If you have a vehicle that is registered in Pennsylvania, you are legally required to have car insurance. Fortunately, you do have more choice in Pennsylvania than you might have had, in other states: You can choose between full tort coverage and limited tort coverage. This is not much of a choice, though, until you understand the difference between the two – you know there is one, because one is less expensive than the other.
The personal injury attorneys at the law office of Gilman & Bedigian explain the differences between these two insurance options so you can make a fully informed decision on how to protect yourself in a car accident in Philadelphia.
Full Tort and Limited Tort Options are Required by Law
Each state has its own rules on how car insurance works. In Pennsylvania, these rules were last updated in 1990, with the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL). One provision of this law, §1705, requires any car insurance provider that wants to do business in Pennsylvania to provide interested customers with two options:
- Full tort coverage, or
- Limited tort coverage.
To understand how these two options differ, though, it is very helpful to understand what a tort is.
What is a “Tort”?
A tort is a violation of someone's legal rights that makes the wrongdoer – also known as the tortfeasor – liable to the victim. The victim enforces their rights in civil court through a personal injury lawsuit, and is entitled to legal damages to compensate him or her for the losses they suffered.
Importantly, torts do not need to be intentional violations of someone's legal rights: They can also be committed negligently. In fact, most torts are the results of negligence, and a considerable portion of those negligent torts are car accidents.
What is the “Limited Tort Coverage” for Car Insurance?
The limited tort coverage that is available when you buy auto insurance in Pennsylvania only provides insurance for some of the aspects of a tort lawsuit that you can file in the state, after a car accident.
Typically, if you get into a car crash in Pennsylvania, you can get compensation for all of the different types of legal damages that you have suffered. This includes economic damages like the cost of repairing your vehicle, the amount of wages that you lost while you were hurt, and the cost of your past and future medical bills. In also includes non-economic damages like compensation for your pain and suffering and for your family's loss of consortium.
The limited tort coverage option in Pennsylvania, however, only covers economic damages that are suffered in a car crash, unless the injuries they have suffered are serious. This means people who have chosen limited tort coverage on their car insurance, in exchange for a small reduction in the price of their regular insurance premiums, will be unable to recover non-economic damages, including compensation for their pain and suffering, in the vast majority of cases.
Pain and Suffering Damages Can Be High
Pain and suffering damages are considered non-economic because they are notoriously difficult to state in a precise dollar amount. While you can easily determine your past medical bills or the extent of the property damage from the car accident by looking at your medical and car repair bills, it is impossible to give a number for how much pain and suffering you have been put through because of the crash. This makes it impossible to know for certain how much compensation a jury would be willing to give you in a personal injury trial for any given car accident.
However, in the past, juries have shown themselves willing to make a tortfeasor compensate accident victims a considerable amount for the pain and suffering that they have been put through. Many jurors are sympathetic to people who have been hurt and who have, though no fault of their own, suffered incredibly painful injuries and who will face continual suffering from the long-term effects of a car crash that will keep them from living a full life.
Only Pain and Suffering from “Serious Injuries” Can Be Compensated
By choosing the limited tort coverage for your auto insurance policy, you can only recover for your pain and suffering from a car crash if your injuries are considered “serious.”
Importantly, §1702 of the MVFRL defines a “serious injury” as “a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.” This means your insurance company will only cover costs associated with your pain and suffering if:
- The insurance payment is for a crash that resulted in the insured person's death,
- One of your bodily functions has been severely impacted, or
- You suffered a permanent and serious disfigurement.
Unfortunately, this is a high standard, and only the most severe and life-altering injuries that you can suffer in a car crash will lead to pain and suffering remuneration. Luckily, whether you have suffered a “serious impairment of body function” has been a decision that prior Pennsylvania cases have put to the jury, rather than let a judge decide. Washington v. Baxter, 719 A. 2d 733 (1998). This is good for victims, as juries are far more likely to be sympathetic to someone who has been injured in a car accident.
“Serious Injuries” and the Statute of Limitations
One interesting aspect of the limited tort coverage option for car insurance in Pennsylvania is the possibility that it can impact the statute of limitations. Typically, you only have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, many injuries would not be considered “serious” under the MVFRL until several years after the accident, when it becomes apparent how devastating they really are. That is why Pennsylvania courts currently toll the statute of limitations for those with limited tort coverage until they could have discovered the severity of their injuries, giving them two years from the time they found out how badly they have been hurt. Walls v. Scheckler, 700 A.2d 532 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1997).
Just because you have more time to file a lawsuit for a serious injury, though, does not mean you should delay in contacting a Philadelphia personal injury attorney. You can contact the law office of Gilman & Bedigian online for the legal help you need.