Serving Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester, Bucks, and Lehigh County

Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law

Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law

Introduction to Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law

Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law covers a wide variety of topics including Tort laws unique to Pennsylvania, liability issues, negligence, damages, compensation for your injuries, and insurance coverage. We explain what to expect through the emotional journey of a personal injury lawsuit and what to look for in the attorney who will be your partner throughout the process.

If you have been involved in an accident or suffered a personal injury and are interested in learning about Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law related to accidents and personal injury, Fox Law has condensed an overview of important information to help you to understand Pennsylvania Tort laws and Pennsylvania Insurance laws, and how they may affect you in your personal injury case.

Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law

Table of Contents

I.  Overview

II.  Personal Injury Legal Definitions

  1. Tort
  2. Liability
  3. Negligence
  4. Damages
  5. Compensation

III. What to do Following an Accident

  1. Documenting Your Injuries
  2. Preserving Evidence
  3. Obtaining the Police Report
  4. Hiring a Lawyer

IV.  The Legal Process

  1. Municipal Court (Small Claims Court)
  2. Retaining an Attorney
  3. Investigation
  4. Pleadings
  5. Discovery
  6. Settlement Negotiations
  7. Going to Trial
  8. Compensation

V.     Insurance Coverage

VI.    Sexual Abuse

VII.  Legal Resources

VIII. History and Meaning of the term “Philadelphia Lawyer”


Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law

I.  Overview

When you are injured through the actions or inactions of others, Pennsylvania Personal Injury law allows for compensation in an effort to make you “whole” again from the injuries you have sustained. Compensation is usually monetary, although remedies may include things other than money. There are 3 critical elements to a successful personal injury lawsuit: Proving fault, documenting your injury, and insurance coverage. (See 3 Critical Elements to the Success of Your Case.) Lawsuits begin by filing a personal injury claim. If the claim cannot be resolved, your attorney will file a lawsuit. Lawsuits are often settled out of court however your case may go to trial if you do not receive an acceptable settlement offer.

II.  Personal Injury Legal Definitions

  1. Tort – A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a civil wrong that causes someone else to suffer loss or harm resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act. The person who commits the act is called a tortfeasor. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tort
  2. Liability – In law, liable means responsible or answerable in law; legally obligated.” Legal liability concerns both civil law and criminal law and can arise from various areas of law, such as contracts, torts, taxes, or fines given by government agencies. The claimant is the one who seeks to establish, or prove, liability. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_liability
  3. Negligence – A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. The behavior usually consists of actions, but can also consist of omissions when there is some duty to act (e.g., a duty to help victims of one’s previous conduct). https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/negligence
  4. Damages – In law, damages are an award, typically of money, to be paid to a person as compensation for loss or injury. The rules for damages can and frequently do vary based on the type of claim which is presented (e.g., breach of contract versus a tort claim) and the jurisdiction. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damages
  5. Compensation – 1. Payment for work. 2. Payment for injury, loss, or otherwise depriving a person of something he or she is entitled to. See also Damages.

III. What to Do Following an Accident

  1. Documenting Your Injuries: When you are in an accident, you may think you are not seriously injured and a personal injury lawsuit is not on the forefront of your mind. You want your car fixed and assume your aches and pains will resolve in a few days. When days or weeks go by and the aches and pains that you think are temporary fail to resolve, you go to the doctor.  Ruptured discs and torn ligaments are diagnosed, and you realize you may have been injured more than you realized. If you did not go to the doctor within a few days following the accident, insurance companies will argue that your injuries are not related to the accident. A good personal injury attorney may be able to overcome this legal hurdle however a few simple steps immediately following an accident will help you to preserve your case and thoroughly document your injuries. (See 7 Do’s and Don’ts Immediately Following an Accident)
  2. Preserving Evidence: A picture tells a thousand words and is one of the best ways to preserve evidence.  If possible, take pictures of the defective condition and the damage. Also, begin a journal as soon as possible following an accident. Begin with the accident scene and include what happened before, during and after the event. Continue your journal in the days to follow documenting your injury, how you are feeling, and how your injury is affecting your daily life. Memories have a tendency to wane, and a journal will be very helpful to you, and your case, when you are asked to recall the details of your accident and injury months or a year later.
  3. Obtaining the Police Report: If police were involved in your accident, a police report is helpful expediting your case. Police reports may provide helpful contact information of witnesses, statements of what happened, preliminary assessment of fault, location, time of day, and weather conditions. Although Pennsylvania Personal Injury law may not admit the police report in a civil court proceeding, it can aid your attorney in settlement negotiations. In general, you are entitled to receive a copy of the police report. If you are not able to obtain the police report, your attorney can obtain it for you.
  4. Hiring a Lawyer: As a top rated personal injury lawyer for the past 25 years handling both defense and plaintiff cases, I assure you that attorney style, experience, training, and results vary. The attorney you choose will be your partner and your voice throughout your lawsuit. Choose an attorney who specializes in personal injury with whom you feel comfortable sharing your journey. (See 10 Traits of the Best Personal Injury Lawyer)

IV. The Legal Process

When you believe that you have been injured through the fault of another person, you may seek to file a personal injury claim. The following are the stepping stones through the legal process of a Pennsylvania Personal Injury lawsuit. (See also 7 Steps of a Lawsuit)

  1. Municipal Court – Municipal Court is also known as Small Claims Court. Municipal court is for small claim matters, generally under $10,000 – $12,000. The amount varies from municipality. Advantages of small claims court are that you don’t need an attorney, it’s cheaper, and it’s faster. It is often a good option for contract disputes, landlord/tenant disputes, and motor vehicle property damage disputes. (See How to Handle Small Claims Court without a Lawyer)
  2. Retaining an Attorney – Personal Injury Lawyers work on a contingency fee basis and offer free initial consultations. In your initial consultation, your case will be discussed and evaluated. If the attorney accepts your case, they carry all of the costs in handling your case and are only compensated through a contingency fee if they make a financial recovery for you. Contingency fees are calculated as a percentage of the client’s recovery. (See Contingency Fee Benefits) If you choose to retain the lawyer, you will sign a contingency fee agreement. The lawyer will then send out letters of representation to the insurance company and other relevant parties. At this point, your legal journey with your attorney will begin. Case resolution may take months or up to 2 years, depending on the lawyer, the insurance company, the jurisdiction and the injury. Your lawyer should do his/her part in moving your case forward as quickly as possible, however he/she should do so only after your case is fully developed. In this regard, it is important to be patient and wait until the extent of your injury is fully developed before your attorney presents your demand letter. (See Fast Case Resolution with Best Results)
  3. Investigation – Once you have retained an attorney, your attorney should conduct a thorough investigation of your claim. This may include the interview of witnesses, gathering and preserving of physical evidence, visiting the accident location, obtaining pictures or videos of the accident scene, hiring medical experts or other experts critical to proving your case, and contacting the insurance companies regarding your claim.
  4. Pleadings – After the investigative process is complete, your attorney will prepare the formal presentation of your case in the form of Pleadings. Pleadings present the facts of the case and bring up issues that must be resolved. They are a very important part of the process.
  5. Discovery – In litigation, discovery is the required disclosure of all information related to the litigation. Each party may demand discovery of documents, including interrogatories, depositions, medical records, and other documents relevant to the litigation. Discovery reduces the chance of surprises during the trial. In depositions, parties answer questions under oath. Depositions a transcribed by a court reporter. Statements made at depositions can be used during trial. Depositions also give the attorneys the opportunity to see how well a party will testify should they not reach a settlement agreement and go to trial.
  6. Settlement Negotiations – Before filing a lawsuit, most attorneys will discuss settlement negotiations to determine whether a fair settlement agreement can be reached without going to trial. Your lawyer will compile and evaluate all of the evidence to support your claim and a settlement range is determined. A “demand” is sent to the insurer, setting forth the facts of the case, including liability, negligence, damages, and injuries, offering an amount to settle the case. If the negotiation process fails to produce an acceptable settlement, a lawsuit will be filed and the parties will go to trial.
  7. Going to Trial – If an acceptable settlement resolution cannot be reached, Pennsylvania Personal Injury law allows plaintiff’s to take their case to trial. Plaintiff’s generally go to trial if the settlement offer that they receive is so far off from what the plaintiff and his/her attorney feels is a reasonable offer, that they feel it is an easy decision. The bar for going to trial is high because of the risks involved. It is important for plaintiff’s to fully understand the risks of going to trial before they make their final decision and the risks should be clearly explained to the plaintiff by their attorney. When a plaintiff decides to reject all settlement offers and go to trial, they risk losing their case completely, including the settlement offer. They also may win their case and receive a far greater compensation than they were offered in the settlement negotiations. There are many variables that influence the outcome of a trial. The result may be influenced by the skill of the trial attorneys, the judge, the jury, and the testimony. Testifying gives a plaintiff the opportunity to look a jury in the eye and tell them what happened and how their injury has affected their life. If they are good witnesses, this can make a big difference in the outcome of their case. The phases of a trial begin with choosing a jury, opening statements, witness testimony and cross-examination, closing arguments, jury instructions, jury deliberation and finally reaching a verdict.
    • Choosing a Jury – During jury selection, the attorneys and judge question potential jurors to determine if they are acceptable jurors for the matters pertaining to the case. Plaintiff and defense attorneys may exclude jurors through “preemptory challenges” and challenges “for cause”. Preemptory challenges can exclude a juror for any reason. Excluding a juror for cause can be used when a juror has shown that he or she cannot be objective in deciding a case.
    • Opening Statements – After choosing a jury, the plaintiff and defense attorneys begin with opening statements. In the opening statements, the plaintiff’s attorney will present the facts of the case from their perspective and outline the defendant’s negligence in causing the plaintiff’s injury. The defense attorney will also present the facts of the case from their perspective in supporting the defendant.
    • Witness testimony and Cross-Examination – Pennsylvania Personal Injury law allows each side presents detailed evidence to support their case. Testimony may include witness testimony, expert testimony, plaintiff testimony, photographs, documents, and medical reports. Witnesses are called to the stand and sworn to tell the truth. The attorney who has called the witness questions the witness through direct examination. After direct examination, the opposing attorney has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Following the cross-examination, the attorney who called the witness has the opportunity respond to any issues brought up in cross-examination through “re-direct examination”.
    • Closing Arguments – Similar to the opening statements, closing arguments summarize the case from the perspective of both the plaintiff and defense attorneys. In closing arguments, plaintiff and defense attorneys summarize how the evidence and testimony weighs for a decision in their favor.
    • Jury Instruction – Jury instructions are carefully laid out by both the defense attorney, plaintiff attorney and the judge. Once the jury instructions are determined, the judge instructs the jury on the legalities and findings required by the jury to arrive at a decision.
    • Jury Deliberation and Verdict –Pennsylvania Personal Injury law requires a jury to be unanimous in finding for the plaintiff. When a verdict is reached by the jury, the jury foreperson notifies the judge. The jury re-enters the courtroom where the jury foreperson reads the jury’s verdict.
  8. Compensation – A verdict may be appealed, however once a settlement or verdict is reached without further appeal, generally speaking, the insurance company sends a check to the plaintiff’s attorney. At the same time that the insurance company mails the settlement check to the attorney, the insurance company also mails a letter to the plaintiff notifying them that their settlement check has been sent to their attorney. When the attorney receives the check, it is deposited into an Escrow account for distribution. In the distribution process, any outstanding medical or other liens are paid, the attorney is reimbursed for expenses and paid their contingency fee, and the plaintiff receives the net balance of the award.

V.  Insurance Coverage – Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law has adopted a choice “no-fault” car insurance program. This means that regardless of who is at fault in a car accident, in general, a driver is compensated through his/her own insurance policy.  Under the umbrella of your own insurance policy, Pennsylvania Personal Injury law allows you to choose full tort coverage, which gives you the right to sue for pain and suffering. Failing to choose “Full Tort” under your own policy limits your right to sue for pain and suffering. Insurance coverage is critical to the successful outcome of every case personal injury case. In rare cases, a person may be held personally liable for personal injury, but in the vast majority of cases, there must be insurance coverage available to make a recovery for a victim of personal injury. Insurance policy coverage is “per accident”. Therefore, when more than one person is injured in a single accident, the available insurance coverage must be divided among those injured, according to the extent of their injuries. In this case, coverage may be inadequate to fully compensate all of the victims.  (See also Pennsylvania Car Insurance Advice from a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer)

VI.  Sexual Abuse – (See Me Too Registry, Legal Definitions of Rape, Sexual Assault, Indecent Assault, Sexual Harassment, and Information on Pursuing Your Claim.)

VII. Additional Legal Resources Links to additional legal resources.

VIII. History and Meaning of the term “Philadelphia Lawyer” – Describing an exceptionally competent lawyer, the term “Philadelphia Lawyer” was coined in the 1700’s when Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Hamilton was hired to successfully defend New York City publisher John Peter Zengler, who was arrested in a highly pubic liable lawsuit. Up until that time, truth had never been used as a defense for liable. Hamilton won the case and people began saying, “It took a Philadelphia Lawyer to get him off.”  The case strengthened the rights of freedom of speech and established the principle of freedom of the press in America.  (See also History and Meaning of the term “Philadelphia Lawyer”).