If you or someone you love has been hurt or even killed in a car accident in Philadelphia or the rest of Pennsylvania, you only have a limited amount of time to exercise your legal rights to compensation. The window during which you can sue the person responsible for your losses is dictated by the Pennsylvania statute of limitations: Not filing a lawsuit during that time means your claim will be barred from the court, even if it was almost certain to win.
Ensuring that a personal injury claim is filed within the statute of limitations is an absolutely necessary first step, if you mean to protect your legal rights. The lawyers at the Philadelphia law offices of Gilman & Bedigian know this, and do all that they can to make sure your legal rights are protected.
How Statutes of Limitations Work
After something happens that is illegal or that accidentally hurts someone, the U.S. legal system puts a time limit on when you can file a lawsuit, creating a window during which you can exercise your legal rights. The exact length of that window, however, depends on what happened, what your legal rights are, and what kind of lawsuit you end up pursuing.
While there are different statutes of limitations for different circumstances, all of the statutes have one thing in common: If you want until after the window has expired before filing a lawsuit, the person or the people you are suing can point to the statute of limitations as a defense, dismissing your case no matter how much you might have deserved to win.
Why We Have Statutes of Limitations
Statutes of limitations might seem like arbitrary ways of forcing you to file a lawsuit soon after an event. However, there are several reasons behind them.
First, they allow the potential defendants – the people you were going to sue – to repose after the statute has expired. If the statute of limitation did not exist, wrongdoers would never know when they could be brought to court for past misdeeds.
Secondly, and more importantly, statutes of limitations force you to sue soon after the event happened, ensuring that all of the evidence in your case is still fresh and available. This includes making sure that everyone remembers clearly what happened and is around to testify to what they saw and heard, and reduces the chances that important physical evidence has been lost.
Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents in Philadelphia
Because Philadelphia is in the state of Pennsylvania, it is Pennsylvania's statute of limitations that applies to any car accidents that happen, there. Pennsylvania has several different statutes of limitations, but the one that applies to legal actions based on negligence, like car accidents, is at 42 Pa. Consol. Stat. § 5524(2).
This statute of limitations means that you can only sue for two years after a car accident.
Importantly, § 5524(2) also applies to other common aspects of a car crash. For example, the two year statute of limitations embodied in § 5524(2) will also apply to your case if you are suing someone for wrongful death after a loved one was killed in a car crash in Philadelphia. Additionally, the two year limit will apply to your case if your car accident was caused by a vehicle malfunction and you sue under products liability law.
Implications of Pennsylvania's Two Year Statute of Limitations
Compared to the statutes of limitations that other states use for car crashes, Pennsylvania's is about normal length. However, that does not mean that it cannot impact your case after a car accident.
The obvious implication that the statute of limitations has is that it forces you to file your case before the time expires, before the true extent of your injuries has revealed itself. Some car crashes, especially those that happen at high speeds on Interstate 95 or Interstate 76, cause severe injuries that can be permanently debilitating and have medical consequences for years down the road. The cost of recovery for these injuries can be expensive immediately after the incident, and extend well into the future in the form of physical therapy and medical expenses for ongoing care that is needed to maintain a regular lifestyle. Because these costs might not be known before the statute of limitation expires, it can influence your case as it forces you and your attorney to estimate the costs of your future medical expenses.
Another implication of the statute of limitations on a lawsuit involving a car accident is that, in rare situations, some injuries from a car collision remain latent for years following the crash. This is especially true for head, neck, and back injuries, which might seem like they healed soon after the crash, only to come back years later with serious symptoms. In these cases, the two year statute of limitations can be a problem: If you did not seek compensation for these injuries in your lawsuit, you will not be able to go back and ask for them, later. This makes having an experienced attorney especially important – they know what to look for to prevent this unfortunate circumstance from arising, ensuring you get the compensation you need and deserve.
The Danger of Waiting
Even though Pennsylvania's statute of limitations for car accidents is two years, that does not mean you should wait to consult an attorney until there are only a couple of days remaining. It can take months to fully prepare a lawsuit's initial filing. Giving your attorney the time necessary to accumulate evidence and perform preliminary investigations makes a huge difference in the eventual outcome of your case and the amount of compensation that you stand to receive.
This makes it crucial to reach out to an attorney as early as possible after a car crash, in spite of the two year statute of limitations. Contact the Philadelphia law office of Gilman & Bedigian online for the legal representation you need to get the compensation you deserve.