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Determining Fault After an Accident

Posted on June 26th, 2019

The number of motor vehicle-related deaths in Pennsylvania in the first six months of 2018 increased by 10%  compared to the same period in 2017. If you’re involved in an auto accident in Pennsylvania the first thing your insurance company will want to know is who was at fault in the accident? This is especially important if anyone suffered an injury or there was significant damage to either vehicle.

Fault vs. No-Fault States

Essentially determining fault is determining whose insurance company pays whom. Different states have different methods of determining fault in motor vehicle accidents. Most states are fault states and use a traditional tort system to decide fault and assign liability in auto insurance cases, based on a concept called provable negligence. These states allow people to seek compensation for medical bills, repairs, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Twelve states use a different system called no-fault, in which drivers pay for insurance that compensates them no matter who is at fault for an accident and limits their ability to recover compensation from other drivers. If an accident occurs in a no-fault state each driver’s insurance company pays for the individual’s medical expenses, up to their policy limits. Property damage is still based on fault – the at-fault driver’s insurance would pay for the cost of repairs. Most of these states only allow claimants to seek compensation in cases of exceptionally serious injury.

What does Pennsylvania Law Say?

Three states, Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, are choice no-fault insurance states. In choice no-fault states, the individual can choose between fault (full tort) and no-fault (limited tort) coverage when purchasing auto insurance. No-fault insurance is less expensive because insurance companies can avoid litigation and limit their risk. Fault insurance is more expensive, as the insurance company is open to more risk.

If a driver chooses the no-fault option and is in an accident, he or she files a claim with his or her own insurance company, which pays for medical bills and any lost wages due to missed work. He or she cannot seek compensation for emotional distress or pain and suffering the injuries meet certain criteria. A driver who chooses the fault option does not have those limitations and can file a lawsuit to receive compensation.

What is Comparative Fault?

In Pennsylvania resolution of your claim is straightforward if you’re in an accident and the other driver is completely at fault. The other driver’s insurance company compensates you. But if both drivers are partly at fault in the accident then insurance companies, as well as judges and juries, follow a rule called modified comparative fault.

Following this rule, the courts reduce damages awards by a percentage equal to the plaintiff’s share of fault. Insurance companies use the same rule, and base what they will pay on a claim based on what will likely happen in court. You cannot recover damages from any other at-fault party if you are more than 50 percent at fault, even if there were multiple at-fault parties involved in the accident.

Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations to file a personal injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania is two years from the date of the injury. In the case of a trucking accident, this is two years from the date of the accident that caused your injuries. If those injuries caused a death that occurred after the accident, it would be two years from the date of the person’s death.

The best course of action immediately after involvement in an auto accident is contact an attorney who has the skill and experience to establish who is at fault and what compensation you may be able to recover.