When you buy car insurance in Philadelphia, you are betting with your insurance company that you will get hurt in a car accident. The exact rules of this bet are outlined in your insurance policy, which details which situations the car insurance company will have to pay to cover costs associated with an accident, and how much you will have to pay in regular premium payments.
In Pennsylvania, you have some important options when you purchase car insurance. One of them is whether to spend more in premiums, but be covered for full tort, or whether to save some money in premium payments, but only be covered for limited tort.
The difference is significant because choosing the limited tort option often means that you do not get to sue for the pain and suffering that you have gone through after a car accident in Philadelphia. Unless the injury that you suffered was considered serious enough, the provisions of a limited tort insurance policy will prevent you from recovering pain and suffering damages.
The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law
In 1990, Pennsylvania passed an important car insurance law, the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL).
In order to give drivers in the state more control over where their money went, one of the major parts of this law, §1705, required car insurance companies to offer Pennsylvania residents two options for their car insurance:
- Full tort coverage, or
- Limited tort coverage.
The difference between these two options is what types of legal damages the car insurance company will cover, should you get into a car accident.
Full Tort Coverage in Philadelphia
Drivers who chose full tort coverage would see their premium payments for car insurance go up a little bit. However, they would also be covered by their car insurance for all of their losses and damages suffered in the crash. This includes economic damages – like the costs of medical care, compensation for lost wages, and the cost of repairing their vehicle – as well as non-economic damages like compensation for their pain and suffering.
Limited Tort Coverage in Philadelphia
Pennsylvania drivers who opt for the limited tort coverage will see a smaller premium payment. However, if drivers protected by limited tort coverage get into a car accident and get hurt, they can only recover economic damages in most cases. Non-economic damages are only available for those covered by limited tort policies when the injuries that they suffered were “serious.”
This can have a huge repercussion on the amount that you can recover after a significant car accident. If the injuries that you suffered were painful, but not considered a “serious injury” under the MVFRL, you will not be able to get any compensation for the trying and painful times that you have been forced to go through on your road to recovery.
What is a “Serious Injury”?
Because it is the determining factor in whether those protected by limited tort coverage will be able to recover for non-economic damages like pain and suffering, the MVFRL's definition of a “serious injury” can make or break your personal injury case.
In §1702, the MVFRL defines a “serious injury” as a disturbingly high standard: It is “a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.” This means you can only recover pain and suffering damages if one of these three exceptionally terrible injuries has occurred in your case.
While this is a high standard, there is one bright point to it: If there is any doubt at all in whether this definition has been met, it will be up to the jury to decide in a personal injury trial. This is good news because juries are far more likely than judges to be driven by their sympathy in making decisions as to whether you will be able to recover in a personal injury case.
Impact on the Statute of Limitations
Typically, in Pennsylvania, people who have been injured in a car accident only have two years from the time of the crash to file a personal injury lawsuit for compensation. This is the statute of limitations for personal injury cases that are based on someone else's negligence, and nearly all car accidents fall into this category.
However, there is currently some debate in the legal world as to whether, for accident victims with limited tort coverage, those two years begin at the instant of the crash or when a victim can first discover that their injuries could be considered “serious” for the purpose of the MVFRL. Currently, the law says that accident victims with limited tort coverage have two years from the discovery of a serious injury to file a lawsuit. Walls v. Scheckler, 700 A.2d 532 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1997). However, there have been some surprisingly explicit calls from other courts in the state to overturn this rule and apply the general two year statute of limitations, which would begin tolling at the time of the accident. Varner-Mort v. Kapfhammer, 109 A.3d 244 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2015).
In the end, if you chose the limited tort option on your car insurance policy, you will face significant hurdles in a personal injury lawsuit to recover the full compensation that you deserve: In all but the worst cases, you will be restricted to only recovering compensation for economic damages in your lawsuit. Non-economic damages that are more difficult to put into a dollar amount will be much more difficult to get, and this can leave you feeling undercompensated as you recover from your injuries.
Philadelphia Car Crash Attorneys Gilman & Bedigian
However, just because it is more difficult to get the compensation that you need and deserve does not mean that it is impossible. Having a skilled personal injury representing you and advocating for your interests can make a huge difference. Contact the Philadelphia personal injury attorneys at the law office of Gilman & Bedigian online for the legal help that you need to get the compensation that you deserve after a car accident in Philadelphia.