Question: I was in a car accident in Philadelphia. The other driver was at fault. She tried to turn left in front of me. I had a green light and had just entered the intersection when the other driver hit me on the driver’s side of my car. At the scene of the accident, she told police that I was speeding, when I wasn’t. I was injured and needed medical treatment. Can I bring a claim against her for my injuries?
Answer: There are two issues at play here. First, there’s the issue of fault. Second, there’s the issue of whether you can sue the other driver and get compensated for your pain and suffering. If you are insured under a limited tort auto policy, your rights to get compensation for pain and suffering may be affected.
Let’s go over the first issue, fault. If the other driver’s negligence caused the accident (and you can prove it), you could succeed in a lawsuit against her. The key is going to be the police report and any eyewitness testimony. In the police report, the investigating officer will indicate the cause of the accident. If the report clearly indicates that the other driver caused the accident, you should be able to prove that the accident was her fault. However, the police report, in and of itself, is not admissible as evidence against the other driver. Rather, you’d have to subpoena the investigating police officer to testify as to what occurred, who said what, and what any eyewitnesses said. If the other driver received a citation for careless driving, you may be able to use her plea (of guilty) as evidence that she caused the accident.
If there were no eyewitnesses and the officer didn’t give the other driver a citation, fault will boil down to whose word is believed. In other words, who is the more credible party? The fact that she told the police you were speeding does not prove that you were in fact speeding. To defeat your claim, she would have to prove that you were.
A Note About Comparative Fault in PA
Even if you were speeding, you may still be able to successfully sue the other driver and recover financial compensation. Under Pennsylvania law, the plaintiff in an auto accident case can bear some degree of fault for having caused the accident. But, up to a certain point. You can’t be more than 50% liable for having caused the accident. If you are, your case goes out the window.
If you’re found to bear some liability, any recovery you obtain is offset by your percentage of fault. Here’s an example to show how this works. A jury returns a verdict in your favor and finds that the accident was caused mostly by the other driver. The jury assigns 80% of the fault to her, but the jury also assigns 20% of the fault to you. Whatever the jury awards in your favor gets decreased by 20%, the percentage of fault assigned to you. If the jury awards you $100,000, you would only receive $80,000 from the other driver.
Pennsylvania Limited Tort Law
Now let’s go over the second issue, limited tort. Limited tort tends to be difficult to understand because it’s counter-intuitive. Under PA law, what you select on your own auto insurance policy affects your legal rights to sue a negligent driver. This means that someone who is 100% at fault for causing an accident might get off the hook when it comes to paying for your pain and suffering. What you choose on your policy is critical.
If you chose limited tort, you might not be able to recover anything but your monetary losses (medical bills, lost wages, etc.). But there are exceptions to this rule. If the other driver was driving a car registered out of state, or if you suffered a “serious” injury, you might be able to get compensated for pain and suffering. PA law is pretty complex when it comes to limited tort and the exceptions. It’s crucial to speak to an auto injury lawyer as soon as possible to review your case. Call our Philadelphia, Pennsylvania office for a free consultation. 215.399.9255
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