Accident injuries occur every day in Pennsylvania. This personal injury guide will help accident victims understand their rights when they have injured due to the fault of another person or business.
What Is a Personal Injury?
A personal injury is an injury to an accident victim’s body and any accompanying mental or emotional injury. Under limited circumstances, Pennsylvania law allows individuals to seek compensation for emotional injury even if they have not been physically harmed, but most personal injury claims involve bodily injuries in additional to emotional injuries.
When Is Another Person or Business Legally Responsible for a Personal Injury?
Injury victims who were intentionally injured by someone else can bring a lawsuit for battery (or a related “intentional tort” recognized by Pennsylvania law). Most people are not insured for intentional misconduct, but in some cases an employer might be held accountable for an employee’s intentional acts. For example, when a nursing home staff member intentionally abuses a nursing home resident, it is often possible to seek compensation from the nursing home. Most personal injury cases, however, involve legal claims that are based on the negligent conduct of a person or business. Pennsylvania law allows injury victims to recover compensation (known as “damages”) when their injuries are caused by someone else’s negligence. When injuries are caused by someone who is working (such as a truck driver making deliveries), it is usually possible to hold the employer responsible for the employee’s negligence. That often increases the amount of insurance coverage that is available to pay compensation for personal injuries.
What Is Negligence?
Negligence is another word for carelessness. In Pennsylvania, all individuals and businesses have a legal duty to exercise the degree of care that is necessary to avoid causing foreseeable harm to another person. The failure to exercise that care is known as negligence. Negligence might consist of doing something that is careless (like running a red light) or failing to do something that prudent people would usually do (like putting up a warning sign when liquids have been spilled in a supermarket aisle). When negligence causes an injury, the injury victim can seek compensation.
What Are the Most Common Personal Injury Claims?
Most personal injury claims seek compensation for accidental injuries that are caused by another person’s negligence. The most common examples include:
- Car accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Bus accidents
- Boating accidents
- Accidents due to unsafe property conditions
- Construction accidents
- Medical malpractice
A few personal injury claims do not require proof of negligence. Some claims involving defective products or dog bites can be brought even without evidence of negligence. Those claims are discussed in more detail below.
What Kinds of Negligent Acts Cause Traffic Accidents?
Car accidents are the most common cause of Pennsylvania personal injury claims. Examples of negligent behavior that causes a traffic accident include:
- Texting or dialing a cellphone while driving
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or a drug
- Speeding or aggressive driving
- Running red lights or disobeying traffic signs
- Merging or changing lanes without checking blind spots
- Failing to yield to oncoming traffic when entering an intersection
- Making a left turn in front of an oncoming motorcycle
- Driving while fatigued
A Pennsylvania personal injury car accident lawyer can hold negligent drivers accountable for the injuries they cause.
What Kinds of Negligent Acts Are Committed by Property Owners?
Property owners have a duty to keep their premises safe for people who enter their property. Businesses are negligent when they fail to take reasonable precautions to remove hazardous conditions from their property or to warn patrons that those conditions exist. Spilled liquids in areas that customers frequent are a common example of unsafe conditions on business premises. Businesses that fail to notice the spill within a reasonable time and to mop it up or warn customers to avoid the area until the spill can be cleaned are negligent. Businesses where spills frequently occur include:
- Convenience stores
- Dance clubs
- Garages and oil change businesses
Other examples of negligence include the failure to correct dangerous property conditions that can lead to slipping or tripping, such as:
- Merchandise protruding from lower shelves
- Electrical cords stretched across a floor
- Frayed carpeting
- Loose tiles
- Slippery flooring in high-traffic areas
- Snow or moisture that collects in the entryway of a business
- Icy sidewalks leading to the business
- Snow accumulation in a parking lot
Negligent acts committed by Pennsylvania property owners include the failure to correct other unsafe or hazardous conditions, such as:
- Uncovered swimming pools
- Lead paint on walls of apartments rented to tenants
- Frayed electrical cords or damaged wiring
- Stacking products so high that they fall when jostled
- Poor lighting in parking lots and hallways
- Defective playground equipment
- Failure to provide security in high-crime areas
- Improper storage of explosives or toxic chemicals
- Missing stairway railings
- Loose balcony railings
Injury victims who are harmed because of unsafe conditions on property owned by another person or business can get help from a Pennsylvania personal injury premises liability lawyer.
What Kinds of Negligent Acts Are Committed by Doctors and Hospitals?
Medical negligence occurs when doctors, hospital staff, and other healthcare providers fail to provide the standard of care that would be provided by prudent professionals practicing in the same area of medicine. Examples of medical malpractice include:
- Operating on the wrong part of the body
- Carelessly cutting an organ or artery during surgery
- Leaving sponges or instruments inside the body during surgery
- Failing to diagnose or treat a serious disease
- Misdiagnosing a disease
- Delaying treatment of a disease or medical condition
- Failing to recognize fetal distress
- Delaying a caesarian section
- Using improper techniques to deliver a baby
- Prescribing a medication to which a patient has an allergy
- Administering the wrong medication during a hospital stay
- Exposing hospital patients to hospital-acquired infections
Patients who are harmed by the negligence of a doctor or hospital can get help from a Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawyer.
Are Manufacturers Responsible When Consumers Are Harmed by a Dangerous Product?
In some cases, Pennsylvania law does not require proof that a manufacturer was negligent. When manufacturers sell a defective product that is unreasonably dangerous and consumers are harmed while using the product, consumers are not required to prove that the manufacturer was negligent. Rather, a Pennsylvania products liability lawyer must prove that the danger caused by the product would be unknown or unacceptable to an ordinary consumer. In other words, a product is “defective” if an ordinary consumer would not reasonably appreciate the danger or risk posed by using the product. Even if a product is known to be dangerous, a Pennsylvania products liability lawyer can prove that the product was defective by showing that consumers expect the benefits of using the product to outweigh the risks of using it, particularly when the manufacturer could have adopted a less dangerous design. Examples of potentially dangerous products that might harm consumers include:
- Artificial knees and hips that break or cause infections
- Defective brakes
- Airbags that explode or fail to inflate
- Power tools that cause shocks or electrocutions
- Heaters that do not vent toxic gasses properly
- Industrial tools that are improperly shielded
- Top-heavy appliances that tip over
- Children’s toys that break and expose sharp edges
- Children’s toys with detachable parts that pose a choking hazard
- Contaminated food products
- Hoverboards that start fires
- Laminate flooring products that release excessive formaldehyde vapors
A products liability lawyer in Pennsylvania can help injury victims understand whether their injury resulted from a defective product.
Do Claims for Dog Bite Injuries Always Require Proof of Negligence?
In some cases involving Pennsylvania dog bites, it is not necessary to prove that the owner was negligent. Usually, no proof of negligence is required when:
- the bite causes broken bones or disfiguring lacerations that require stitches, or
- the dog owner allowed the dog to roam off leash.
In other cases, it may be necessary to show that the dog owner knew or should have known that the dog was aggressive. If the dog bit or attacked another human or animal in the past, and the dog owner was aware of that incident, the dog owner has a duty to prevent future acts of aggression. Other acts of canine aggression (such as attempted attacks) may also be sufficient to trigger that duty. A Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer who handles dog bite claims can help injury victims determine whether they are entitled to compensation.
What If I Am Partially to Blame for the Accident?
Pennsylvania law allows accident victims to recover compensation that is proportionate to fault. For example, if a driver was 90% responsible for an accident and you were 10% at fault, you would recover 90% of full compensation for your injuries. In some cases, such as a driver who is rear-ended while stopped at a red light, the accident victim bears no fault. But in most traffic accidents, a jury will think there was some fault on the part of each driver. Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers keep that in mind when they assess the settlement value of a personal injury claim.
When Is It Worthwhile to Make an Injury Claim?
If an injury is minor and resulted in little or no medical treatment, the injury victim may be able to negotiate a small settlement with the insurance claims adjuster for the negligent party. Accident victims are usually entitled to more significant compensation when someone’s negligence caused more serious injuries, particularly those that required multiple visits to a doctor or that took weeks to heal. Those claims are usually worth pursuing with the help of a Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer.
What Compensation Is Available for a Personal Injury Claim?
Personal injury claims seek compensation for financial and nonfinancial losses caused by the responsible party. Financial losses include:
- Medical expenses incurred
- The likely cost of future medical treatment
- The expense of physical and vocational rehabilitation
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earnings
- The cost of coping with a disability (such as wheelchair purchases or wages for a care provider)
Nonfinancial losses are those that cannot be measured in dollars. They include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress and mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life, including loss of sexual relations
Experienced Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers pursue justice for accident victims by working hard to maximize compensation for their clients.
When Should I Settle My Personal Injury Claim?
Insurance adjusters usually want to settle as quickly as they can. That’s because settlements are final. If it turns out that you will need further medical treatment, or if you discover that you have a long-term disability, you can’t go back and reopen a settlement. No personal injury case should be settled until the full extent of the injury is known. That generally means that a doctor determines that the injury has completed healed or that it has healed as much as it ever will. A Pennsylvania personal injury attorney can help accident victims decide whether and when to settle their injury claims.
How Do Lawyers Calculate the Settlement Value of a Personal Injury Claim?
Many factors contribute to a Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer’s assessment of the settlement value of an injury claim. They include:
- The degree to which the accident victim was at fault
- The financial losses that the accident victim suffered
- The financial losses the accident victim will probably suffer in the future
- The nature and extent of the injuries
- The length of time it has taken or will take for the injuries to heal
- Whether the accident victim will suffer from a permanent disability
- The emotional impact the injuries had on the accident victim
- The availability and extent of insurance coverage
- Awards of damages juries have returned in similar cases
- The cost of a trial
- Intangible factors (such as whether jurors might sympathize with one side or the other if the case goes to trial)
Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys use their experience in handling similar cases to weigh all of those factors when they calculate the settlement value of an injury claim.