What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Car Accident?

March 21, 2022
West Chester Car Accident Lawyers at Eckell Sparks Help Injured Clients File Their Claim Promptly.

Car accidents can be one of the more difficult experiences for an individual.  Many times, a car accident leaves physical and mental scars that could last months or years after the crash, not to mention piling medical bills or lost wages.  If this is familiar, you may wonder if there is a time limit to file a lawsuit against whoever is responsible for your accident, otherwise known as the statute of limitations.   

Each state has their own statute of limitations, which is a certain amount of time an individual has to seek compensation for their injuries.  Generally, the statute of limitations applies to injury, death, or property damage, and the time limit is the same, regardless of the reason.  Although it is recommended to seek compensation as soon as possible, the statute of limitations allows some time to file a lawsuit.  Should the time limit pass, you would be unable to seek compensation and the case will be dismissed.

Some states have different time limits, depending on the type of personal injury claims.  Often, claims involving a minor may require a longer time than the general few years, as well as medical malpractice claims requiring a shorter limit.  For personal injury claims for minors, it is normal for the statute of limitations to begin the day the minor turns 18.  Medical malpractice claims may have a shorter time limit but do have a discovery of harm rule, in which the time limit starts on the day the malpractice was discovered, not the day the mistake was made.   

From the date of the car accident, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania is two years.  This applies to most types of injury cases in the state.  However, for wrongful death lawsuits, it is different.  A wrongful death claim is a lawsuit involving someone being sued who caused the death of someone else through either negligence or another intentional act.  With a wrongful death claim, the statute of limitations is still two years, but starts on the date of death, not the date of the accident that caused the death.  In car accident or other injury claims, this is certainly a possibility that someone succumbed to their injuries long after the initial accident. 

Car Accidents in Pennsylvania

It is important to note that car accidents are treated differently in each state and there are certain laws you must obey.  In most cases in Pennsylvania, you are required to report a car accident within five days to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). You must do so if anyone has been injured or killed, if there was extensive property damage, or the police did not come to the scene.  Failure to do so may result in a license suspension.  

Proving negligence is just part of any successful injury claim.  However, there are times that the defendant is not 100 percent responsible for the accident.  Sometimes, the plaintiff may bear some of the responsibility for their injury.  This is referred to as comparative negligence, in which a jury determines the amount the plaintiff should be awarded, and what percentage of fault there is for each party. 

Some states follow a pure contributory negligence law, which means that if the plaintiff is found to be at least one percent at fault for the accident, the case may be dismissed.  Pure contributory negligence is often seen as a law meant for the benefit of defendants and insurance companies and is used only in five states: Alabama, Washington D.C., Maryland, North Dakota, and Virginia. 

Pure comparative negligence is a law in which the amount the defendant owes depends on what percentage of fault they are found to have.  For example, if the court compensates the plaintiff $50,000 for their injuries yet decide that the defendant is only 75 percent at fault, the plaintiff’s compensation would be $37,500, or 75 percent of the original determination.  About one-third of the states use the pure comparative negligence law. 

Pennsylvania uses a modified comparative negligence law, which is also used by the majority of states.  Pennsylvania follows a so-called 51 percent rule, where a plaintiff can receive compensation only if they found to be less than 51 percent liable for the accident.  For instance, a jury may award $100,000 for injuries sustained but find the plaintiff to be 40 percent liable for the accident.  In this regard, the plaintiff will only be awarded $60,000, or 60 percent of damages.

Pennsylvania No-Fault Laws

Pennsylvania is considered a no-fault insurance state, as it offers a no-fault car insurance policy, unlike many other states.  You have two auto insurance options in Pennsylvania: the basic tort liability or the no-fault insurance policy.  Under no-fault insurance, you would use your own insurance company to receive compensation for any injury, medical bill, or vehicle repair bill should you get because of a car accident.  You are unable to sue another party; however, you are also unable to be sued under the no-fault insurance policy. 

Under the no-fault policy, you will be compensated by your own insurance company, regardless of who is at fault for the accident. Only with serious injuries, such as permanent disfigurement and others, will you be able to sue the at-fault party. 

The minimum amount of coverage that is required in Pennsylvania is:

  • $5,000 no-fault personal injury protection coverage
  • $5,000 property damage
  • $15,000 personal injury protection per person for passengers and non-drivers
  • $30,000 personal injury protection per accident

Many car accidents reach settlements by the insurance company, but do not be too hasty in accepting the first offer.   Many insurance companies will present their lowest offer first; after all, insurance companies are trying to make money as well.  Contact a car accident lawyer first before accepting any settlement offered to you.  It may seem like it is a quicker means to an end, but you will likely miss out on a larger settlement, meaning you may not receive enough compensation to cover your car repairs, medical bills, or missed time at work. 

West Chester Car Accident Lawyers at Eckell Sparks Help Injured Clients File Their Claim Promptly

There are times when an injury sustained in a car accident does not manifest itself until long after the collision.  If this applies to you, you must file your claim within Pennsylvania’s two-year statute of limitations and reach out to the West Chester car accident lawyers at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C.  Our experienced law team will expedite your case and help you get the compensation for which you are entitled. Call us at 610-565-3701 or contact us online to schedule an appointment. Located in Media and West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Delaware County, Chester County, and Montgomery County.