How Long Do You Have to File a Car Accident Lawsuit in Lancaster, PA?

Written by Atlee Hall

Being involved in a car accident is an experience that no one plans for, but one that can have a profound impact on your life. If you’ve never been in an accident before, the aftermath can be confusing and overwhelming. In addition to dealing with potential injuries, vehicle damage, and the emotional toll, you may also face complex legal questions.

One of the most important issues to understand is the statute of limitations — the time window you have to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party to pursue compensation for your losses related to the accident. In Pennsylvania, there are specific deadlines that must be met, along with some exceptions that could alter the timeline. Missing the statute of limitations can completely prevent you from having your day in court, so it’s crucial information for any accident victim to know.

How Long After a Car Accident Can You File a Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, you generally have two years from the date of a car accident to file a lawsuit. This deadline, outlined by Pa. C.S.A. § 5524, is called the statute of limitations. The statute applies to any injury resulting from negligence, including car accidents.

What Happens When the Statute Expires?

Missing the deadline to file a lawsuit generally means you lose your right to sue and recover compensation. If you try to file after it’s too late, the court will likely dismiss your case and you will be unable to seek compensation.

That’s why filing your car accident lawsuit as soon as possible is a good idea. Another reason to do so is to keep evidence from getting lost or deteriorating with time. Witness memories may fade, making it harder to prove your case.

Exceptions to Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations

While the two-year statute of limitations in Pennsylvania is quite strict, there are a couple of noteworthy exceptions that can extend the deadline for filing a lawsuit after a car accident

The Victim Is a Minor

This exception applies when the injured person was under 18 years old when the crash happened. In this case, the statute of limitations is “tolled” or paused until their 18th birthday. This gives them additional time (typically two years from their 18th birthday) to file a lawsuit as an adult.

The Negligent Driver Leaves PA or Conceals Their Identity

This exception is more complex and hinges on the defendant’s actions. If the party responsible for the accident deliberately hid crucial information about the crash or your injuries, it could potentially extend the deadline. The burden of proof is high here. You’d need to demonstrate that the defendant actively concealed this information and that it prevented you from discovering the cause of your injury within the two-year window.

Wrongful Death

In cases where a car accident results in a fatality, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the deceased person’s death, not the accident date itself. This gives the deceased’s family/representatives time to pursue a wrongful death claim.

Insurance Options and Pennsylvania’s Fault System

In Pennsylvania, drivers have the option to choose between a “limited tort” (minimum) or “full tort” auto insurance policy. With a limited tort policy, your ability to pursue compensation for non-economic damages like pain and suffering is restricted unless your injuries meet the legal threshold of a “serious injury.” A full tort policy removes those limitations, allowing you to seek full compensation regardless of injury severity. However, full tort premiums are typically more expensive.

It’s important to note that Pennsylvania follows a “choice no-fault” system. This means that regardless of the selected tort option, you must seek coverage through your insurance policy’s first-party benefits for medical bills and other economic losses. Only once those limits are exhausted can you then pursue an additional claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver, subject to the limited or full tort restrictions you chose. Pennsylvania’s insurance requirements aim to reduce lawsuits but can create obstacles to adequate compensation depending on your coverage selections.

When Should You Contact a Lawyer?

You may think two years is plenty of time to file a car accident lawsuit. But time has a way of slipping by, and delaying the pursuit of legal action can significantly diminish your chances of successfully recovering the compensation you deserve.  Don’t wait until the deadline looms – contact an attorney as soon as possible after the accident.

Here’s why an early conversation with a lawyer is essential:

  • Peace of Mind While You Heal: Let your lawyer handle the legal complexities. You can focus on getting better while your attorney gathers evidence, interviews witnesses, and consults experts (like accident reconstructionists) to build a strong case.
  • Preserving Evidence for Maximum Compensation: The sooner your lawyer starts investigating, the higher the chances of securing the strongest evidence for fair compensation.
  • Understanding the Statute of Limitations: Legal deadlines can be confusing. Your lawyer will ensure your case adheres to the two-year window and explore any exceptions that might apply.
  • Skillful Negotiation and Trial Representation: Your lawyer will negotiate aggressively with the insurance company to get you the compensation you deserve. If necessary, they’ll confidently represent you in court.

Call a Pennsylvania Car Accident Lawyer at Atlee Hall Today

In addition to physical injuries and vehicle damage, dealing with the legal aftermath of a car accident is stressful if you don’t have guidance. Understanding the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit is crucial to protecting your rights and ensuring you don’t miss out on obtaining the compensation you deserve.

That’s why it’s essential to contact an experienced lawyer as soon as possible after a crash. The skilled car accident attorneys of Atlee Hall will review your case, explain all your legal options, and take immediate steps to help you recover.

Call (717) 393-9596 or contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.