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Understanding Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law Dealing with Multi-Vehicle Accidents

Severe weather has hit Pennsylvania this winter, and drivers are at risk for serious car accidents that can result in fatalities and catastrophic injuries. With injuries that are so extreme, the costs of medical care and missed wages from being off work can add up quickly. In a multi-vehicle pile-up, like one that occurred at the beginning of this year, sorting out who is liable for your injuries can be complicated.

A couple years ago, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued a non-precedential decision in Swackhammer v. Hajdukiewicz. In this case, there was a motor vehicle accident in which a car was rear-ended by someone who was driving a work vehicle. The injured person’s car was then thrust into the car in front of his, and the driver of the first car filed a claim for severe aggravation to a pre-existing degenerative condition in his neck. The injured party had radiating pain in his arm and numbness and tingling in his fingers, and he required cervical surgery and carpal tunnel surgery. The injured person also complained of depression as a result of the injury.

At trial, the judge granted a directed verdict on the issue of negligence based on the defendants’ acknowledgment prior to trial that the driver of the work vehicle was negligent. The jury, even with an explanation of the judge’s ruling on the issue of fault, awarded no damages to the injured person for his medical complaints. The injured person appealed, and all parties filed post-trial motions regarding the possible award of a new trial and whether the prior trial rulings should stand.

The injured party argued that, even though the judge directed the jury on who was ultimately negligent, the jury instructions regarding the award of damages were lacking. The Superior Court looked at case law, which allows broad discretion to the judge in the wording of the instructions, as long as the appropriate law is conveyed. The judge advised that the jury was to consider damages only, and that the burden of proof was a preponderance of the evidence. Specifically, the jury was to award damages for the physical and financial injury it believed to have been sustained as a result of the accident. In the instructions, there was a reminder that the defendants already acknowledged negligence, and that the negligence caused some of the injury, but that the disagreement lay in whether or not the accident caused some of the injuries.

The Superior Court, in its ruling, reviewed several cases that questioned what a jury may consider in its determination of whether to award damages, and how much to award. The law plainly states that if both sides’ experts agree that an accident caused an injury, the jury is not allowed to make a finding of no injuries. However, if the injuries are based on the injured person’s subjective complaints or the existence of pain, the jury may be allowed to find there were no injuries. The jury can also make a finding that there were injuries, but not enough to require compensation.

The Superior Court looked to the testimony and evidence provided through all the medical experts for the injured person and the defendant driver. The defense experts did not find further degeneration in the pre-existing condition, did not believe that the carpal tunnel was a result of the accident, and believed that the pain described was subjective. The injured person’s witnesses’ testimonies conflicted with one another on whether or not there was further degeneration of the cervical condition, and whether or not the pain was caused as a result of the accident. Since the testimony from all the experts was far from uncontroverted, the Superior Court affirmed the jury’s verdict.

This decision shows the importance of experienced personal injury trial attorneys at your side. Knowledge of the law is essential in order to maximize recovery. If you have been injured in a Pennsylvania car accident, contact one of the attorneys at Needle Law Firm, P.C. at 570-344-1266.

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