For those of us who commute over our iconic Ben Franklin Bridge, you may think to yourself, “What if I got into an accident just now?” For those of us who don’t think so morbidly, you may wonder what logistics may be involved in an accident: Who hit whom, was something in the way, was someone on their d*mn phone, or was it a good ol’ fashioned “whoopsie daisy?”
One thing you may not be considering is whether this is a Philly issue, or a Jersey issue. Where does the liability rest in a situation between state borders?
While Pennsylvania and New Jersey have the same two-year filing deadline for auto accident claims, you will have to file your case with the proper court. Finally, whether or not you can sue for an accident on the Ben Franklin Bridge will depend on which state’s no-fault laws apply to your case and the severity of your injuries.
Determining responsibility for an accident on the Ben Franklin Bridge
Accidents that take place on bridges, especially those that see heavy traffic like the Ben Franklin Bridge, can be especially dangerous. Such accidents might involve multiple cars, making determining liability difficult.
If you’re lucky enough to snag a Philadelphia car accident lawyer, they’ll be able to review the available evidence to identify who is responsible for your accident on the Ben Franklin Bridge. It’s kinda their thing. This might include physical evidence from the scene and eyewitness statements. Because there are no traffic cameras on the Ben Franklin Bridge, you will likely have to rely on other pieces of evidence to determine liability.
Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania are choice no-fault states, meaning your personal injury protection (PIP) insurance might cover the cost of your injuries, regardless of what section of the Ben Franklin Bridge you were injured on. That said, despite being no-fault states, both New Jersey and Pennsylvania allow victims to sue for non-economic damages under certain circumstances. Because of this, you should determine responsibility for your accident, even if PIP applies. Suppose your injuries are severe enough, or you live in Pennsylvania, were injured on the Pennsylvania side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, and have full tort insurance. In either case, you can file a lawsuit for economic and non-economic damages against the at-fault party.
Determining the jurisdiction
Because the Ben Franklin Bridge spans two states, jurisdiction can become an issue. To put it almost too simply: one side of the Ben Franklin Bridge is in New Jersey, and the other is in Pennsylvania. If you were hurt on New Jersey’s side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, you would have to file your claim in New Jersey. If you were hurt on the Pennsylvania side, you would have to file your claim in Pennsylvania. By pinpointing the exact location of your accident on the Ben Franklin Bridge, you can establish the jurisdiction for your case.
Fortunately, both New Jersey and Pennsylvania have the same statute of limitations for car accident cases, giving victims two years to seek compensation in a lawsuit.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania’s no-fault car accident laws differ in several ways, notably their serious injury thresholds. According to 75 Pa.C.S. § 102, a serious injury in Pennsylvania is any bodily injury that puts a victim at risk of death, causes serious and permanent disfigurement, or causes the loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.
According to N.J.S.A. § 39:6A-8(a), New Jersey defines a serious injury as one that causes death, dismemberment, significant disfigurement, significant scarring, displaced fractures, or loss of a fetus. Other permanent injuries might also qualify a victim to sue. While there is some overlap regarding what constitutes a serious injury in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, there are also some differences, making determining the jurisdiction for your accident on the Ben Franklin Bridge crucial.
Can you sue for an accident on the Ben Franklin Bridge?
Whether or not you can sue for an auto accident on the Ben Franklin Bridge will depend on a few factors. If you were hurt on the New Jersey side but live in Pennsylvania, you might benefit from what’s known as the “deemer statute.”
Originally enacted in 1985 and amended in 1988, New Jersey’s deemer statute, or N.J.S.A. § 17:28-1.4, dictates how out-of-state drivers can recover compensation following a crash. Under this law, if an out-of-state driver is hurt in New Jersey and their insurance does business there, their PIP insurer must provide up to $250,000 in medical benefits for bodily injury pursuant to N.J.S.A. § 39:6A-4(a). This means that if you live in Pennsylvania and have the minimum mandatory PIP coverage, which is $5,000, you might be able to get much more than that if you were injured on the New Jersey side of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
The same is not necessarily true for New Jersey drivers hurt on the Pennsylvania side of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Things can get even more complicated depending on the state residence of the other driver or drivers involved in your crash.
Whether or not you can sue for an accident on the Ben Franklin Bridge will depend on whether your accident occurred in New Jersey or Pennsylvania and the severity of your injuries. While in Pennsylvania, drivers with limited tort insurance can still file a lawsuit if their injuries do not meet the serious injury threshold, they will not be eligible to recover non-economic damages. Drivers unable to meet the serious injury threshold for an auto accident in New Jersey may not be able to sue.
So, the next time you have your intrusive “Hmm, what if I suddenly got into an accident?” thoughts while crossing the Ben Franklin, you’ll be a little more informed. Stay safe, drivers.
Chris Blondell is a Philadelphia-based writer covering local issues, business, tech, or anything else that helps pay the mortgage.