Automobile Accidents

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Pittsburgh Automobile Accidents Lawyers

Hundreds of people get injured or killed in car accidents each year. These accidents will likely leave a lasting effect on the lives of people and their families for years to come.

THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE IN PENNSYLVANIA

By Thomas Gravina

AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE IN PENNSYLVANIA

First and Foremost:

“Limited Tort” Option:

Pennsylvania has adopted the “Limited Tort” Option. This Option limits your right and the right of members of your household to seek financial compensation for injuries caused by other drivers. Under the Limited Tort form of insurance your recovery for injuries sustained by yourself or other household members is severely limited. Although you may seek recovery for all medical and other out-of-pocket expenses, you may not sue for pain and suffering or other non-monetary damages with some exceptions. You or other members of your household may only sue for pain and suffering if your injuries fall within the definition of “Serious Injury” as set forth in the policy. The definition of “Serious Injury” has been narrowly interpreted and would exclude, in most instances, injuries such a broken arm, broken leg, “whiplash injury”, rib fractures and other injuries that would not leave a person permanently impaired.

While the “Limited Tort” Option is slightly less expensive then the “Full Tort” Option, you must clearly be aware that you are giving up some of your rights to sue in exchange for a relatively low premium reduction.

“Full Tort” Option:

An insured in Pennsylvania also has the option of choosing “Full Tort”, which if chosen, you and other members of your household maintain an unrestricted right to seek “full” financial compensation for injuries caused by other drivers. Under this form of insurance, you and your household members may seek recovery for all medical and other out-of-pocket expenses and may also seek financial compensation for pain and suffering and other non-monetary damages as a result of injuries caused by other drivers.

While the annual premium for “Full Tort” is higher than for “Limited Tort”, this option should be seriously considered when purchasing or renewing an insurance policy.

In many instances, while the pain, suffering an inconvenience caused by injuries such as a broken arm or leg, whiplash or other bodily fractures are not considered “serious injury” under Limited Tort, the pain and suffering and inconvenience associated with such injuries can be quite substantial. In many or most cases involving injuries in an automobile accident, the recovery available under this Option far exceeds any savings realized in selecting Limited Tort. Carefully consider this Option when purchasing or renewing your insurance policy.

UNDERSTANDING OTHER AREAS OF YOUR

AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COVERAGE

Pennsylvania, as well as many other states, mandates that an automobile owner purchase auto insurance for at least a State-mandated minimum. In Pennsylvania this minimum is $15,000 for injury to one person and $30,000 for all injuries caused by an incident. A basic auto insurance policy is comprised of six basic types of coverage, some of which are required by State law, while others are optional. The various types are:

  1. Bodily Injury Liability;
  2. Property Damage Liability;
  3. Personal Injury Protection (PIP);
  4. Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist;
  5. Collision; and

6 Comprehensive

LIABILITY

Liability coverage is required in Pennsylvania and in most states. If you are at fault in an accident, your liability insurance will cover the cost of bodily injury and property damage caused to others involved in the accident, as well as the cost of your legal bills associated with the accident. It is extremely important to consider the amount of coverage you are able to afford, keeping in mind that if the injuries and property damages caused by you exceed the amount of the coverage you purchased, the injured parties may sue you for the difference between the total damages incurred and the amount your insurance company pays.

Property Damage Liability Coverage falls within the Liability Coverage which you are required to purchase. While Property Damage Liability Coverage usually repairs damage to the other driver’s vehicle, it can also cover damages to things such as lamp poles, fences, buildings, or anything else that you may have struck.

As Liability insurance is the foundation of most auto insurance policies, careful attention must be paid to be sure that you have enough coverage to avoid a short-fall in coverage which would put your savings, investments and other property in jeopardy of being lost. In short, consider being safe rather than sorry.

PERSONAL INJURY PROTECTION (PIP)

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) is required coverage in Pennsylvania. Personal Injury Protection will pay your medical bills to the extent of your coverage when injury occurs as a result of an accident while you are driving your car, someone else’s car (with their permission), and the injuries you or your family members incur as pedestrians. Additionally, PIP may cover other expenses that are related to injury in addition to medical, which include lost wages, child care and funeral costs. Ordinarily, if you have a good health insurance plan, there may be little need to buy more than the minimum required. However, there are exceptions to this general rule. PIP Coverage is relatively inexpensive and a rather small premium purchases substantial coverage in the event of injury and lost wages. When your automobile insurance carrier pays your expenses and lost wages, they are not entitled to recover the payments made to you should you make recovery against another driver who was responsible for your accident. On the other hand, if your medical bills have been paid by your Health Insurance Company, the amounts paid on your behalf may have to be paid to that health insurance company or disability insurance company that made payments on your behalf. Primary examples of payments made which must be reimbursed include payments made by Medicare, Medicaid, Public Assistance Benefits, and payments made by Health Insurance Companies through employer provided health insurance (ERISA). The right of these health care providers to recover is often times referred to as a subrogation interest.

This concept is best understood with an example: You are injured in an automobile accident and the sum of $50,000, the amount of your coverage, was paid to your healthcare providers under your PIP Coverage. You then seek recovery against the driver who was at fault and are awarded a settlement or a verdict in the amount of $100,000. In this example, the entire settlement or verdict is awarded to you with no responsibility to make any payment whatsoever to your auto insurance company for what it may have paid.

However, let’s assume the same injuries and a recovery of $100,000 with medical bills of $50,000. You have purchased PIP coverage of $10,000. Your medical bills of $50,000 were paid by your automobile insurance carrier to the extent of your $10,000 coverage. The balance was then paid by Medicare or your company-provided health insurance (ERISA).

In this example, you have no responsibility to repay your automobile carrier the sum of $10,000 it expended. The sum of $40,000 must, however, be reimbursed to Medicare or your ERISA health benefit provider before you are entitled to receive any monies as a result of your injuries. Therefore, you will only receive $60,000 of the $100,000 recovery made with the sum of $40,000 being paid to Medicare or ERISA health care in reimbursement.

The amount of PIP coverage you purchase should be carefully considered in light of the foregoing examples.

UNINSURED/UNDERINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE

Like Personal Injury Protection (PIP), Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage protects you and your family when injured in an automobile accident which was not your fault. When seen in this light it is easily recognizable that this form of coverage is extremely important. While Liability Insurance Coverage is mandated by State law at a minimum amount, please recognize that many individuals drive vehicles without the required insurance or with only the minimum $15,000 coverage. In the event that an accident causing injury to you is caused by an uninsured motorist, unless you have uninsured motorist Coverage, you cannot make any recovery for your injuries except through your own uninsured motorist Coverage. Of course, you retain your right to sue the party at fault, however, if they were driving without insurance, it is very unlikely that they would have any assets with which to provide compensation to you. Uninsured Motorist Coverage also comes in to play if you are struck and injured by a hit and run driver.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) often comes in to play in Pennsylvania accidents as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania only requires a driver to carry $15,000 in liability insurance. In today’s economy and with the cost of medical care, the $15,000 required Liability Coverage is quickly exhausted. In such an event an injured insured who was not at fault can turn to his own insurance carrier to cover the difference in damages between the $15,000 provided by the underinsured driver and the amount of coverage you carry with your own insurance company. As an example, if you sustain injuries for which you are entitled to $100,000 in compensation , you would be entitled to receive $15,000 from the at-fault driver’s insurance company and the balance of $85,000 from your own insurance company if your Underinsured Coverage was $100,000.

It should be obvious that Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage is extremely important to you and your family and high coverage limits should be considered. Be reminded, however, that uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage can only be purchased in an amount equal to the Liability Insurance Coverage that you purchase for your vehicle. From a cost standpoint, carrying high Liability Coverage and equal amounts in Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage is a wise financial choice. Remember that the Liability Coverage of your policy is very reasonable and limits can be raised to a higher level without a substantial increase in your premiums.

COLLISION COVERAGE

Collision Coverage will pay to repair your vehicle if you cause an automobile accident. This coverage typically covers the actual cash value of your car, which is not the same as the car’s replacement cost. Collision Coverage is normally the most expensive component of auto insurance. The cost of Collision Coverage can be reduced by choosing a higher deductible, which is the amount you will pay out-of-pocket before your insurance company is required to make additional payment to you. As Collision Coverage is very expensive, you should carefully consider if the purchase of Collision Coverage, which is not required by Pennsylvania, is the right choice for you. Remember that should substantial damage occur to your older model auto, the insurance company may well conclude that it will “total” your car. If the cost of repairs exceed a certain percentage of the car’s worth, you will only be paid the actual cash value of your car and not its replacement cost. If you have an automobile which has an actual cash value of $1,000 and a deductible of $250, the most that you can expect to recover from your insurance company is $750. Your yearly premium costs in this situation could exceed the amount that you could recover.

COMPREHENSIVE COVERAGE

Comprehensive Coverage will pay for damages to your car that were not caused by an auto accident, such as theft, fire, vandalism, natural disaster or hitting a deer. Comprehensive Coverage also comes with a deductible and your insurance company will only pay up to the amount the car was worth at the time the car was damaged. Comprehensive Coverage is not a required coverage under Pennsylvania law.

While Collision and Comprehensive Coverage are not required under Pennsylvania law, when you finance a car, your lender may require that your purchase Collision and Comprehensive Coverage as part of the loan agreement. Please remember that if your car is financed you will be required to pay the total amount you owe to the finance company notwithstanding that you may no longer have use of the vehicle.

SUMMARY

The above information is not intended to be exhaustive with regard to automobile insurance coverage in Pennsylvania. However, if it provides some answers to questions regarding your insurance coverage, it has served its purpose. In conclusion, please know that insurance companies will charge different premiums for the same coverage. It is important to determine exactly what coverages you would like to purchase and in what amounts and then check the premium being charged by a number of insurance companies to be sure that you receive the coverage you desire at the best possible cost.

If you have sustained any injuries in a car accident, truck accident, bike crash or any other type of automobile crash, please contact us today We will evaluate your case and provide you with a Free Consultation. We will not charge you any fee unless there is a monetary recovery for you.

We shall investigate your accident from the start to determine the party at fault. If need be, we shall consult with an accident reconstructionist to determine liability. After determining liability we shall focus on your damages and make sure you receive the maximum possible recovery for your claim. Medical bills, lost salary or wages, property damage and pain and mental suffering generally account for your damages.

We represent clients that have experienced all kinds of automobile-related accidents. These include:

  • Car Accidents
  • Motorcycle Accidents
  • Pedestrian Accidents
  • Bicycle Accidents
  • Bus Accidents
  • Boating Accidents
  • Truck Accidents
  • Train Accidents
  • Vehicle-Related Wrongful Death

 

Our Pittsburgh Car Accident Lawyers will obtain all necessary information in the form of medical records and billings to prepare your claim properly so you can focus on your rehabilitation. Our Pennsylvania Accident attorneys will manage your case and work diligently with you. We will guide you throughout the process from the pre-litigation settlement discussions to mediation or arbitration, and throughout trial if necessary.

Soon after sustaining an injury you should get in touch with a Car Accident Lawyer in Pittsburgh who can protect your rights. For professional representation you can depend on Eddy DeLuca Gravina & Townsend for any type of motor vehicle accident.

Our expert Car Accident Attorneys provide representation to car accident victims all over the State of Pennsylvania.

Contact a Pittsburgh Car Accident Lawyer at Eddy DeLuca Gravina & Townsend today.

 

The state knows where medical errors are harming patients. But it won’t tell you.

Chart

 

Last year, 253 people in Pennsylvania died under circumstances for which a medical professional may have been responsible.

 

The state knows where these deaths happens — which hospitals, care homes and other medical facilities — but it doesn’t allow you to know.

 

The agency tasked with keeping data on medical errors and related issues in the the state is the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority. It collects hundreds of thousands of reports a year from designated safety officers of medical facilities.

 

Ninety-seven percent of the roughly 239,000 incidents recorded in 2015 were “near misses,” lapses in safety protocol that were noticed, but did not harm a patient.

 

More than 7,700 reports recounted “serious events,” in which a patient was harmed. More than half of these cases were complications related to procedures, treatments and tests. Medication error, adverse drug reactions and patient falls, among other issues, made up the rest.

 

If you want to find out how your local hospital fares on medical errors, the authority can’t help you. The law that created the agency mandates it keeps its reports under lock and key, beyond the reach of the usual ways journalists and lawyers obtain public records in Pennsylvania.

 

The medical world is growing more aware of the magnitude of medical errors. A study published in The British Medical Journal in May estimated that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer. Yet the agency charged with tracking them in Pennsylvania does its number crunching in the dark.

 

Medical errors reported in PA, 2005-2015

 

 

Classified

 

The 2002 law creating the state’s Patient Safety Authority dictates that it only releases its data as statistics.

 

The statute — the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act, referred to as the “MCare” law — shields incident reports from subpoena in lawsuits and the Right to Know law that enables Pennsylvanians to request many kinds of public records from the state. The names of doctors and others involved are also omitted from reports before they go to the authority.

 

Did the state ever take corrective action over a “serious event?” That’s also confidential.

 

Though the two agencies are separate, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reviews reports of infrastructure failures and serious events submitted to the Patient Safety Authority and looks for evidence a state or federal law was broken, according to a department spokesperson.

 

If there is reason to suspect that’s the case, the department launches an investigation. As for how many they conduct per year, into whom, and what the results were, the public can’t know that either.

 

“The statute does not permit the department to release information that makes clear when a report to the Patient Safety Authority has resulted in an investigation,” Holli Senior, a special assistant to the department’s secretary, wrote in an email to PublicSource.

 

Human error

 

Heart disease is the culprit in one in every four deaths. Cancer took more than 591,000 lives in 2014.

 

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the next leading cause of death is medical errors. That would put medical error above respiratory diseases, accidents and diabetes.

 

“Human error isn’t on there but getting run over by a cow is.”

 

It’s an estimate because “medical error” is not a category on death certificates in the United States. The certificates are based on the International Classification of Diseases.

 

That index was written before awareness of medical negligence as a major issue, according to Dr. Michael Daniel, co-author of the report. “Human error isn’t on there but getting run over by a cow is,” he notes.

 

Like the authors of a report on error that shook the medical establishment in 1999, Daniel and Dr. Martin Makary used a synthesis of past reports to calculate the prevalence of medical error in the United States.

 

The 1999 report, the Institute of Medicine’s “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System,” found that, “At least 44,000 people, and perhaps as many as 98,000 people, die in hospitals each year as a result of medical errors that could have been prevented.”

 

Daniel and Makary’s 2016 report puts the fatality rate at 251,000 per year.

 

‘We are not a watchdog’

 

When Dr. Rachel Levine took the position of state physician general in January 2015, becoming the chair of the Patient Safety Authority’s Board of Directors came with it. She stresses that autonomy is important to maintain the non-punitive, data-gathering role of the authority.

 

A medical facility’s safety officer, usually a nurse, should feel comfortable reporting all the incidents he or she is mandated to report to the authority without thinking it could come back to harm his or her employer, Levine said.

 

“I think the idea is to increase facilities’ reporting,” she said, adding, “We want to work with them to help improve patient safety. We are not a watchdog.”

 

The authority standardized forms for facilities in April 2015 to improve consistency in reporting. The 253 deaths reported in 2015 represent a 22 percent increase in fatalities from 2014, when 208 deaths were reported as stemming from potential medical errors. The authority attributes the increase, in part, to the change in reporting.

 

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Meanwhile, there are other, more transparent ways that the Department of Health maintains patient safety, said Wes Culp, deputy press secretary. He points to the hospital, nursing care facility and healthcare-associated infection reports available on its website. Also, licensing boards review the conduct of medical professionals.

 

Regina Hoffman, executive director of the Patient Safety Authority, stresses the need for a “free flow of information.” She said information gathered by the authority has led to efforts to lessen patient falls and pressure ulcers, common problems that were revealed by the data.

 

Hoffman said it’s crucial that safety officers don’t think they are building a bad reputation by noting lapses in protocol, the ones that don’t involve harm to a patient and make up the majority of reports the authority gets. “It’s very important they are not fearful of reporting,” she said.

 

Making patient safety data and these reports publicly available isn’t the same as publishing restaurant health and safety violations cited by inspectors, Hoffman said.

 

Medical providers self-report to the authority. If one hospital has more reports than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the hospital is lax about patient safety, she said; it could mean the facility takes patient safety more seriously.

 

“We would not want to judge a facility by the number of near misses,” Hoffman said. “A good facility is going to report a lot.”

 

The history of the MCare law

 

The 2002 MCare bill that created the authority was passed in response to the Institute of Medicine’s 1999 bombshell report on medical errors, which began starkly: “Health care in the United States is not as safe as it should be — and can be.”

 

Legislators in Pennsylvania began crafting an overhaul of the state’s medical safety and malpractice policies. A major facet of the MCare bill was the establishment of a fund that acted as a kind of state insurance program for people deemed in court to have been injured by medical negligence.

 

It is financed by surcharges to healthcare providers. What providers are charged each year is based on assessment rates at the Joint Underwriting Association, an insurance industry group. If payments to harmed patients fall lower than expected, facilities get a refund.

 

The creation of the MCare law “involved a legislative battle between proponents of more protections for patients against proponents of more protections for medical care providers,” attorney Clifford A. Rieders wrote in a 2005 article for the Pennsylvania Bar Association Quarterly.

 

Gradually, the bill became softer on patient safety, Rieders concluded.

 

Proposed regulations that would have benefitted patients, he wrote, were removed in legislative committees, including one that would have levied a penalty for altering or destroying medical records.

 

As part of the overhaul, healthcare providers were required to report an array of incidents to the newly created Patient Safety Authority, which would use them to compile data and make recommendations that would decrease medical errors — and with that the fees to the MCare fund.

 

Progress and protocols

 

Deaths from medical error in Pennsylvania have declined from 453 in 2005 to 253 in 2015.

 

Large healthcare systems also have internal protocols for reducing errors.

 

Number of reported deaths from medical errors, 2005-2015

 

 

*The 253 deaths reported in 2015 represent a 22 percent increase in fatalities from 2014. The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority attributes the increase, in part, to the change in reporting.

 

Source: Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority 2015 annual report

 

Dr. Sam D. Reynolds, chief quality officer of Allegheny Health Network, said the conglomeration of hospitals and practices has its own data collection process. In addition to the state-mandated safety officer, each AHN facility has a quality director, and a network of committees and officers review safety data.

 

UPMC’s chief quality officer, Tami Minnier, said all reports of errors or safety concerns at the network are tracked internally through a software program, and “anyone with a UPMC badge” can make a report. This includes custodians and cafeteria workers. “Sometimes they notice things no one else would,” Minnier said. A committee meets weekly to review the reports.

Daniel, co-author of the recent study, said the issue is not that healthcare systems don’t care or that doctors are trying to hide mistakes.

 

“The issue,” he said, “is that we haven’t been talking about this like heart disease or cancer or other preventable causes of death because it’s new.”

 

As the medical field expands and people interact with it more, more errors will happen. It’s one reason Daniel feels human error should be added as a category on death certificates; it would move the issue to the forefront of medical professionals’ minds and may lead to more safeguards to prevent common errors.

 

“We didn’t always have screenings for heart disease and cancer,” Daniel said, “but we realized the extent of the problems and started. We need to have similar systematic efforts against human error.”

 

Nick Keppler is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer who has written for Mental Floss, Vice, Nerve and the Village Voice. Reach him at nickkeppler@yahoo.com.