employed, income loss coverage is always worthwhile, and will pay you 80 percent of your gross loss up to the limit of coverage you select, after the first five days of loss of work, even if you have been paid by your employer through using sick days or vacation days, or through a disability plan at work. An important factor in deciding how much medical expense and income loss coverage to carry under your own vehicle insurance policy is - you don't have to pay it back - as discussed below.

Subrogation

Most policies of medical insurance and even disability insurance have provisions requiring subrogation. This will require you to reimburse the insurance company for anything it has paid on your behalf, as a result of an injury for which someone else is responsible, from your recovery against the responsible person. However, the provisions of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, 75 Pa.C.S.A. §1701, et. seq., prevent your motor vehicle insurer or other insurance corporations, group plans, or programs, which have paid income loss benefits to you or paid medical benefits on your behalf, as a result of a motor vehicle accident, from subrogating to or being reimbursed from the proceeds of your recovery against the responsible driver.

However, there are exceptions. The Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law specifically allows a Workers' Compensation insurer to subrogate/be reimbursed for the earnings loss and medical expenses it has paid as the result of a motor vehicle accident. Also, our courts have found that benefits paid by an HMO or by a federal program, such as Medicare or Medical Assistance or through plans offered through an employer, have to be reimbursed, since the federal laws governing those programs specifically provide for reimbursement and pre-empt or override Pennsylvania state law.

As a result, your net recovery will be reduced if you have to pay back those types of benefits. However, where there is a right to subrogation/reimbursement you also have the right to plead, prove, and recover those medical expenses or income losses from the responsible person. Usually, the amount you have to reimburse is reduced by the fair share of attorney's fees and expenses you incurred in obtaining the money and/or may be negotiable.

Does all this sound complicated? It is, and this is only a brief overview of the factors and laws that apply.

At NEEDLE LAW our lawyers have been successfully representing clients injured in auto accidents in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Wyoming, Wayne and Pike Counties for more than 20 years. If you have any questions concerning auto accidents in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Stroudsburg, Tunkhannock, Honesdale, Montrose or Milford, or in their surrounding areas, contact us at (570) 344-1266.