Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

Pennsylvania suffers over 1,300 traffic deaths per year and many more injuries. Pennsylvania personal injury and wrongful death law, however, does allow victims of at-fault drivers to recover damages in cases of serious injury. Some of the basic aspects of these laws are outlined below along with road safety laws that often become issues in car wreck lawsuits.

Statute of Limitations: In Pennsylvania you have two years from the date of a vehicle accident to file a lawsuit for personal injury or property damage. After that your claim will die. In the case of a wrongful death lawsuit, the two-year clock starts running on the victim’s date of death.

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: In many cases, the victim of a vehicle accident is partly to blame. A Pennsylvania court will assign each party a percentage of fault based on the evidence, and apportion damages accordingly. As long as the victim is not mostly at fault for the accident (51 percent or more), the court will simply subtract the victim’s own percentage of fault from his total damages and award him the remainder. If the victim is mostly at fault, however, he will recover nothing.

Fault/No Fault Rule: Pennsylvania is a “no-fault” state – you will be expected to look first to your own auto insurance coverage to compensate you for your losses, unless your injury is “serious” as defined by Pennsylvania personal injury law.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: Pennsylvania drivers must purchase auto accident insurance coverage with policy limits of no less than $15,000 per person for personal injury, $30,000 per accident for personal injury and $5,000 per accident for property damage.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Pennsylvania does not require drivers to purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

Types of Damages Available: Pennsylvania offers full compensatory damages. In personal injury cases punitive damages are theoretically available but difficult to obtain, but punitive damages are not allowed for wrongful death claims.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: No-fault product liability is available, and comparative fault (the claim that the victim was also at fault for the injury) is no defense to a no-fault product liability claim.

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): A lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or one of its subdivisions is subject to a limitation on damages of $250,000 per plaintiff and $1 million in the aggregate.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: All riders under 21 must wear helmets.

Seat Belt Laws: Occupants aged 8 to 17 must buckle up no matter where they are sitting, while occupants 18 and older must buckle up while sitting in a front seat. The maximum fine for a first offense is $10. Seat belt offenses are secondary in Pennsylvania – the officer must pull you over for another reason before he can cite you for not wearing a seat belt.

Dram Shop Law: A “dram shop law” allows an injured third party to sue a licensed alcohol vendor and/or a social host for serving alcohol to a minor or an obviously intoxicated adult who later injures someone due to his resulting intoxication. In Pennsylvania, vendors can be held liable to a limited degree for serving minors under 21 or an intoxicated adult, while social hosts can be held liable for serving minors under 21.

DUI/DWI Penalties (first offense): Pennsylvania is one of the few states that imposes no jail time for a first-offense DUI. A fine of $300 is imposed, and there is no suspension of the offender’s driver’s license. Penalties are more serious for subsequent offenses.

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Texting while driving is illegal in Pennsylvania.