Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law

Underinsured Motorist Coverage – What You Need to Know

Buying car insurance is usually considered a no-brainer. You visit your insurance agent, give them information about your vehicle, and based on the type of car you have and how old it is, he recommends a policy that will cover your losses if you get into an accident. Easy, right?

Not so fast. Most of us never think much about what coverage we have. Our biggest concern is how much our policy will cost us every year, or every six months, or every month. As long as it is affordable, and our agent tells us we are protected, that is all we care about. But there is more to think about that your agent may never discuss with you.

Recently, a client was severely injured when he was hit by a car while a pedestrian. His auto policy had perfectly adequate coverage for damage he could cause in an accident, but this accident was not our client’s fault. And, unknown to him, his underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) was very low because he had lowered the coverage at the suggestion of his agent. What does that mean exactly?

Underinsured motorist coverage is protection for you when the responsible party in an accident has coverage limits that are too low to cover your expenses or to reimburse you for your pain and suffering. The driver in this case had a respectable amount of liability insurance, but our client’s injuries were so severe that the driver’s insurance limits were not nearly enough, particularly because his workers’ compensation carrier was entitled to reimbursement of its enormous lien. This is where underinsured motorist coverage comes in, or should come in. In this case, the UIM coverage was “stacked” at $50,000 per vehicle giving him a total of $150,000 in UIM. Doing some simple math shows you that, after paying off the lien, there was very little left for our client’s pain and suffering.

This was a wake-up call for me, prompting me to review my own policy. I had only $25,000 in UIM coverage per vehicle, because my agent had suggested it. I quickly increased it to $100,000. My premium did go up, yes, but by only $124 per year for two cars. This is a no-brainer. For a whopping $10 per month, I increased my protection dramatically. And so should you.

Pennsylvania law requires that drivers maintain only $15,000 in liability coverage. Most people don’t carry that little, but many do. And if they injure you, you need to be prepared to protect yourself financially.

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court bars insurance companies from taking away benefits from and invading the privacy rights of auto accident victims.

Recovering from an automobile accident can be difficult and painful. It is even harder if your auto insurance company requires you to go to a medical examination whenever it wants and with a doctor it selects—or risk losing your benefits. No more. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that insurance companies cannot mandate that insureds submit to independent medical examinations whenever the insurance company wants because these policies violate public policy (essential fairness) and are “repugnant” to the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL).

In Sayles v. Allstate Insurance Company, the Supreme Court concluded that the auto insurance policy provisions mandating these exams were void, emphasizing that these impacted the insureds’ “significant privacy interests” because they set no limits.

We regularly represent individuals injured in motor vehicle accidents and can assist you. You can call our office at 610-446-3457 to set up a consultation with one of our attorneys. We will explain the process, guide you and fight to get you the benefits and recovery you need.

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A Message to Insurance Companies, Self-Insureds and Others: Some of Your Lawyers Aren’t Always On Your Side

Imagine that one of the law firms that you hire to defend you and your insureds wants you to pay more, a lot more. It’s true.

One law firm proudly states that it defends employers, self-insureds, and [insurance] carriers in matters involving workers’ compensation, auto claims, slips and falls, and many other types of personal injury lawsuits.

But whose side are they really on? After all, this law firm wants to void and eliminate all medical fees schedules based on Medicare and other non-Pennsylvania guidelines, thus increasing the amount that its clients would have to pay for medical care, and even for future medical care in some cases.

You don’t have to imagine it. It’s true.

This Pennsylvania-based insurance defense firm is arguing in a case in the Commonwealth appeals Court that every fee schedule based on an outside formula is unconstitutional. This means that according to a law firm that exclusively represents insurance companies, employers and self-insureds, the fee schedules that they use to determine how much to:

  • Pay for medical bills
  • Pay for hospital bills
  • Pay for medical tests
  • Pay for diagnostic tests
  • Pay for medical equipment
  • Pay for pharmaceuticals, and
  • Pay for every other type of medical care

would be void (in other words – all of these fee schedules would be eliminated) if they were based on a Medicare fee schedule, the Red Book for medications/pharmaceuticals, and any other guidelines that the Pennsylvania legislature did not create.

That’s right, every doctor, every hospital, and every type of medical provider could charge and would be entitled to be paid whatever amount it asked for based on this logic. I am certain that insurance companies would be thrilled to know that their lawyers are taking a position that would cost them millions, all because they don’t like how a small group of pharmacies is compensated under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act for dispensing medication to help injured workers deal with pain without exposing them to cheap, addictive opioids.

Here is what the firm wrote in their Commonwealth Court brief:

It was unconstitutional for the legislature to delegate the law on pricing of pharmaceuticals to a private company without providing that company with any policy direction, limits, or guidance, and with the ability of that private company to change the rules at rates at its whim, in secrecy, and without legislative review.

Analogously, this also means that it is unconstitutional for the legislature to delegate the law on pricing of medications and other care to Medicare without providing any policy direction, limits, or guidance, and with the ability of Medicare to change rates at its whim, in secrecy, and without legislative review.

Our office does not and never will represent insurance companies, we represent injured workers, victims of auto accidents, slips and falls and other negligence. We also recognize that fee schedules are necessary, and that they are best when derived from reputable sources like Medicare and the Red Book. Otherwise, the cost of medical care would have no boundaries.

Imagine that.

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Pedestrians, Bicyclists, and Drivers: Sharing the Roadway

A 34-year-old bicyclist was struck and killed by an SUV at around 7:40 p.m. on Saturday, May 12th near 10th and Spring Garden streets in Philadelphia. This is only one instance of a sadly all too common occurrence in both Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs. Drivers must always be aware of growing numbers of pedestrians, runners, and bicyclists who share the roadways and crosswalks. There are several things you should know if you are one of the many drivers, walkers, or bicyclists in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Code considers bicycles as vehicles for purposes of traffic laws, and every person riding a bike on a roadway has the same rights and responsibilities as a driver of a vehicle, with a few exceptions. Thus, while you have every right to ride your bicycle on the street, if you violate traffic laws, you not only increase your risk of an accident, but can be found at fault in the event of an accident. The following are a few examples of safety precautions drivers must take when encountering bicyclists on the roadway:

  • Vehicles must allow 4 feet of distance when overtaking/passing a bike, and travel at a careful and prudent speed. It is the motorist’s responsibility to provide this distance, not the biker.
  • Vehicles may overtake/pass a bike in a no-passing zone to avoid excessive delays, but must be with due care and still providing the required 4 feet of clearance.
  • No person shall open any car door while parked alongside a roadway unless it is reasonably safe to do so, and must not interrupt a biker’s path or disrupt traffic flow.

A pedestrian is subject to traffic signals just like a vehicle, and a pedestrian has the right of way at a crosswalk where no traffic control signal is in place. If the pedestrian is not in a crosswalk, the vehicle has the right of way. However, even if you are not in a crosswalk, or a jury finds you partly to blame for the accident (e.g., you were texting or otherwise distracted when you walked into traffic), you may still be able to recover damages if you were 50 percent or less at fault. There is one important difference for those struck by vehicles while walking: limited tort does not apply to pedestrians. Thus, even if you or your household chose limited tort car insurance, you are considered full tort if you were injured as a pedestrian and not a driver or occupant of a vehicle.

We regularly represent injured persons in auto accident claims in Philadelphia, Delaware County, and the surrounding area, including pedestrians, runners, and bicyclists struck by vehicles. While nothing can completely erase the physical and emotional impacts of a car accident, our experienced attorneys can help when insurance companies refuse to fully compensate you for your suffering. If you have been injured by a vehicle while walking, jogging, or riding your bicycle, call our office at 610-446-3457 to set up a consultation with our attorneys. We will explain the process, guide you, and fight to get you compensation for your injuries.

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What Does It Mean To Have “Limited Tort” Car Insurance?

When you were buying car insurance, your insurance representative likely asked if you wanted “Full Tort” or “Limited Tort,” and explained that choosing “Limited Tort” generally gives you a discount on your premium. But do you really understand the difference, and what you’re giving up if you choose “Limited Tort” to save a little on your premium?

If you are injured in an accident, you might realize that the minimal savings from choosing “Limited Tort” weren’t worth it. The unfortunate truth is that car accidents often leave lasting emotional and physical effects, and can alter your life. When you waive your right to recover pain and suffering with “Limited Tort,” you give up your right to be paid for those emotional and physical scars. While there are some exceptions that allow “Limited Tort” claims to pursue pain and suffering (i.e. if the other driver is convicted of DUI, the victim is a pedestrian or cyclist, or an occupant of a non-private vehicle, etc.), these are uncommon circumstances. Regrettably, many Pennsylvania drivers do not realize what they are truly giving up when they select their policy.

The first question we ask when meeting with new clients after a car accident is whether they are “Full Tort” or “Limited Tort.” On those occasions when the answer is “Limited Tort,” our clients are often shocked to learn that they may not be able to pursue a claim, despite clear liability on the other vehicle. That’s why we try we always encourage Pennsylvania drivers to choose “Full Tort” car insurance, because the minimal savings on their premium is far less than the compensation they’re giving up if they are hurt in an accident.

We regularly represent injured persons in auto accident claims in Philadelphia, Delaware County, the Main Line, and surrounding areas. While nothing can completely erase the physical and emotional impacts of a car accident, our attorneys can help you get the full value for your suffering. If you have been injured in a car accident, call our office at 610-446-3457 to set up a consultation with our attorneys. We will explain the process, guide you, and fight to get you compensation for your injuries.

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Oral Argument Matters – Here’s Proof

There are some attorneys and judges who say that oral argument doesn’t matter. Today I have proof that it does.

On May 10, 2017, I argued the case of Erie Insurance v. Bristol before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. When I filed the petition asking the Court to take the case, the court rephrased the issue (the legal argument we wanted the Court to decide) in a very broad and somewhat unusual manner that changed the focus of the case. When we filed our Brief, we addressed the issue framed by the Supreme Court but also outlined why the argument that we had originally asserted was still relevant. This required filing a nuanced brief that responded to the Court’s concerns while also advocating for our client in the manner we believed to be most effective.

At oral argument, the Court questioned me at length (nearly 25 minutes) about whether the Brief we filed had addressed the issue as rephrased by the Court. While we believed that the Court could decide the case based on the rephrased issue, the argument focused primarily on whether the Court should have ruled based on the question we originally presented. Fortunately, I was prepared (and spent two days preparing for the argument) and was able to address the Court’s concerns.

Today, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court – in a highly unusual action – issued an Order agreeing to decide the issue as we had originally framed it (6 Justices joined in the Order, 1 dissented). I do not believe that the Court would have issued this Order today without the benefit of oral argument.

Click here to read the Court’s Orders.

Click here to view the oral argument.

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Attorney Dan Siegel Named Pa. Workers’ Compensation “Super Lawyer” – Will Anyone Know?

For the 10th consecutive year, Havertown Attorney Daniel J. Siegel has been named a “Super Lawyer” in the area of workers’ compensation (representing claimants/injured workers and medical providers). Dan, who is also the author of Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Law: The Basics: A Primer for Lawyers, Workers, Medical Professionals & Others, is the only workers’ compensation Super Lawyer in Havertown. In addition, many of the other Super Lawyers are clients of Dan’s, and many have retained him to assist with their most complicated cases, and their appeals.

If you are searching for a workers’ compensation Super Lawyer in Havertown, however, you will probably never find Dan’s listing. Why? Because Dan has not paid for an enhanced listing, Super Lawyers places Dan’s listing on the 7th page (out of 8 pages) of the results; despite being the only workers’ compensation Super Lawyer in Havertown, he is the 155th lawyer listed in the results for that search.

Dan regularly represents injured workers in their claims and represents medical providers seeking payment for treatment provided to injured workers; Dan also represents individuals in personal injury claims arising from motor vehicle accidents, defective conditions on property, etc. In addition, Dan represents and assists other attorneys with their appeals and complicated matters. Just this week, Dan argued the case of Erie v. Bristol before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The case will determine how the statute of limitations is triggered in uninsured motorist claims (claims that arise when a person is injured by another driver who either does not have motor vehicle insurance or who fled the scene and could not be identified).

Click here to read how Super Lawyers are selected.

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Philadelphia Legal Newspaper Features Dan Siegel’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court Auto Law Case

Today’s Legal Intelligencer, the daily newspaper for Philadelphia’s legal community featured the case of Erie Insurance v. Bristol, for which Attorney Daniel J. Siegel serves as counsel for Mr. Bristol. The article focuses on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case and the court’s ruling will impact virtually every uninsured and underinsured motorist claim in Pennsylvania. The Court will decide whether a person seeking uninsured motorist benefits from his or her insurance company must file a Petition or lawsuit to toll the statute of limitations, or whether there is no need for such a filing when an insurance company agrees to arbitrate, or takes other actions demonstrating its agreement to arbitrate.

An uninsured motorist claim arises when a person is involved in a motor vehicle accident and the negligent/responsible party either has no auto insurance or left the scene of the accident and cannot be identified. In those cases, persons purchasing uninsured motorist coverage receive benefits from their own insurance company.

An underinsured motorist claim arises when a person is involved in a motor vehicle accident and the negligent/responsible party does not have enough insurance coverage to compensate the victim fully. In those cases, persons purchasing underinsured motorist coverage receive benefits from their own insurance company for the excess amount they are entitled to for their injuries.

The article quoted attorney Dan Siegel, who summarized the case by stating that “The issue is, if there’s an agreement, why would you have to file a petition to compel a party to agree to do something they already agreed to do?” Siegel also noted that “The Supreme Court saw the argument and accepted it on broader terms than we even asked them to.”

Siegel is the founder of the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC, which assists lawyers throughout Pennsylvania with trial and appellate writing and other matters. The firm regularly appears before Pennsylvania’s appeals court and is a go-to firm for lawyers throughout the Commonwealth who need advice on how to handle their cases, including personal injury, workers’ compensation, motor vehicle accidents, and other civil litigation matters. The firm also regularly represents individuals with personal injury, workers’ compensation and other claims. Siegel is the author of numerous books, including Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Law: The Basics: A Primer for Lawyers, Workers, Medical Professionals & Others, an up-to-date and easy-to-understand guide to Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law, practice and procedure. The book is designed to be used as a desk reference by injured workers, employers, attorneys, paralegals, claims adjusters, self-insured employers and vocational rehabilitation workers. important guidance for litigants and courts.T

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Pa. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Uninsured Motorist (Auto Insurance) Case – Attorney Daniel Siegel Serves as Appellate Counsel

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur today in Erie Insurance v. Bristol, on the following issue, “In uninsured motorist claims subject to mandatory arbitration, is the statute of limitations tolled only by the commencement of an official judicial action, or may extra-judicial actions also toll the statute of limitations?”

I am appellate counsel, working with Attorney Thomas More Holland, who handled the case at the trial court level. The trial court and the Superior Court had ruled that a motor vehicle insurance carrier’s agreement to arbitrate a claim for uninsured motorist benefits did not toll the statute of limitations. Instead, they ruled that the claim was barred because (1) the UM case had not concluded before the statute of limitations, and therefore (2) plaintiff/claimant was required to file a Complaint against the carrier even though it had agreed to arbitration. This is an issue of first impression in Pennsylvania.

 

 

 

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Pa. Senate Approves Increase in Minimum Auto Insurance Coverage

In a long overdue action, the Pennsylvania Senate approved Senate Bill No. 928, which increases the required minimum liability insurance coverage in Pennsylvania to $25,000 per person, and $50,000 per accident; the bill also increases the minimum property damage coverage to $15,000. The current limits have been in place since 1968 and are not adequate to compensate many persons for the injuries suffered as the result of the negligence of other drivers. Read the bill at http://bit.ly/1KrhUEQ.

The bill will now be sent to the House of Representatives for a vote.

By way of comparison, two states have lower limits than Pennsylvania’s limits of $15,000/$30,000/$5,000, which 41 states have higher minimum auto insurance coverage requirements. For a comparison, visit http://bit.ly/1dvukgl.

 

 

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