75 PA CSA §1702, which provides the meaning of terms associated with motor vehicle accident liability, defines a serious injury as one that causes the victim’s death, serious impairment of bodily function, or permanent serious disfigurement. While this definition remains vague, further legislation has clarified the definition and how it is determined to some extent.
In the 1995 case of Dodson v. Elvey, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania decided that an injury does not need to be permanent to be deemed serious. Three years later, the Court decided the case of Washington v. Baxter, deciding that the responsibility of determining whether the victim suffered a serious injury is, except in very clear cases, the responsibility of the jury and not the judge.
Pursuing Pain and Suffering Damages in Pennsylvania
What is considered a serious injury in a car accident is important in personal injury cases in Pennsylvania because victims who carry limited tort insurance must have a serious injury to pursue pain and suffering damages in car accident cases.
Pennsylvania has a no-fault auto insurance system, which means that drivers must carry personal injury protection (PIP) policies that provide coverage for their own injuries in the event of an accident, no matter who is at fault. However, it is also a hybrid state, offering drivers two types of no-fault policies.
- Full tort: This type of coverage allows victims who did not cause the accident to seek compensation for any type of damage that resulted from the accident, including medical care, property damages, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
- Limited tort: While full tort gives victims the option to pursue all damages, limited tort removes the ability to sue for pain and suffering unless the victim’s condition has been deemed a serious injury.
A lawyer can help you collect the evidence you need to prove that you suffered a serious injury as the result of another driver’s negligence.
For a free legal consultation, call 412-661-1400
Examples of Injuries that May Be Considered Serious Under Pennsylvania Law
In addition to injuries that lead to death, Pennsylvania considers two types of conditions to be serious regarding the law: those that seriously impair bodily function and those that permanently disfigure the body.
Serious Impairment of Bodily Function
The U.S. Department of Transportation defines a serious injury based on the definition of “suspected serious injury” as found in the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria (MMUCC) guideline. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), injuries that meet the criteria for a serious injury as of 2019 include:
- Severe lacerations that result in exposed tissue, muscle, or bone or excessive blood loss
- Broken or distorted arms or legs
- Injuries that result from being crushed
- Skull, chest, or abdominal injuries beyond minor lacerations and bruises
- Second- or third-degree burns that cover 10% or more of the body
- Unconsciousness at the scene of the accident
While federal law maintains that these injuries must be included in every state’s definition of a serious injury, states also have the autonomy to include other conditions that they consider a serious injury in a car accident claim.
Permanent Serious Disfigurement
Permanent serious disfigurement is often caused by catastrophic injuries, which Title 42 §3796b of the United States Code (USC) defines as one that prevents a victim from performing any gainful work in the future. It occurs when an injury, even after the recovery process, leaves the victim’s body permanently and visibly damaged. Examples of permanent serious disfigurement may include:
- Extensive scarring
One of our lawyers can help you determine if your car accident injury qualifies as serious and help you pursue financial recovery for your damages.
Car Accidents Often Lead to Serious Injuries
When victims suffer serious injuries in car accidents, they may be left not only with long-term or permanent physical complications but also with large hospital bills. If their condition leaves them unable to work, trying to provide for themselves and their families, let alone cover their medical debt, might feel impossible. However, even those with limited tort coverage may have the opportunity to pursue compensation for their injuries.
Contact Berger and Green for Help with Your Car Accident Case
Pennsylvania laws regarding car accident claims can be confusing, and insurance companies often shut down victims who seek recovery. The lawyers in Pittsburgh at Berger and Green can help you by determining how your auto insurance policy and Pennsylvania’s laws apply to your case, collecting evidence to prove the responsibility of the at-fault driver, and helping you seek the compensation you deserve.
Call us today at (412) 661-1400 for a free consultation with our legal team.