Your Philadelphia Car Accident: The Basics
You are on a mission. You've always said you wanted to learn more about Revolutionary history. Feeling ambitious, you set out in your car to downtown Philadelphia -- land of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, National Constitution Center, and, home to those 72 stone steps Rocky Balboa infamously climbed.
You're driving along with visions of Benjamin Franklin dancing in your head when you see it. Traffic. No one seems to be following the traffic laws. Everyone is merging into one lane. Didn't you read somewhere that Philadelphia is one of the most dangerous cities to drive in ?
Suddenly, you're involved in a car accident and are blocking traffic. What should you do? What should you expect? Here's some information to help guide you through the process should you be in a car accident in Philadelphia.
What to Do at the Scene
First, you must stop at the scene of the accident -- whether the accident involves a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car or someone's property. Pennsylvania state law requires drivers in a crash to stop and stay at the scene to exchange information or render reasonable assistance to the injured. If you leave, you can be charged with hit-and-run. Hit-and-run penalties are severe. Depending on the damage or injuries, you may be fined, sent to jail or both. You also could lose your driver's license.
Do I Have to Call the Police?
Call the Philadelphia Police Department, the Pennsylvania State Police, or 911 if a person is injured or killed; you must report the accident immediately. If you hit a parked car, or other object like a traffic device, you must inform the owner. Leave a note with your name, address, license plate number and insurance information and report the accident to local police.
Philadelphia Police will not respond to minor car accidents where there aren't any personal injuries or damage to physical property surrounding the accident, such as commercial, residential or government-owned property.
Remember to remain calm and provide the dispatcher with the correct address of your emergency and your phone number. Make sure to stay on the phone until the dispatcher tells you to hang up. An officer will respond to your location and take a report.
What Information Should I Gather at the Scene?
Be prepared to exchange information with the other driver -- your name and driver's license number, the vehicle identification number of the car you are driving, the name and address of the car's owner, the name and address of your insurance company and your insurance policy number. Some other information you may wish to collect includes:
- Immediately seek medical attention following an accident. Be sure to explain how the injuries occurred to your doctor or surgeon.
- The names, addresses, telephone numbers and insurance companies of the other car's legal and registered owners -- if the driver does not own the car.
- The names, addresses, dates of birth, driver's license numbers and telephone numbers of any passengers in the other car
- The names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses to the accident. Ask them to stay to talk to the police. If they insist on leaving, ask them to tell you what they saw and write everything down.
- The name and badge number of the law officer who comes to the accident scene. Ask the officer where and when you can get a copy of any accident report.
- Make note of traffic and weather conditions. Take photographs if you can.
Liability: Who is Really at Fault?
Automobile accidents can be caused by a variety of factors, including driver negligence, defective vehicle components, poorly maintained roads, or badly installed parts.
It's also important to not volunteer any information about who was to blame for the accident. You may think you are in the wrong and then learn that the other driver is as much or more to blame than you are. You should first talk to your insurance agent, your lawyer, or both. Anything you say to the police or the other driver can be used against you later. Also, don't agree to pay for damages or sign any documents except a traffic ticket. Your insurance company or lawyer will handle the rest.
Most important tip: Always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.
Reporting the Accident to PennDot
In some situations, you must file a Driver's Accident Report with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) within five days if the police did not investigate the accident or anyone was injured, killed, or there was severe property damage.
Don't wait. If you fail to report an accident to PennDOT you may have your license suspended.
State Insurance Level Requirements
Pennsylvania is one of 12 states with a no-fault insurance program. Pennsylvania has a variation of no-fault called "Choice." In a "choice" state, drivers have the option of a no-fault insurance policy or a policy based on traditional tort liability law. Either way, Pennsylvania drivers must have a minimum amount of insurance.
What's the difference? If you choose the pure no-fault plan, you are unable to sue negligent drivers for non-economic damages, and you are immune from such suits yourself. If you choose the traditional tort route, you can sue other drivers who have also chosen to retain their tort rights, and in return they can sue you. Your traditional tort rights are not unlimited, however. If you have an accident with a driver who has opted for the pure no-fault option, you are unable to sue that driver.
No-Fault Insurance Minimums
According to PennDOT you must carry a minimum liability:
- $15,000 of coverage for an injury or death to one person in a single accident.
- $30,000 of coverage for injuries or deaths to more than one person in a single accident.
- $5000 of property damage insurance.
After the crash: Dealing with insurance companies
As soon as you can, report the crash to your insurance company. Many insurance companies have time limits to claim no-fault benefits. Your carrier will open an investigation of your matter.
If you aren't sure what to do, a trained legal professional 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 or settle, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get.
If you do decide to sue, your attorney will provide details about where and when to appear in court. However generally speaking, if you are involved in meditation, arbitration or a civil case in the County of Philadelphia, you will likely appear in one of the following divisions in the Philadelphia Courts First Judicial District of Pennsylvania:
- The Municipal Court Civil Division: All Small Claims civil actions in which the controversy does not exceed $12,000;
- Civil Section: All civil cases including automobile negligence matters for controversies over $10,000.
A car accident in Philly or anywhere else can be painful and upsetting. These resources are here to help you sort out your legal issues so you can better cope with healing and moving on. Good luck!
Get Legal Help with Your Philadelphia Car Accident Claim
Car accidents can happen to anyone at anytime, especially in bustling cities like Philadelphia. Make sure you stop and exchange information with the other driver (or drivers) if you are involved in one. But while insurance companies typically handle these matters, sometimes it makes sense to hire your own attorney. Get started today by reaching out to a Pennsylvania traffic law attorney near you.
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.