Unfortunately, car and motorcycle accidents happen every day, causing injuries and fatalities to thousands of people. If you or a loved one have been injured in a car or motorcycle accident caused by the negligence of another person, there is a remedy. Injured people and the families of those killed can file a claim or a lawsuit against the responsible party to recover medical expenses, lost income, and to be compensated for pain and suffering and other losses.
At the Elderkin Law Firm, we have helped many injured and grieving families in Northwestern Pennsylvania receive the compensation they deserve after an accident. We know that injured people need action as soon as possible; our personal injury attorneys work hard to ensure the speedy resolution of car and motorcycle accident cases. Our personalized approach with auto and motorcycle accident cases brings many new clients to us through referrals by satisfied clients.
Inattention, such as cell phone use
Failure to adjust to conditions
Hazards on the roadway
Changed lanes without signaling
Made a turn without signaling
Pulled out from a side street without looking
A car accident can be a difficult and overwhelming occurrence, especially when you've been injured. Our attorneys understand this and with more than 40 years of experience, we have the know-how to assist you during what may be a very disruptive time in your life. We want to hear about your case, and we want to help you get the results that you deserve. Call our Erie, PA offices at 814-456-4000, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out one of the contact forms. Talk to us, we can help.
In Pennsylvania, there is a two-year statute of limitations for negligence claims, and this includes most auto accident personal injury claims. This means you must file a lawsuit at the Courthouse within two years of the date that the accident happened, and make sure that the parties you have sued are properly served with a copy of the paperwork you used to start your lawsuit. There are very strict rules about how the lawsuit must be filed and served. If these rules are not followed, the Court may dismiss your lawsuit. It is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible after an accident, to make sure that important evidence is not lost, that relevant persons are placed on timely notice of your claim and so you can know that your lawsuit has been commenced properly.
What information should I get to support my claim?
If you're involved in an auto accident, you should always get basic information from the other driver or drivers before you leave the scene of the accident. You need to know the name and address of the driver of the other vehicle, and see their driver's license to make sure that they are who they say they are. You also need to get their insurance information -- the name of their insurance company and a policy number, if available. (This information should be on their owner's card, which all drivers are required to have in their possession when operating a motor vehicle.) It's not a bad idea to write down the license plate number of all vehicles involved so that you can provide specific identification later, if necessary. The other thing that's important, and you don't often think about this at the scene, is to look and see who is around. Even if people were not driving a vehicle, they may have been a passenger or a bystander who witnessed the accident; they may be critical witnesses in your case later on. If you and the other driver have a different view about what happened, if the case later comes to trial, the testimony of that third-party, disinterested witness can be the difference between winning and losing. Unless you get the name of that witness at the time of the accident, you may never be able to identify that person again. Look around to see who is there and write down the names and contact information of everybody you can.
I feel that I may have been partially at fault. What should I do?
Don't jump to conclusions about who was at fault for the accident. While sometimes this may be clear, other times there are factors involved that are not so obvious. Avoid making statements about who was at fault while at the scene; concentrate, rather, on making sure everyone is okay, or getting medical help to the scene if necessary, and on trading pertinent information with the involved parties and witnesses.
Next, call your insurance company and let them know that the incident happened. Their job is to protect you by providing an attorney as soon as that's necessary and to pay any claim on your behalf, if you were at fault. If someone is injured, and the accident was truly your fault, your insurance company will step in for you and pay for any covered damages that might be assessed against you, up to the limit of the liability coverage that you have purchased.
Should I call the police after I'm in an accident?
According to Pennsylvania law, you must report an accident to the police if someone was injured or if a vehicle is damaged badly enough that it cannot be driven. In such cases, after reporting the accident, wait at the scene until the police arrive and complete their on-scene investigation. In most cases, they will then provide you with an information sheet identifying the investigating officer(s) and the other person(s) involved in the collision.
I wasn't wearing my seatbelt when my car accident occurred. Is this something that can be held against me in a suit for damages?
No. According to Pennsylvania's "seatbelt law", drivers, front seat passengers and others have a mandatory duty to wear a seatbelt or be in approved safety seats. The law also contains an evidentiary provision that says that your failure to wear a seatbelt may not be used as evidence against you in a civil case. As a result of this law, if you were injured in an accident caused by another person, even if you were not wearing your seatbelt, the driver of the other car could not make the argument that your injuries were made worse because you were not wearing your seatbelt. That evidence would not be admissible in trial.
The helmet laws have changed in Pennsylvania. If I was injured in a motorcycle accident and I wasn't wearing a helmet, can I still recover damages from the other driver?
The mere fact that you were riding a motorcycle without a helmet does not preclude you from recovering for injuries caused by another driver. It may, however, have a profound impact on your case.
Pennsylvania's helmet law generally requires both operators and riders of motorcycles to wear a helmet. There are exemptions from this requirement for persons over 21 years of age, and who have been licensed to operate a motorcycle for more than two years or who have completed an approved safety course. If you were not wearing a helmet and were involved in an accident caused by another driver, the fact that you were not wearing a helmet may be used to try to show that your injuries were the result of, or at least made worse by, your not wearing a helmet. If the jury were to find that your failure to wear a helmet was a substantial contributing factor in causing or increasing the extent of your injuries, then the amount of damages you could recover would be reduced commensurately.
Is it important to take photos of the accident scene?
Yes. In this day and age of cell phones, it is easier than ever to take photos at the scene of an accident. If the other driver was at fault, and you want to preserve the evidence at the scene, take photographs. In such cases, a picture is worth a thousand words. Take a photograph of the license plate of all the vehicles involved, so you can identify the vehicles involved later, if need be. Take a photograph of the physical damage to all vehicles involved. If your fender is bent, take a photo of what it looks like immediately after the accident. If there are skid marks on the road, take photos of them. All of these things may be key pieces of evidence that can be used by your attorney, by an accident reconstructionist, or by others to identify how fast vehicles were going at the time, how vehicles were positioned, and ultimately who was at fault.
Should I speak to the other driver's insurance company if they contact me?
No. You should speak to a lawyer first. It's a good idea if you are contacted by the adjuster for the other driver's insurance company simply to tell them that you have contacted, or are about to contact, your lawyer and you prefer to talk to them with your attorney present. You and your lawyer can discuss whether you should talk to the insurance representative and, if so, what subjects are appropriate for you to discuss.
How soon after I am in an accident should I contact my insurance company? Do I even need to contact them if I wasn't at fault?
There are two reasons you might want to let your insurance company know about the accident.
First, if you're injured, you will want to let them know because your own auto insurance policy will pay your medical bills (up to the limits of coverage you have purchased). They will need information about the accident, so that they can process your claim for medical benefits.
Second, if you were, or think you were, at fault for the accident, you'll want to notify them immediately so that they can handle the claim and none of the evidence is jeopardized. Your insurance company has an obligation to do two things if you're at fault: (1) hire an attorney to defend you (if that's necessary), and (2) pay the amount of any damages for which you are responsible, up to whatever limits of liability coverage you pruchased. You don't want your insurance company to refuse coverage because you didn't let them know about the accident in time and critical evidence was lost.
If you think you were at fault, or if you or someone else was injured, you should let your insurance company know about the accident right away.
What must I do to be properly insured?
The following is a re-print of the Auto Insurance Fact sheet which is available on PennDOT's website.
Pennsylvania law requires all Pennsylvania motor vehicle owners to maintain vehicle liability insurance (financial responsibility) on a currently registered vehicle. Vehicle liability insurance covers the property damage or injuries you may cause others in an accident.
A lapse in insurance coverage results in the suspension of your vehicle registration privilege for three months, unless the lapse of insurance was for a period of less than 31 days and the owner or registrant proves to the Department that the vehicle was not operated during this short lapse in coverage.
If the Department determines that you operated your vehicle without the required insurance, your driver's license will also be suspended for three months. The registration plate, sticker, card and driver's license must be surrendered to PennDOT in order to serve the suspension. Restoration fees of $50.00 and proof of insurance must be submitted prior to having either registration or driving privileges returned.
Please note that insurance companies are required to notify PennDOT when an insurance policy is cancelled by the insured or the insurer. Insurance companies are NOT required by law to notify PennDOT when a vehicle owner acquires a new insurance policy with the same or different insurance company. It is the vehicle owner's responsibility to notify PennDOT of the new insurance after receiving a letter of inquiry from PennDOT. Failure to respond to PennDOT's letter of inquiry will result in the suspension of the vehicle registration. A suspension may be avoided by the return of the registration plate, sticker and card to PennDOT at the time the insurance policy is cancelled or financial responsibility lapses. Registration Plates, stickers and cards must be received by the Department no more than 30 days after insurance was cancelled. Registration plates, stickers and cards received by the Department after 30 days will result in a 3-month registration suspension.
To surrender the registration plate, sticker and card, mail them to : PA Department of Transportation, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Return Tag Unit, P.O. Box 68597, Harrisburg, PA 17106-8597.
All motor vehicles subject to registration such as cars, vans, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, trucks and buses must have liability insurance. You are in compliance with the law if you have liability insurance in the following amounts:
Your insurance company sends you an insurance identification (I.D.) card valid for only the period for which coverage has been paid. Always carry your insurance I.D. card in your vehicle.
If your motor vehicle is not insured with liability insurance, you could face the following penalties and expenses:
PENNDOT requires all motor vehicle owners to provide proof that they are financially responsible (have liability insurance) at the time of initial registration. PENNDOT refuses renewal or transfer of registration if the self-certification of financial responsibility is not completed on the registration application, as follows:
The following documents are acceptable forms of insurance:
NOTE: The above copies must be the official document issued by the insurance carrier.
The affidavit will exempt you from serving a three-month suspension only if you obtain insurance coverage in less than 31days from the date the lapse of insurance began. This may be a date determined by the Department or a date the insurance company has indicated insurance coverage was cancelled or terminated.
The 30-day grace period does not begin from the date of PennDOT's notice; it begins from the date of the insurance cancellation. Please read the notice carefully to determine the critical date that marks the end of the grace period.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Financial Responsibility Section P.O. Box 68674 Harrisburg, PA 17106-8674
Go to PennDOT's website, http://www.dot.state.pa.us/, for additional information.