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Your Harrisburg Car Accident: The Basics

Last updated: October 18, 2013

You warned your husband not to go hunting this weekend. The roads have been icy and snow flurries were forecasted. His stubbornness got him into trouble once again. He calls you from the Harrisburg Emergency Room. He hit black ice while driving out on Highway 81 at dawn and ran into a herd of deer. He survived with a bump on the head, but Bambi didn't fair so well and neither did your brand new truck or the lady in the SUV in the opposite lane of traffic.

What's the next step? Regardless of what caused a car accident, the circumstances surrounding it should be closely examined to determine if someone was negligent. Here's some information to help guide you through the process should you be in a car accident in Harrisburg.

Stop at the Scene

First, STOP -- whether the accident involves a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car or someone's property. It's the law. Make sure everyone is safe and exchange information with the other driver. Provide reasonable assistance if someone is injured. If you don't, you could be charged with hit-and-run and face severe penalties.

Call the Cops

Next, contact the police -- even if it's a minor accident. Call the Harrisburg Police, Pennsylvania State Police, or 911 as soon as possible. An officer will respond to your location and take a report. If you hit a parked car, or other object like a stop sign, you must inform the owner.

Remember to remain calm. Help will be on the way. A dispatcher will probably send the Harrisburg Fire Bureau to your location.

Should I collect information?

Be prepared to exchange information with the other driver -- your name, address and driver's license number; the registration number of the car you were driving; and the name your insurance company. You may wish to collect contact information for:

1. Other car's owner
2. Any passengers in the other car
3. Any witnesses to the accident

Consider writing down traffic and weather conditions. If you have a camera, take photographs. You may need them later.

Be polite and factual when speaking with emergency officials or the other driver. You should NOT accuse others of fault in the car accident nor should you volunteer that you are at fault. Most important tip: always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.

Reporting the Accident

In some cases you'll have to file a Driver's Accident Report with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). When? If the police do not investigate an accident and someone has died or been injured, or if a vehicle must be towed, report the accident within five days.

Don't wait. If you fail to file with PennDOT, they can suspend your license. If the other driver offers to pay for all damages, but doesn't want you to report it, still contact PennDot.

Car Insurance Minimums

According to PennDOT, Harrisburg drivers must carry a minimum amount of insurance:

  1. $15,000 of coverage for an injury or death to one person in a single accident.
  2. $30,000 of coverage for injuries or deaths to more than one person in a single accident.
  3. $5000 per accident for property.

If you don't maintain this coverage, your license can be suspended for at least three months and you'll have to pay a fine.

The Insurance Companies

As soon as you can, report the crash to your insurance company. Many insurance companies have time limits to claim benefits. The claims adjuster will open an investigation. Be honest, but remember you don't have to automatically accept their estimate or appraisal. Here's a list of do's and don'ts when speaking with insurance adjusters.

Liability

Determining who is at fault can be complicated. Car accidents are caused by a variety of factors, including driver negligence, defective vehicle components, poorly maintained roads, or badly installed parts.

Pennsylvania uses a 51 percent modified comparative negligence rule. Sounds intimidating, right? Don't worry. That just means that you can be up to 50% responsible for an accident and still collect damages in a Pennsylvania car accident. If you are 51% negligent, you will be completely barred from recovering a damage award. If you go to trial, a judge or jury will assign a percentage of fault to each responsible party and then apportions the damage award accordingly.

Damages

If you have suffered harm from the accident, you can seek money damages for your loss. These damages may include lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.

Lawyers

If you aren't sure what to do, an attorney may be able to help. Many lawyers take auto accident cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you do not pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. A settlement is considered "a win."

Courthouses

If you do decide to sue, your attorney will provide details about where and when to appear in court. Here's a list of courthouses in Dauphin County.