Pennsylvania has several laws that limit, or cap, how much a victim can recover in compensation after being hurt in a car accident. Most of these laws only apply to cases that involve the state or local government.
The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian in Philadelphia strive to help car accident victims recover all of the compensation that is left available to them under the law.
What Types of Damages are Recoverable After a Car Accident?
First, though, it is important to recall the three types of damages that people suffer in a car accident and can be compensated for:
- Economic damages
- Non-economic damages
- Punitive damages
Economic and non-economic damages are often referred to collectively as compensatory damages.
The economic damages that a car accident victim suffers are those that are easily distilled in a dollar amount. In many cases, the victim's economic damages – and their true extent – are shown on bills from the hospital or doctors' offices that they have visited, or from the auto body shop that fixed their car. However, economic damages also include the professional setbacks that the victim suffered from the crash.
Therefore, economic damages include:
- Medical bills
- The cost of anticipated future medical expenses
- Wages lost while recovering from the crash
- Wages likely to be lost in the future due to injuries or lasting disabilities from the accident
- Property damage, including the costs of repairing or replacing the vehicle involved
- The costs of any home modifications that were necessary for the victim's mobility after the crash
Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are losses that the victim has definitely suffered, but that are not necessarily easy to quantify. These include:
- Physical pain
- Emotional distress
- Mental suffering
- Loss of life's enjoyments
- Loss of companionship felt by the victim's family
Finally, there are punitive damages. These are meant to punish the negligent party or wrongdoer after an accident by making them pay the victim even more money than it would take to fully compensate them for their losses. Because the vast majority of car crashes are accidental, though, punitive damages are very rarely awarded.
Damage Caps in Lawsuits Filed Against the State of Pennsylvania
One of the most important damage caps for lawsuits filed after a car accident in Pennsylvania is the one that limits the amount of compensation that a victim can recover if the crash was caused by a Pennsylvania state employee.
Under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8528, victims can only recover up to $250,000 for their losses sustained in a car accident with a state employee. In accidents where multiple people are hurt from the same event, all of the victims can only recover a total of $1 million, which they then have to split amongst themselves.
For individual victims, that $250,000 covers both their economic and non-economic losses.
This damage cap comes from the notion of sovereign immunity, which is the idea that the state cannot be sued by the people living in it. The main reason for sovereign immunity is that any money paid by the state in compensation to a victim technically comes from other taxpayers.
Pennsylvania, like many other states, has waived some of its sovereign immunity, though. Under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8522(b), that waiver only applies to certain situations, like:
- Motor vehicle accidents being used by a government employee
- Medical malpractice caused by a state healthcare professional
- Injuries caused by things in the control of the state, including animals
- Premises liability claims involving state property
Higher Caps for Lawsuits Against Cities and Local Governments
There is a separate law that governs lawsuits against local governments, like the city of Philadelphia or a county government. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8542 emphasizes that these governments also have sovereign immunity, but that it is also waived in certain circumstances like car accidents caused by local government officials.
42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8553, however, changes the damage cap that applies to these cases. Unlike for lawsuits against the state of Pennsylvania, lawsuits after a car accident caused by a local government official can recover $500,000. However, this amount has to be shared among all victims. If there was only one victim, then, the damage cap for lawsuits against local governments is more generous than the one for lawsuits against the state. If there was more than one victim – like when a school bus drove into 20 high school students back in 2007.
No Punitive Damages Allowed in Lawsuits Against the Government
In addition to the statutes that cap the amount of damages that can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit against the government, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8528(c) outright prohibits any punitive damages from being assessed. Even if the victim was hurt in a car accident that was caused by some egregious misconduct by a government employee, they will be barred from receiving punitive damages.
Other Damage Caps Violate Pennsylvania's Constitution
When the car accident was caused by a private citizen rather than a government employee – and most of them are – there are no statutes that cap the amount of damages that a victim can recover. In fact, Article III, Section 18 of the Pennsylvania Constitution expressly forbids statutes from being passed that limit the liability of private parties in personal injury claims based on negligence, like a car accident.
Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian
The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian strive to make sure that all victims who have been hurt in a car accident in or near Philadelphia receive the compensation that they need and deserve after such a terrible ordeal. In many cases, the injuries that they have suffered are life-altering. Receiving compensation is the least that victims deserve after suffering so much.
If you or a loved one has been hurt in a car crash in Philadelphia, the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help. Contact them online to get started on your case, today.