Erie Police Vehicle Accident Lawyer
An Erie, Pennsylvania accident involving a police vehicle can be confusing when it comes to insurance coverage and who the at-fault party is in an accident. If the at-fault party is a local government vehicle, including a police vehicle, the State doctrine of “governmental immunity” comes into play. This is because there are different rules for accidents involving government vehicles.
A car accident is over in seconds, but the phone calls and paperwork to send to your insurance company can take weeks. Even though Pennsylvania is a no-fault insurance state, the necessary paperwork to file after an accident involving a local police cruiser starts with the accident report.
Currently, if you have been involved in a collision with a local police cruiser, a written report of the accident is required as well as providing the police with immediate notice of the crash. Typically, the police are responsible for preparing a crash report, however, in the event that the report is not prepared by the police, then you should prepare and file a report. Ideally the report must be filed within five days of the collision. When the accident resulted in a fatality, injury or severe vehicle damage and/or the crash was not investigated by law enforcement you should use form AA-660. You may find Form AA-660 here: https://www.dot.state.pa.us/Public/DVSPubsForms/BMV/BMV%20Forms/AA-600.pdf
Crash reports need to include the names, phone numbers, addresses, insurance policy number, driver’s license number and all contact information from any passengers and/or pedestrians involved in the accident. It is also useful if you provide as much information as possible about the vehicles involved in the collision, such as, as description of the damages, license plate numbers, the vehicle identification number and the body style, make and model of the vehicle(s).
The law in Pennsylvania no longer mandates that police respond to an accident scene when there are no injuries or serious property damage. That said, it may be your own best interest to file a report whether you caused the accident or not. The main reason for filling a report is that some physical injuries, such as whiplash may not show up until weeks later and assessing vehicle damage by the side of the road in the aftermath of a crash is virtually impossible. Protect your options by filing a report, because in some cases, your insurance carrier may demand you report all accidents or they may void your insurance.
What happens if a government worker is involved in a car crash?
Filing a lawsuit against the local government can be challenging and typically involves either the Sovereign Immunity Act or the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. Those laws may come into play in an accident involving a police vehicle if the worker was acting within the mandate of his or her job:
- If the accident involves a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vehicle (e.g. State police cruiser/motorcycle) a claim is made against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is governed by the Sovereign Immunity Act.
- If the accident involves a local/municipal police vehicle (cruiser/forensics vehicle) a claim is made against the city or town and is governed by the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.
Vehicle accident causes
The same things that result in conventional auto accidents, can cause collisions with police vehicles, such as:
- Reckless driving
- Blind spot accidents
- Texting while driving
- Unfamiliarity with an area of the city
- Driver negligence
- Failure to see pedestrians/other vehicles
- Failing to yield at a stop or yield
Common victims of police vehicle accidents in Erie are other vehicles and their drivers or passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists.
Let’s say you were involved in an accident with a local police cruiser in Erie and the driver T-boned your vehicle. The officer driving was racing to a call with lights and siren functioning as he ran a red light. The accident sent you to hospital with serious injuries.
To recover damages for pain and suffering following a collision with a local municipal police vehicle, you would have to prove at least one of the following:
- Permanent dismemberment where dental/medical costs exceeds $1,500
- Permanent loss of a bodily function
- Permanent disfigurement
The plaintiff/claimant must provide notice to the governmental agency responsible for the accident within six (6) months occurrence of the injury/accident.
Due to the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, the law protecting governments from liability for problems caused while providing public services, the City of Erie is limited to paying the vehicle owner’s deductible and providing a rental, unless one of the exceptions apply.
Government entities do not always get a “free pass” in accident situations as they can be held responsible/liable under limited circumstances that include negligence. However, the exceptions to the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act are difficult to prove and narrowly defined. In order to understand how the Act applies to your case, it is best to speak with an experienced Erie police vehicle accident lawyer.
Sovereign Immunity versus Governmental Immunity
Personal injury lawyers are familiar with governmental immunity laws and also know that officials acting for the government, within the scope of their duties, may be immune from lawsuits as well. This is known by another name, “sovereign immunity,” which refers to claims against the State or the Federal Government. “Governmental immunity” refers to claims against local municipal officials or municipalities themselves.
The difference between these two Pennsylvania statutes is important when it comes to filing a lawsuit because even though the courts abolished both immunities in the 70s, the legislature brought them back in 1980 and passed the Sovereign Immunity Act and the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.
What the Acts say
The Sovereign Immunity Act applies to claims against Pennsylvania State Agencies and has a ceiling of $250,000 in damages for any one plaintiff or $1,000,000 for all persons injured in the same accident. Five types of damages are permitted:
- Medical/dental costs
- Future loss of earnings/earning capacity Loss of consortium
- Pain/suffering (under limited circumstances)
- Property losses (with some exceptions)
- Loss of past earnings
Note: Within six months after an injury and/or property damage accident, the plaintiff must provide written notice of a lawsuit. The notice must include the claimant’s name, address, location, date, time of the accident and the address of the doctor providing any treatment. If notice is not filed within the six-month time frame, any lawsuit may be barred. There are limited exceptions for failing to file this notice.
The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act applies to claims against Local Municipalities and generally does not allow lawsuits against local municipalities, but there are some exceptions, such as:
- Control, care, custody of street lighting, trees, traffic controls which create dangerous conditions
- The dangerous condition of service facilities for utilities
- The dangerous condition of streets
- The dangerous condition of sidewalks
- Control, care, custody of personal other’s personal property in the possession/control of a local agency
- Control, care, custody of real property in possession of a local agency
- Control, care, custody of animals
- Any official committing willful misconduct cannot claim immunity
- Operating a vehicle
The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act limits damages and restricts damage types that may be recovered. It also limits damages to a maximum of $500,000 by a single plaintiff or in the aggregate.
The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act permits recovery for loss of support, and limits recovery for pain and suffering due to: death, or only in the case of permanent disfigurement, permanent loss of a bodily function, or permanent dismemberment where dental/medical costs exceeds $1,500.
If there is insurance coverage for the plaintiff’s damages, insurance recovery must be deducted from awards against a local government.
If you or your loved one was injured in an accident with a police vehicle you should consult with an experienced attorney. The skilled legal counsel provided by Melaragno, Placidi & Parini ensures that your right to sue the government is protected.
Matt was awesome!!!
He handled everything so I didn’t have to worry and could just focus on my recovery and get back to work. He was always available and quick to return my phone calls and emails with the answers I needed. My case was handled quickly and with no added stress to me or my family. I would recommend Matt to anyone in need of assistance after a motor vehicle accident.