FAQ

Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyers Provide an Overview of Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law

Personal injury lawsuits are filed in Pennsylvania by people (or their representatives) injured due to the negligence of someone else. The injury may be either physical or emotional, and it can arise from a variety of sources or types of conduct. Some of the most common types of personal injury cases include slip and fall, automobile accidents or car accidents, assaults and battery, medical malpractice, and product liability. In general, the goal of a personal injury action is to determine who was responsible and to compel the responsible party to compensate the injured person for the losses sustained. If you or someone you know has been injured by the careless actions of another, contact a personal injury attorney at our firm to find out how we can help you preserve your rights.

Reasons to Hire Personal Injury Lawyers

When you’re injured, you need all the help you can get, and you need it as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that means that some injury victims pick the first attorney they find rather than making an informed choice. Before you hire a personal injury attorney, it’s important to educate yourself and find the right fit for you and your case. The following list can help you find an attorney who is right for your case.

Car accidents

Have you been hurt in an automobile, motorcycle or truck accident in Pennsylvania? Being the victim of a car wreck was bad enough. But, to many of you, the insurance claims process that you are forced to become involved in after a crash can be complex and at times, simply confusing. There are many forms to fill out and questions that need the right answers. You want to know how your property damage (the cost to repair your car) will be paid for. You want to know who will pay for it. You want to know how your medical bills will be covered. Worst of all, you or your family may be faced with funeral and burial expenses and you may wonder how that will be covered.

Personal Injuries from Animal Bites or Attacks

Although animal-attack claims most commonly involve dog bites, many other types of domesticated animals, such as ferrets, cats, and even birds, can also bite humans. Even non-domesticated animals, such as large cats ordinarily found in the wild, but owned by some people as pets have been known to attack children and adults. An owner’s liability for injuries caused by his or her pet, if any, will vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. A lawyer from our firm who is experienced in handling personal injury claims is an excellent source for accurate advice and information if you have been injured in animal attack.

Slips, Falls, and Other Premises Liability Claims

Premises liability law involves the legal responsibilities of property owners and occupiers to prevent injuries to persons on their property. One of the most common causes of such injuries is a trip or slip and fall, such as on an icy sidewalk, a loose or uneven stair tread, or a piece of debris or spilled liquid on the floor. Property owner liability varies depending on the rules and principles adopted in the jurisdiction where the injury occurred. Experienced personal injury lawyers at our firm can evaluate the strength of your premises liability claim and help you recover damages for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering.

When Personal Injuries Result in Death: Wrongful Death Cases

In general, a wrongful death claim is one in which it is alleged that a person died as a result of another’s negligence. The deceased person’s surviving relatives, dependents, or beneficiaries may bring suit against the responsible party or parties, seeking monetary damages for their losses. Each state has its own wrongful death law and not every state follows the same guidelines, principles, or rules. Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyers at our firm can advise you on whether you have a valid wrongful death claim and can help you pursue that claim against the responsible party or parties.

Selecting Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyers

If you’ve suffered an injury through the fault of another, you may be out of work, overwhelmed with piles of medical bills, or in constant pain and agony. Under any of these circumstances, researching, locating, and retaining a lawyer to handle your personal injury claim can seem like yet another insurmountable obstacle. There are, however, some guidelines that can help you to select a personal injury lawyer to handle your case. With a Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyer from our firm on your side, you can breathe a sigh of relief and focus on your recovery while we carry at least part of your burden.

How do I know if I have a personal injury case?

First, you must have suffered an injury to your person or property. Second, you should consider whether your injury was someone else’s fault. It is not always necessary to have a physical injury to bring a personal injury lawsuit. Some personal injury claims could be based on a variety of nonphysical losses and harms. In the case of an assault, for example, you do not need to show that a person’s action caused you actual physical harm, but only that you expected some harm to come to you. You also may have a case if someone has attacked your reputation, invaded your privacy, or inflicted emotional distress upon you.

How soon after I am injured do I have to file a lawsuit?

Every state has certain time limits, called “statutes of limitations,” which govern the amount of time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit. In some states, you may have as little as one year to file a lawsuit arising out of an automobile accident. If you miss the deadline for filing your case, you may lose your legal right to damages for your injury. Consequently, it is important to talk with a lawyer as soon as you suffer or discover an injury.

What should I bring with me for my meeting with a lawyer?

You should provide a lawyer with any documents that might be relevant to your case. Police reports, for example, contain eyewitness information and details about the conditions surrounding auto accidents, fires, and assaults. Copies of medical reports and bills from doctors and hospitals will help demonstrate the extent and nature of your injuries. Information about the insurer of the person who caused your injury is extremely helpful, as are any photographs you have of the accident scene, your property damage, and your injury. The more information you are able to give your lawyer, the easier it will be for him or her to determine if your claim will be successful. If you haven’t collected any documents at the time of your first meeting, however, don’t worry; your lawyer will be able to obtain them in his investigation of your claim.

What if a person dies before bringing a personal injury lawsuit?

It depends on whether the person died as a result of injuries from the accident or from unrelated causes. If a person injured in an accident subsequently dies because of those injuries, that person’s heirs may recover money through a lawsuit known as a wrongful death action. Also, even if a person with a personal injury claim dies from unrelated causes, the personal injury claim survives in most cases and may be brought by the executor or personal representative of the deceased person’s estate.

What is “negligence?”

The critical issue in many personal injury cases is just how a “reasonable person” was expected to act in the particular situation that caused the injury. A person is negligent when he or she fails to act like an “ordinary reasonable person” would have acted. The determination of whether a given person has met the “ordinary reasonable person” standard is often a matter that is resolved by a jury after presentation of evidence and argument at trial.

What if I can’t prove someone’s negligence caused my injury? Is there any other basis for personal injury liability besides negligence?

Yes. Some persons or companies may be held “strictly liable” for certain activities that harm others, even if they have not acted negligently or with wrongful intent. Under this theory, a person injured by a defective or unexpectedly dangerous product, for instance, may recover compensation from the maker or seller of the product without showing that the manufacturer or seller was actually negligent. Also, persons or companies engaged in using explosives, storing dangerous substances, or keeping dangerous animals can be strictly liable for harm caused to others as a result of such activities.

Will the person who caused my injury be punished?

Not in the traditional sense of the word. Defendants in civil actions for personal injury do not receive jail terms or criminal fines as punishment. Those are criminal sentences, and personal injury cases are civil actions. However, in some cases, juries and courts can award what are called “punitive damages,” which are designed to punish defendants who have behaved recklessly or intentionally against the public’s interest. The goal in ordering the payment of punitive damages is to discourage such defendants and others from engaging in the same kind of harmful behavior in the future.

Does a personal injury lawsuit have to be filed within a certain amount of time?

Every state has certain time limits, called “statutes of limitations,” that govern the period during which you must file a personal injury lawsuit. In some states, for example, you may have as little as one year to file a lawsuit from an automobile accident. If you miss the statutory deadline for filing a case, your case is thrown out of court.

What is a typical personal injury case?

Automobile accidents, the area in which most personal injury actions arise, provide a good example of how the tort system works. You have a negligence claim in a “fault” state if you are injured by a driver who failed to exercise reasonable care, because drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care anytime they are on the road. When they breach that duty and your injury results, personal injury law says you can recoup your losses. (Note, though, that the system may be very different in states that have passed no-fault laws.)

Negligence reaches far beyond claims stemming from car accidents. It is the basis for liability in most personal injury lawsuits, including medical malpractice.

Is there any other basis for personal injury besides negligence?

Yes.

  • Strict liability is an important and growing area of tort law. It holds designers and manufacturers strictly liable for injuries from defective products. In these cases, the injured person does not have to establish negligence of the manufacturer. Rather, you need to show that the product was designed or manufactured in a manner that made it unreasonably dangerous when used as intended.
  • Intentional wrongs can also be the basis of personal injury claims, though they are rarer. If someone hits you, for example, even as a practical joke, you may be able to win a suit for battery. Or if a store detective wrongly detains you for shoplifting, you may be able to win a suit for false imprisonment. While perpetrators of some of the intentional torts-assault and battery, for example-can be held criminally liable for their actions, a tort case is a civil proceeding in court brought by an individual or entity and remains totally separate from any criminal charges brought by the government.
  • What happens if I file a lawsuit? You become the plaintiff in the case and the person who injured you becomes the defendant. Lawyers for each side (and for the insurer) typically begin gathering facts through exchange of documents, written questions (interrogatories) or depositions (questions that are asked in person and answered under oath). This process is called discovery. After discovery, many cases get settled before trial. Only a small percentage of personal injury actions ever go to trial.
  • What will I get if I win my case? If you win, a judge or jury awards you money, known as damages, for your injuries. That amount can include compensation for such expenses as medical bills and lost wages, as well as compensation for future wage losses. It also can compensate you for physical pain and suffering. In addition, you may receive damages for any physical disfigurement or disability that resulted from your injury.

What does it mean to settle a case?

Settling a case means that you agree to accept money in return for dropping your action against the person who injured you. You’ll actually sign a release absolving the other side of any further liability. To help you decide whether to accept the settlement offer, your lawyer will be able to provide a realistic assessment of whether a lawsuit based on your claim will be successful. (Settlement also can take place at any point in a lawsuit once it is filed, including before trial or even after a case has been tried but before a jury reaches a verdict.) The decision to accept a settlement offer is yours, not the lawyer’s.

Will the person who caused my injury get punished?

No. Punishment comes from criminal cases, not civil cases. Defendants in civil actions for personal injury do not receive jail terms or stiff fines as punishment. Those are criminal sentences and personal injury cases are civil disputes. (But juries and courts can award what the law calls punitive damages when the defendant’s intentional acts have injured you. These awards are rather rare.)

What is Personal Injury?

Personal injury is any physical or mental injury to a person that results from another person’s negligence or harmful act. Personal injury involves civil law cases as opposed to criminal law cases which involve a defendant and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Personal injury can occur in a wide variety of ways. The following are some of the most common accidents resulting in personal injury:

  • Auto Accidents
  • Animal Attacks
  • Dangerous or Defective Product Injuries
  • Slip and Fall Accidents/Premises Liability
  • Nursing home abuse and Neglect
  • Medical Malpractice
  • Birth Injuries

How do I know if I need an attorney?

If you have been seriously injured in Pennsylvania consult with an experienced Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyer from Fairlie & Lippy, P.C. as soon as possible. Make sure this is done before you give any official statements or sign papers of any kind. Pennsylvania State laws require filing a lawsuit within a specific period of time. Depending upon the circumstances of your case, you may be prohibited from filing a lawsuit and obtaining any compensation for your injuries if you delay.  An attorney can advise you on the applicable statute of limitations for your injury case.

What financial compensation can I recover in a personal injury claim?

Accident victims are entitled to recover monetary damages for all losses and expenses suffered from the accident. Depending upon the particular circumstances of your case, damages may include recovery for any of the following:

  • Medical Bills
  • Lost Wages, including overtime
  • Pain & Suffering
  • Physical Disability
  • Disfigurement
  • Emotional Trauma
  • Mental Disability
  • Property Damage

Under what circumstances can a wrongful death occur?

Wrongful Death Law provides financial compensation to the family of a person whose death was caused by the negligent, willful or wrongful act of another. Wrongful death cases are filed as a result of a variety of situations, including:

  • Medical malpractice resulting in decedent’s death
  • Neglect or abuse on the part of a nursing home that results in decedent’s death
  • Automobile, bus, train, airplane or other common carrier fatality accident
  • Occupational exposure to hazardous conditions or substances (exposure to asbestos, etc.)
  • Death during a supervised activity (sports tournament, field trip, etc.)

Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit?

A wrongful death case alleges that the decedent was killed as a result of the negligence of the defendant, and that the decedent’s immediate family members (often called “distributees”) are entitled to monetary damages as a result of the defendant’s conduct. The most common distributees are surviving spouses and children, and sometimes parents.

Pecuniary (financial) injury is the main way damages in wrongful death cases are computed. Courts interpret “pecuniary injuries” as including the loss of support, services, lost prospect of inheritance and medical and funeral expenses. Punitive damages may also be awarded in cases of serious or malicious wrongdoing to punish the wrongdoer, and/or deter others from behaving similarly.

You may wish to go to the Wrongful Death page found from our Practice Areas page for more specific information on this topic.

How do I prove negligence?

The burden of proof in a tort case, as in most civil law cases, is lower than the proof required in criminal law cases. In a criminal case, the state must prove a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To win a personal injury lawsuit based on tort law, the plaintiff need only prove that a majority of the evidence shows that an injury was caused by the defendant’s negligent actions. This standard of proof is called “the preponderance of the evidence.” The different burdens of proof mean that a company might be acquitted of criminal charges stemming from its actions, but be found liable in a civil lawsuit stemming from the same actions.

What is Liability?

The term liability generally means that an individual, company or some other entity may be obligated to pay damages or compensation to another. The negligent driver, manufacturer or seller of a product may be responsible or liable to pay for damages, including pain and suffering and financial losses, if they are caused by their carelessness.

What is premises liability?

Premises liability generally refers to accidents that occur due to the negligent maintenance or unsafe conditions upon property owned by someone other than the injured victim. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires landowners to maintain their property in a manner that does not cause injury to those that, for various reasons, visit the property. This law pertains to both business owners and homeowners. Crucial to a premises liability settlement is being able to show how long the defect or injury inflicting element was there, how visible it was, and how much notice the owner had of the dangerous condition before the accident.

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is negligence committed by a professional health care provider-a doctor, nurse, dentist, technician, hospital or hospital worker-whose performance of duties deviates from a standard of practice of those with similar training and experience, resulting in harm to a patient or patients. Most medical malpractice cases are based on the concept of negligence-that is, the patient was harmed because the health care provider failed to meet the required standards of skill and care, in accordance with generally accepted standards. Instances of malpractice might include cutting off the oxygen supply during surgery, misdiagnosing an injury because routine tests and procedures were not followed, or prescribing an illegal drug or one not approved for the patient’s condition.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

Every state has certain time limits, called “statutes of limitations,” that govern the period during which you must file a personal injury lawsuit. In some states, for example, you may have as little as one year to file a lawsuit from an automobile accident. When the statute of limitations expires on your case, you simply don’t have a case anymore.

Statutes of limitations differ not only from state to state, but also in regard to the kinds of lawsuits involved. In some states the statute of limitations for medical malpractice, suits against governmental agencies and wrongful death actions is shorter than that for other types of personal injury cases. In general, however, the statute of limitations for Pennsylvania personal injury cases is two years from the date of the car accident or slip & fall.  Because there are other situations that can dramatically accelerate statute of limitations problems (like when you sue the state or municipality) you should consult your personal injury attorney immediately.

What is a structured settlement?

A structured settlement can be negotiated by your Montgomery County lawyer or Bucks County Lawyer to pay you a predetermined amount of money each month instead of paying out the full amount of the settlement all at one time.  The advantage of a structured settlement in a personal injury case is that you are paid more money over time.   The disadvantage is that you only have access to a very small portion of that money at the beginning.   You should certainly discuss this option with your Personal Injury Attorney prior to agreeing to a settlement.

What determines the value of a personal injury settlement amount?

The amount of a settlement in a personal injury case depends on lots of factors, including:

  • The nature and extent of the injury,
  • The amount of economic damages (such as lost wages and medical bills)
  • The amount of time the injury is expected to last
  • The extent of pain & suffering

If you’re trying to put a value on a specific case, it would be a good idea to check with one of our Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyers.

Are medical bills included in a bodily injury claim?

The term “bodily injury claim” usually refers to a “personal injury claim”. “Economic damages” would include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical bills
  • Rental car expenses, etc.

General damages include:

  • Pain
  • Suffering
  • Humiliation
  • Distress

If you settle your bodily injury claim, it must include all the types of damages available to you, or you’ll likely lose your right to recover for those losses.

Can I ask my lawyer for a copy of the personal injury settlement check?

Yes, and you should. As a client you have an absolute right to see a copy of the settlement check, as well as to review a copy of the settlement breakdown sheet before the check is deposited. Usually, the insurance company check has both your name and your attorney’s name on it, so you should have to endorse the check before it could be placed in your lawyer’s trust account.  If your personal injury attorney did not show you the check you should ask to see the actual settlement check forwarded to him by the insurance company, as well as a full accounting of all costs and expenses in the case (which should total the full amount of the settlement).

What is a contingency fee?

A contingent fee  is one that is contingent on the outcome of the personal injury case.  If the attorney recovers money on your behalf the attorney deducts a predetermined percentage as his fee.  Costs are then deducted and a check is presented to the client.  The percentage may be higher if the case proceeds to trial or is appealed in order to cover the extra time and work involved.   The percentage may also vary based on the reputation of the lawyer.   A good personal injury attorney in Montgomery County or Bucks County may very well net you more money while charging a 40% contingency than a lesser attorney charging 33%.  Fees should always be set forth in a written fee agreement so there are no surprises at the end of the case.   In fact, every Pennsylvania Personal Injury Attorney is required to produce a written fee agreement.

Can my lawyer settle my personal injury case without my consent?

It’s possible that the retainer agreement you signed with your lawyer allows him to settle the case without your consent and sign the settlement and release agreement on your behalf, but we would never recommend agreeing to such an arrangement.  If your attorney settled the case without your permission, and you haven’t yet signed the settlement and release agreement, you should tell your personal injury lawyer that you don’t want to proceed with the settlement if you’re unhappy about it. If a check has already been forwarded to your lawyer, it’s a simple matter to return the funds.  Absent an express agreement from the client it is unethical for a lawyer to settle a client’s case without permission.

Can a health care insurer or DPW be repaid from a personal injury settlement?

Yes, it’s quite common and sometimes required by law. Most health insurance policies now have language that requires the  insurance company to be repaid for the amount paid out on medical bills if the insured person gets a personal injury settlement. Depending on the law in your state, it may be possible to deduct attorney’s fees and costs from the total amount owed to the health insurer.  A good personal injury attorney in Pennsylvania will always try to reduce the amount of money owed to the insurance company through negotiation at the end of the case.

Do you handle spinal cord injury cases?

Spinal cord injury (SCI) occurs when a traumatic event results in damage to cells within the spinal cord or severs the nerve tracts that relay signals up and down the spinal cord. The most common types of SCI include contusion (bruising of the spinal cord) and compression (caused by pressure on the spinal cord). The most common injury seen in car accident cases in Montgomery County and Bucks County is the herniated disc.  Disc herniations can be very painful and yet they are difficult to diagnose without undergoing an MRI.  Since doctors are reluctant to prescribe MRI’s due to their high costs, many accident victims are not diagnosed with herniations until long after the car accident.  Spinal cord injuries can be severe and life altering. We understand that your immediate goals after going through such trauma are to get your medical bills paid and covered, make sure you do not suffer financially through any lost wages, and make sure your insurance company will pay for future treatment relating to your injuries. We will discuss your situation and go over the options available to you, as well as work with insurance companies and other parties involved in your Pennsylvania spinal cord injury case to make sure all your needs are handled quickly appropriately.

What is Worker’s Compensation?

To protect an injured worker from loss of income if injured at work and for payment of medical bills, the State Legislature adopted the Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation Act. This Act provides workers with full compensation for medical bills and partial compensation for lost wages if they have been injured on the job. While the rules and regulations governing claims under the Workers Compensation Act are complex, we believe it is important that you have a basic understanding of what the term “Worker’s Compensation” means. Worker’s Compensation is a “no fault” system which means you usually don’t have to show that your employer did anything wrong to have caused your injury. You simply have to prove you were injured while working.