Who pays when damages are awarded from a car accident?

When Pennsylvania residents suffer serious injuries in a car accident, the focus is often placed upon the acts of the negligent driver who caused the crash. However, as discussed recently in this blog, there may be the potential for holding other parties liable beyond simply the driver.

For example, if the driver was acting in the course of employment at the time of the crash, the injured person may be able to hold the employer liable for the incident in addition to the driver. There may be other circumstances where vicarious liability like this may be applied, which can be a huge benefit to an injured plaintiff in enhancing the ability to recover damages, such as in circumstances when the driver is an underinsured motorist.

At the same time, there are rules under Pennsylvania law that govern a plaintiff’s ability to hold multiple defendants liable. Generally, if liability is attributed to more than one defendant, each defendant is to be held liable for the proportion of damages in the ratio of the defendant’s liability in the matter. In other words, if the defendant is found to be 50 percent liable for the accident, the defendant would be liable for that proportion of the total dollar amount of damages awarded in the matter. These rules are very important because they impact not only who can be held liable for a car accident, but who must pay an award of damages that is entered in the case.

There are also circumstances when a defendant’s liability is considered to be joint and several, meaning the person can be ordered to pay the full award of damages entered against all defendants. For example, if there has been an intentional tort, an intentional misrepresentation or if the defendant has been held liable for not less than 60 percent of the total liability apportioned to all parties, then the defendant can be held responsible to pay all damages in the case.

Source: Pennsylvania Legislature, “Comparative negligence,” accessed on Nov. 5, 2016